Little Golden Notebook

Where fiber art, inspiration, and words meet.

Butterfly Bush (Buddleia Davidii) Natural Dye

I’ve planted lots of butterfly bushes in my yard. By lots I mean more than 10. I started with two – a white one and a purple one – ordered online as bare roots; all the rest are children of those plants. I got them originally because I love lilacs but still don’t have a lilac that’s old enough to flower and because butterfly bushes attract butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees. They flower from July until frost, generally late October/early November here in Northern Virginia, which is far longer than the spring bloom-time for lilacs. The blooms do not smell at all like lilacs, nor are they as powerful smelling as lilac blooms.

I read somewhere (online, probably) that all parts of the plant can be used as a natural dye to produce greens/greenish-blues/teals. I also know that if you dead-head the blooms (trim the spent blooms), a butterfly bush will put more of it’s energy into making even more blooms. Yesterday I dead-headed all but 2 butterfly bushes (the untouched ones are too big for me to get all the spent blooms off of), which when weighed, was 3lbs 6oz of spent blooms with a few leaves, active flowers, and lots of insects.

Butterfly bush spent blossoms

At 2:30, I put 1lb of the spent blooms in my enamaled lobster pot with enough tap water to cover the plant material. I have an electric buffet stove with 2 burners that I set up on my screened-in porch and started the pot over medium heat. I should have turned the heat up to medium high or high – about 3 hours later, the green parts of the plant material had faded to a mustard yellow, the blooms that were still purple turned kind of a translucent white-gray, and many spiders had escaped the pot aided by a giant chopstick between the pot rim and a potted plant.

I strained most of the plant material from the dye liquor, but didn’t use a strainer fine enough to catch the individual shriveled brown flowers. Into the pot went:

10yd sample skein of pre-mordanted yarn (alum)
10yd sample skein of pre-mordanted yarn (copper)
10yd sample skein of pre-mordanted yarn (iron)
4oz pre-mordanted merino (copper)
48g of the same merino previously mordanted and dyed with mint

An hour & a half later, I turned the heat off and left the fiber in the dye pot overnight. Here are the sample skeins after 30mins:

Preliminary results - 30min mark
(small because the focus is off and I’m sparing you some eyestrain)

Rinsed and dried, here are the results:
butterfly bush dye: skeins &nbsp &nbsp butterfly bush dye: roving

I’m surprised that I’ve got what’s essentially a deep yellow with a hint of green in the alum & copper-mordanted fibers (the iron became that deep khaki color). I wonder now if the leaves and stems alone would yield a different color.


2 responses to “Butterfly Bush (Buddleia Davidii) Natural Dye”

  1. Great post! So glad to discover this as recently gotten into world of natural dyes, pigments, etc. I have 2 lovely BFB w/lilac colored blooms. I've been pondering their usability for color as never see them on the standard “'X'-Plant-yields-'Y'-color-lists”. I realize this post is from 2011, but Very curious if you did later experiments which yielded different results… Perhaps by using different methods, or (as u had wondered) different plant parts? I also have 2 lilacs – 1/white blooms, 1w/lilac colored blooms, so curious re those results as well. Did you try the lilacs, too? Thanks in advance for a reply if you can. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. I haven't done much natural dying since 2011/2012 and never really got back to BFB experiments – I still have fiber I haven't processed from this experiment. ๐Ÿ™ I don't think lilacs are a good dye plant, but haven't seen them used or discussed. Many plants that aren't listed in dye books (i.e., lots of plants) end up giving a dull yellow or yellow green. You could/should try it though, just to see.I can also recommend some books you should have/get if you don't have them already:- Natural Dyes and Home Dying, Rita J Adrosko: excellent starter book with history of natural dyes in the US, intro to home dying, dye recipes, and other things. Not many pictures of results.- Wild Color, Jenny Dean: not as comprehensive as Natural Dyes, but color pictures of results of same dyestuff with different mordants & modifiers. Detailed, easy-to-follow directions that would apply even to dyestuff not listed.And there are lots of online (free!) resources – to begin with, two natural dye groups on (if you're not on Rav, you should be) and invaluable yahoo group that's really more for professional dyers (I only lurk on it) – – it has great archives and members are more than happy to help you if you a) check archives and b) do at least some of the research/experimenting on your own before posting. Good luck & have fun!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *