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.

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Author: madgeface

I knit, crochet, spin, and have done some experimenting with weaving and natural dye. Iā€™m also a technical writer, mom to 3 boys, and enjoy gardening.

2 thoughts on “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. šŸ™‚

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  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. šŸ˜¦

    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 Ravelry.com (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) – https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/NaturalDyes/info – 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!!!

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