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.

Brilliant Visualizations


Lovely little flowers, right? Nope – it’s much more than that: it’s data.

In college, I took a class in Discourse Analysis, which is kind of like diagramming sentences but more so, with much looser rules. That class was one of two that convinced me to ditch my Creative Writing major and switch to Rhetoric. What Walter Benjamin has done is essentially perform a type of discourse analysis on various texts and then charted the results in a unique (to me) way. Very cool. Please click through (on the picture) and look at a more magnified version of this; it’s well worth the trip/extra window/extra tab.

This picture also reminds me of Edward Tufte’s work, particularly Envisioning Information because it’s the only one of his that I have; though the others look equally good & interesting, I just never got around to getting them.

Also: this pic came to me by way of Jen Beckman’s 20×200 Project, who’s tag line is “Great Artists. Affordable Prices. New Prints Every Week.” I haven’t gotten anything yet; still waiting to fall completely in love.

It’s all about the visuals …

First, an update on the avocado dye experiment:

Avocado Dye Experiment, Day 5

Day 5 after adding water this morning to bring the water level back up over the materials. Mr. Q. called the one on the left a peach color and I reluctantly concede that he’s right. While it’s only day 5 of what I envisioned being a long dye experiment, I’m starting to get impatient, but not enough to dye some of my samples. Maybe tomorrow.

And now for something completely different.

I started a micro blog on tumblr. But do I really need another account? I just started account for Hurl Madgesty (email and on facebook) to keep potty-mouthed derby me separate from potty-mouthed regular me. And how many people do I know that actually use tumblr and would see the stuff that I want to share? And also: I’m thinking about switching to WordPress so that I have more control over the design (which I’m going to start futzing with on blogger first) and so I can respond to comments in-line (if I can do it on blogger, I’ve missed it so far).

Where was I?

Oh, yes – posts on tumblr. Or rather, posts here instead of on tumblr, i.e., I’m going to start posting more often and the posts are going to be smaller and probably pictures or links to pictures or … you know, small stuff. Not epically long cathartic posts (thanks for sticking with me through that), though I’m not promising there won’t be more of those. Are you ready?

Day 3 Avocado Dye Experiment

I forgot to take pictures yesterday, but not so today:

On the left is a sample from the pit dye bath and, on the right, one from the peel dye bath. I may have forgotten to take pictures, but I have been heating both baths up to a steaming point twice a day, which is probably excessive but I’m impatient with these things and heat can only help a chemical process, right? Particularly if it’s a gently heat?

Anyway. I’m surprised at the huge color difference between the two. I expected some color difference, but this is kind of extreme. They are similar – same hue? (I don’t know the right words to talk about this, pardon me.) But different saturations/intensities. (I should really get a color theory book so I can talk about this intelligently instead of winging it.)

In case you were wondering, the pit bath still smells spicy, almost like cinnamon, and the peel bath is starting to smell similarly, with no remaining hints of avocado fruit.

In addition, I failed to mention that I’ve used Hass avocados, which were cultivated by a mail carrier and amateur horticulturalist named Rudolph Hass in La Habra Heights, CA in 1926. Call me crazy, but I’d say he wasn’t an amateur, considering that it is the most popular avocado cultivar in the world.

Edited to add link to Hass avocado link on Wikipedia. As with all wikipedia entries, take it as a starting point with a grain of salt.

Avocado Dye Experiment

I’ve been hesitant to get into dying just as I was hesitant to start spinning my own yarn – I thought “Really. Why bother? Why not just buy yarn?” But … well, I caved in to the peer pressure of Loudoun Needleworkers and now I know why – it’s a way to work with my hands differently from when I knit, it’s a form of meditation, it’s a way to feel connected to the land via the farms that supply fiber. Spinning lead to buying raw fleece, with little further encouragement from my LNW friends, and buying raw fleece has lead to dying.

I’ve drooled over and bought my share of yarn and fiber dyed by independent artists – the color combinations and variations are fascinating, sometimes all the more fascinating because I don’t think I have a great sense of color, which is another reason I stayed away from dying so long. I did try dying with KoolAid a few years ago, which is essentially dying with food coloring. My results were less than stellar (but definitely great-smelling). Acid dyes – chemical dyes – have to be handling very carefully since they are toxic and by careful handling, I mean gloves & goggles & a respirator & plenty of ventilation. I’m not quite ready for that, so I’ve been reading up on dying with natural materials since mid-winter.

This spring, I took a natural dye class with two friends. The class was taught by Sylvia De Mar through The Art League of Alexandria over the course of 3 Sundays. We learned about mordants, which prepare fiber for accepting dyes and help dye bond chemically with the fiber, how to dye using natural materials, and after baths, which can affect just-dyed fiber. I really like the idea of using materials already available to me to dye and have tried dying samples with mint, lichen, and several different weeds. I wish I’d blogged about them or at least kept better notes because I managed to lose track of some of the results – that won’t happen again.

