Tag Archives: natural dye

dyeing with buddleja

Buddleja is everywhere is Glasgow! It’s a plant that I’ve done a bit of dyeing with in Australia so I thought it was time to try it here- you never know if the results are going to be the same in another place, as so many variables can influence the production of dye pigments in a plant.

A series of different fibres dyed with buddleja

Different fibres dyed with buddleja: kid mohair/ silk and alpaca/ silk/ cashmere

Buddleja davidii was introduced from China in the nineteenth century and, since then, has spread to all corners of Britain- the highly-dispersible seed of what was originally a garden plant has resulted in extensive buddleia populations in the wild, where the shrub often out-competes native vegetation and reduces biodiversity. Its huge number of tiny windborne seeds colonize bare ground, such as railway lines, amazingly quickly and can even germinate in decaying mortar, causing damage to buildings; many of Glasgow’s derelict buildings have been colonised by buddleja, which makes for an interesting sight when walking in the city!

It is recommended that gardeners and landscape managers remove the flower heads once the plant has done it’s lovely job of providing nectar for butterflies but before the plant sets seed in late summer/ autumn- so I took it upon myself to collect as much as I could from local streets and public spaces- free dye material!

Below is my standard process for dyeing with a new plant, followed by notes in brackets about anything specific to this dyebath:

  1. Prepare  dyestuff: Place 100% weight of goods (WOG) of plant material in a large pot and cover with boiling water (I used 500gm of fresh buddleja flowers to 250gm of yarn as I was not sure whether the high rainfall in Scotland would dilute the dye compounds and affect the amount of colour available). Soak overnight or longer for tough or woody material (I soaked for 36 hours, simply because I didn’t have time to dye before then!)
  2. Extract colour from dyestuff: Place on low-moderate heat and slowly bring the dyebath to 70C. Hold for 45 minutes. Allow the dyebath to cool and then strain out fine or soft dyestuff such as flowers or juicy leaves; you can leave large or woody materials in the bath during dyeing but, for even colour, ensure that it is not touching the yarn (I strained the bath to remove the many small florets that would otherwise get tangled in the yarn).
  3. Prepare fibres:  Place alum-mordanted fibres in a bucket of tepid water and leave to soak for at least an hour to wet the fibres through; If dyeing more than one skein in the same bath, run a long loop of string through the skeins and tie together as this will make it easier to manage them.  If your dyebath is warm or hot and your fibres are cold, place them in a bucket of warm water for 5 minutes and then into a bucket of hot water for 5 minutes to prevent shocking and felting fibres.
  4. Apply colour to fibres: Add fibres to the dyebath. Place on low-moderate heat, slowly bring the dyebath to 70C. Hold for 45-60 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely before removing the fibres.
  5. Remove fibres from dyebath and roll in a towel or spin in a salad spinner to remove excess dyebath. Rinse all other fibres in cool water until water runs clear and then dry flat. Alternatively, dry without rinsing; some dyers find that colours intensify if the rinsing process is delayed by a week or longer (I rinsed my yarns straightaway as I was keen to see the final results!).
A series of different fibres dyed with buddleja

A series of different fibres dyed with buddleja

I used a series of different fibres in the bath; from left to right above, you can see Ysolda’s Blend 1 (Merino, Polwarth and Zwartbles), two skeins of local Shetland from New Lanark, a skein of laceweight kid mohair/ silk and two skeins of alpaca/ silk/ cashmere.

A series of different fibres dyed with buddleja

A series of different fibres dyed with buddleja

Above are the two skeins of Shetland- the difference in colour between the two is due to the fact that I popped the top skein in the dye bath when I first set the dyestuff to soak so it had a long time to interact with the dye compounds, whereas the bottom one was added to the strained dyebath with the other fibres. There is a big difference in result, a reminder that some species take up colour without any heat at all and others require long periods in the dyebath to maximise uptake.

And the two fabric samples were part of an adjunct test (in which I poured boiled water over the alum-mordanted samples of silk velvet and left for 12 hours) to see whether the colour from buddleja flowers picked and used when still purple (right) yielded a different colour to those picked when already browning (left). The answer is definitely yes but, as it was getting on in the season, the material I used to dye the yarn in this post was brown… so it’s inspiring to know that next year I can get even more colour if I start picking and dyeing early enough!

A series of different fibres dyed with buddleja

A series of different fibres dyed with buddleja

Above are the New Lanark Shetland (left), Ysolda’s Blend 1 and a strand of Tarndie Polwarth. It’s always interesting to see how different fibres pick up and reflect the colour- the dark fibres in Ysolda’s yarn give it a cool cast but the strand of Tarndie Polwarth is also a little cooler than the Shetland, and I often find that dyeing with fine fibres like Polwarth and Merino results in cooler, softer colours than Shetland and other medium-strength fibres…

A series of different fibres dyed with buddleja

A series of different fibres dyed with buddleja

And these three skeins of the same alpaca/ silk and cashmere yarn were all dyed with buddleja but in slightly different ways. The skein to the left was dyed in a bath made from only the buddleja leaves, which resulted in a cooler, slightly greener shade. The skein in the middle is my control skein- it was dyed in the above-described bath. And the skein to the left was also in the above-described bath but had been previously dyed a soft buff-tan in a dye experiment fail with woad seeds- overdyeing it with buddleja resulted in a richer gold and I think that it’s interesting to see how even a very light underbase can affect the end result!

So, my conclusions?  I have some lightfastness tests on the go at the moment (it’s looking like it’s quite fast but a bit too early to be sure) and I’d like to experiment more with modifiers to see if I can get a bigger range of shades but, at this stage, Buddleja is definitely on my list of very useful dye weeds! I love the warm gold shades it yields and the fact that it is everywhere and free to harvest, that we’re actually helping the local ecosystem by harvesting the flowers… it’s such a win for everyone. And my question about whether the colours achieved here would be the same as in Australia? I think the depth of colour is not quite as intense but the shades are very similar…

And, in case you’re keen to learn more, I have one more dye workshop scheduled for the year on Sunday October 9 at the Glasgow Botanics – it should be a lovely day with some great autumn harvesting of dye plants and a day all snugged up in the Kibble Palace with warm tea and cake!

woollenflower yarn at ginger twist!

As some of you may know, I’m really interested in dyeing with plants, especially the ones I find growing around my neighbourhood… Of course, the species at hand changed hugely when we moved to Scotland last year and I’ve had a wonderful time trying plants I’d read about for years in my dye books! I’ve been experimenting for quite a few years but recently I thought that, seeing as I always had a dye pot on the go and mostly just dye small quantities to use in colourwork, blankets and that kind of thing, I could perhaps add a few extra skeins in and offer them up for sale at this year’s Edinburgh Yarn Festival. As at all big events, there was a LOT of yarn on offer (heaven help us knitters!) but I was thrilled that there was some interest in my yarns.

Plant-dyed yarns

Plant-dyed yarns

So I’ve been beavering away dyeing more since then but have stalled on the process of getting them up into my shop… I think it’s mostly that I’m a bit nervous about getting the colours right in my photos and I don’t want to disappoint people! So, when Jess of Ginger Twist Studios asked me to be her featured Yarn of the Month for July, I jumped at the chance- it’s a perfect way for local knitters and tourists to have a look and feel without the issue of colours. My yarns will have a dedicated wee corner in her shop for the whole month and I’ll also take over a couple of sample shawls to show the different qualities of the various base yarns…

Starman in fingering-weight alpaca/ silk/ cashmere dyed with sumac leaves

Starman in fingering-weight alpaca/ silk/ cashmere dyed with sumac leaves

Starman in fingering-weight alpaca/ silk/ cashmere dyed with sumac leaves

Starman in fingering-weight alpaca/ silk/ cashmere dyed with sumac leaves

I’ve been working with three bases; all are fine-gauge (a fingering alpaca/ silk/ cashmere, a light-fingering alpaca/ linen/ silk and a laceweight kid mohair/ silk) and the interesting combinations of fibre pick up the plant dyes in a lovely, soft way. Because of the work that goes into this type of dyeing, I also wanted the end yarn to be special, the kind of yarn you treasure for those one-or-two skein projects. I guess my choices also reflect the fact that I also love both working with lightweight yarns and combining two strands together to make an interesting texture!

Plant-dyed yarns

Plant-dyed yarns

So, if you are in Edinburgh or nearby, I’ll be installing the display early afternoon this Friday (feel free to come by and say hello!) and they’ll remain there until the end of the month… and, if you’re not local but would like to get hold of some, do keep an eye out for shop updates either here or Instagram or, alternatively, you can sign up for the monthly newsletter. Thanks so much to Jess for giving me space in her lovely shop xx

dye workshop results

Yesterday I held a day-long workshop in dyeing with plants at the Glasgow Botanics. We worked with a single dyebath of madder, in my eyes one of the loveliest dye plants around, and explored the variety of colours you can achieve from this one bath through the use of different mordants, modifiers and fibres. Each time I teach this class, I see different results! Participants made organic merino yarn and silk fabric shade cards, whereas I dyed a few small skeins and fabrics to expand on the variety of textures and shades…

A few of my favourite results…

Madder on silk, wool and other fibres

Madder on silk, wool and other fibres

Madder on cellulose and silk fibres results in beautiful terracottas and pinks, while on protein fibres, oranges, rusts and reds. I was particularly excited to see a true red on a skein of alum-mordanted Jamieson and Smith Shetland Supreme- normally I’d expect to have to play around with pH to achieve a true red but this was a neutral bath so it must be the type of fibre that resulted in that fantastic shade…