Over the past 2 months I’ve been saving avocado pits and skins in a bag in my freezer to dye with them – they should yield red-brownish red-reddish brown. I got the idea from the dye class; Sylvia mentioned it & one of the other students brought in some avocado she’d been saving. The time we had in class wasn’t enough to get good results (or any results? I don’t remember now). So, using a thread in the plants to dye for group on Ravelry and Carol Lee’s generously shared instructions & observations as guidelines, I’m trying my own experiment which will hopefully get better results.

Mr. Q. has gone along with my avocado-saving swimmingly – we both like avocados and have used this as an excuse to eat them more than usual. We’ve even rooted a few of the pits, which is interesting for us all to see as we now have a small tree in a pot on the porch. This morning, I thawed the other pits & skins we’ve saved, and scrubbed off the remaining avocado with an old toothbrush. I put the pits in my thrifted small dye pot, covered them with water, and brought them to a simmer. While that was cooking, I cut the skins into strips and popped them into an enamelware lobster pot, adding in the remaining stumps of stem (probably 4 or 5 pieces), and starting bringing that to a simmer over medium low heat. Even with this initial simmer, I can already see some color in both pots:

Carol recommends cutting everything into pieces as small as possible to extract as much dye as possible; as you can see, I started chopping the pits with a knife while they were cooling down. I do have a spare blender I could use, though I’m not sure I want to strain what will essentially be an avocado smoothie. By the way, the pits smelled pleasantly spicy as they simmered, almost like cinnamon, while the skins smelled like avocado soup.

I plan to simmer the dye materials every day for at least a week, adding more water as necessary. I doubt that I’ll be blogging about it each of those 7 days but I will take pictures so I can document the progress.

Notes on avocado prep for next time:

  • Clean the skins and pits of any remaining fruit before freezing them. It was a huge PIA to clean the skins and pits of (probably) 15 avocados all at once.
  • Take all the produce stickers off before freezing too. I thought I pulled them all off while I was cleaning them, but a few snuck into the dye bath anyway. I have a new hatred of these stickers since I find them all over the house, where the fruit eaters stick them instead of putting them in the garbage (or on a napkin or tissue or anything but the furniture, FFS).
  • Count the avocado pits before cutting them up. (Duh.)


It’s surprising how little there is to watch on TV on a Friday night. We stopped subscribing to the premium movie channels in favor of Netflix streaming through the Wii, which lately has not been working well (or really, at all). So last night, I was back to my old entertaining favorites: channels without commercials (PBS, TCM, etc) and what I think of as junk food TV (E!, MTV, VH1, etc.). I couldn’t find anything I could switch between to avoid commercials (the Geico guy really pisses me off), so I ended up watching The Golden Stallion on TCM.

The Golden Stallion was released in November 1949, Roy Rogers’ 3rd and final movie of the year. Three movies in a year seems like a lot, but in 1948 he was in 8 movies, 5 in 1950. So what happened in ’48? He was either concentrating on his radio show (1944-1955) or his marriage to Dale Evans (12/31/47), his co-star. In November 1949, my Dad was 5 years old, the first grandson of my great-grandfather. My grandparents lived in a house very close to the family dairy farm in Rehoboth, MA, with my great-grandparents living in the Big House on the farm. Dad told me his grandfather welcomed his company any time – at home, in his office, in the barn. He gave Dad a pony at some point and spoiled him as any grandparent would. My great grandmother subjected Dad to the finer things in life, like getting cleaned up for church and piano lessons, which he hated and was terrible at.

I don’t recall Dad ever talking about Roy Rogers – he did say that when he enlisted in the Marines after high school in 1962, eventually ending up in Vietnam (July 1965-July 1966), that he had John Wayne in mind – I am positive, though, that Roy Rogers was among his heroes as well:

Exhibit A:


Exhibit B:

Donnie, Johnnie, Duke Aug 1951

(Look closer; you’ll see the horse. Also, Dad is sitting in front. Also #2: click the pictures to see them on flickr.)

I imagine also that Great Grandpa Kinne – or my grandparents – probably took Dad to the movies and that he probably saw The Golden Stallion. So last night, I watched the whole thing with a glass of wine and live-tweeted it, included below. Ethan has been my late-night buddy; he was on the computer behind the couch watching something online or so I thought. When I skipped back to catch a line to tweet a quote, he said “Hey! Didn’t we already watch that twice?” letting me know that he was watching it with me. My kids surprise me by being the people I need them to be when I least expect it and need it the most.

(Note that I really just want them to be the people they need to be, as long as they don’t hurt anyone physically/emotionally and love life, I’m good. Because of my relationship with my parents, I walk a delicate line between being interested and friendly, but not a friend – I neither want to ignore them or use them intentionally for emotional support.)