Madder on cotton lace and Shetland yarns

Madder on cotton lace and Shetland yarns

Madder on Shetland (previously dyed with Prunus sp) and Falkland fibre

Madder on Shetland (previously dyed with Prunus sp) and Falkland fibre resulted in rust shade

Madder on organic merino with various pre-and-post treatments, tannin/ alum-mordanted cotton and silk velvet and yarns of various different sheep breeds

Organic merino with various pre-and-post treatments (front), tannin/ alum-mordanted cotton and silk velvet fabrics (middle) and yarns of various different sheep breeds (top)

I also added a stunning piece of embroidery to the bath, one that I’d found at my lucky charity shop where I find so many treasures. It was such an incredible piece of work that I was a bit unsure whether to do so, especially after one of the participants, an very talented embroiderer, confirmed that it was highly unusual and skilled work! But the combination of sheer silk base fabric and denser cotton shadow-work was begging for colour to highlight the embroidery so I popped it in!

Stunning thrifted embroidery piece- silk base fabric with cotton shadow work

Thrifted embroidery piece- silk base fabric with cotton shadow-work

Thrifted embroidery piece- silk base fabric with cotton shadowwork

Thrifted embroidery piece- silk base fabric with cotton shadow-work

It is a little patchy so needs another dip but I’m so thrilled with how it picked up that dusty terracotta colour. Such amazing work.

As part of the day, we took a walk around the gardens in the rain, looking at some of the plants growing there that yield dyes and some of the markers that tell you that a plant might hold dye potential, and it was such a treat to have not only the bed dedicated to dye plants but the entire gardens themselves as a teaching resource. I’m planning to hold more similar workshops there in the spring, by which time I should have more burners, pots and a bounty of foraged dyestuff that participants can really get their hands wet with! A huge thanks to everyone who came yesterday and, if you’re interested in coming to another, keep an eye out here and on Instagram for announcements of dates  : )

dyeing with elderberry

The bounty of the northern autumn has meant that I’ve been able to try dyeing with berries for the first time! Although you can find sources of many common dye berries like Elder and Oregon Grape in Australia, I’ve always avoided using them because of their notoriously short-lived colour… but I figured it was crazy not to try when there have been so many around. They’re an interesting material to use because their primary dye compounds, anthocyanins, are particularly sensitive to pH and so you can really alter the colours by using pH-modifying agents after dyeing.

Here are my preliminary results with elder, the first berries I tried, using my standard method for dye tests with new species. I’m still in the process of gathering a wide range of different fibres to test on but even a small range gives a sense of the possibilities of a species:

  • I’m using an 8ply blend of Jacob, Portland and Leicester Longwool from Garthenor Organics (from Queen of Purls here in Glasgow) that dyes beautifully, I imagine because of the Leicester and Portland components… The large skeins are mordanted with alum and cream of tartar and the short lengths with iron (top) and copper (bottom). Below the short lengths are two small samples of Polwarth from Tarndie, the original flock of Polwarth sheep in my home state of Victoria, which I added to compare how a yarn that is softer and less lustrous would show the dye- the top one is a pale grey and the bottom a white.
  • I also added small samples of silk and silk velvet fabric, mordanted with alum and cream of tartar.
  • All the fibres were dyed in the same bath of berries that had been crushed, covered in hot water, left to soak for 36 hours and then simmered for 1 hour. The bath was then cooled, the berries removed and then the fibres added and simmered for 45 minutes.
Sambuccus nigra: Elder

Sambuccus nigra: Elder

I then removed the fibres and checked the pH to find it was in the neutral zone so put aside one set of fibres, which became the test set for dyeing at neutral pH.

Sambuccus nigra: Elder

Sambuccus nigra: neutral

I then added enough vinegar to lower the pH to 3-4, added one of the remaining sets of fibres to the bath and kept it on a low heat for 10 minutes. I then removed and rinsed that set.

Sambuccus nigra: Elder

Sambuccus nigra: acid

And finally raised the pH to 9 by adding sodium carbonate and added the final set of fibres, again leaving them in for 10 minutes and then rinsing them.

Sambuccus nigra with alkali

Sambuccus nigra: alkali

Elderberries (and other berries) seem to have more of an affinity with silk than wool. PH definitely alters the result, with acids taking the soft mauve-purple of a neutral bath to pink, raspberry and magenta and the alkali to beautiful greys. The copper-mordanted samples are very similar to those treated with alum/ cream of tartar and the iron samples are a little duller and darker.

More berry dyes on the go- back with more soon!