Those of us who have buddleia bushes in the garden tend to accumulate a great deal of pruned material, when the bushes need to be cut back.

I have used these prunings in the dyebath several times and achieved some pleasing results. This year I have already cut back one of my buddleia bushes and this time I decided to separate the dead flower heads from the leaves and stems to see which parts gave the most colour.



This photo shows: On the left the results from the “dead flower heads only” dyebath and on the right the results from the “leaves and stems only” dyebath. In each set the top skein is unmordanted, the second skein is alum-mordanted and the third skein (also alum-mordanted) has been modified in iron.

I poured boiling water over the materials for each dyebath and left them to steep overnight. In the morning I simmered the dyebaths gently for about 45 minutes, then added the skeins. I left the plant materials in the dyepot for the unscientific reason that I was too lazy to look for my sieves to strain off the dye liquid. Yes, I know I should be ashamed of myself! In general, I usually strain off the dye liquid to avoid having unwanted plant pieces lurking among the dyed skeins. However, it doesn’t really matter whether the plant pieces remain in the dye pot or not, as long as the dye colour has been properly extracted. The notable exception to this generality is madder root, which most dyers prefer to leave in the dyepot, as it gives up its colour gradually at temperatures below a simmer. (More about madder dyeing to follow in a later post.) There will no doubt be other dyes that some dyers prefer to leave in the dyepot and the choice is really a personal one. Once the skeins had been added, I simmered gently for about 30 minutes then left the skeins to steep until the dyebath had cooled. I was interested to note that the unmordanted skeins took up almost as much colour as the alum-mordanted ones, although only light- and wash-fastness tests will show whether the dye is as fast on the unmordanted skeins.

The amount of colour available from the dead flower heads was surprising. In future I will probably continue to separate the plant parts and make two dyebaths, as this extends the colour range available.

16 replies
  1. Ladka
    Ladka says:

    Jenny, I really love your “unscientific reason for leaving the plant materials in the dyepot” 🙂 Of course I also love the colours you obtained.

  2. Martine
    Martine says:

    I’m looking forward to your madder post.
    At this moment there’s madder in my dyepot and i’m unscientifically lazy waiting what color i get tomorrow morning.

  3. Dot
    Dot says:

    I’m delighted to know that such good dye can be got from dead flowers, as in the past I’ve picked them while at their best, which deprives the garden of the show of colour.

  4. Helen Melvin
    Helen Melvin says:

    Hi I agree with you Jenny it is definitely worth separating the dead heads and the leaves and stems. I was also fascinated by the fact that the colour was almost as good without a mordant. The green with iron was also very rich.yum yum!
    When I was in Lincoln I found a very good hardware shop -sad I know but we dyers are a bit mad -and got my self a strainer on a stand used in jam making as well as a 3 litre kilner jar for solar dyeing.
    I will look forward to your madder experiments-I iund madder quite fascinating as well as being exasperating!.

  5. Beryl Moody
    Beryl Moody says:

    Good to know that there is something useful to do with the prunings. I am having to let my bushes go a bit dry this year because of low water supply. I will clip off the dead flowers and soak them in clear buckets of rainwater on the deck to see what happens.

    I’m looking forward to madder experiments as well. I have madder roots that are over 5 years old now and I think this fall I’ll dig them.

  6. Mona
    Mona says:

    Hi! Just found your blog, and I’ve been reading for at least an hour now. I really like your approach to dyeing with plants, especially the environmentally-friendly methods. I’m so happy to have found you and your blog – I find you wonderfully resourceful! Now I’ll order a book, and put the others on my wish list!

  7. Emily
    Emily says:

    I have also just found your blog! I have been wanting to learn natural dyeing for about a year or two and have just started today. I have a 1/4 lb. of wool soaking in alum outside right now as well as two pots of dyebath. Looking forward to see how the colors turn out! I do have a question for you. Can I use a pot of mordant for more than one skein of wool? In other words, can I soak one skein of wool in a pot of mordant, take out that skein, and soak another skein in the remaining solution? Thank you!

  8. Marian
    Marian says:

    Excellent! I have two of these plants! Last year they were HUUUUUGE! But after a winter with -17C for a week or so, they suffered a lot and we actually thought they were dead… but look at that. Every year we cut them back and use everything for moulch but… I guess this year we will be dyeing!
    Thanks for this Jenny!

  9. Catherine
    Catherine says:

    Oh what luck I found your site.
    I’ve got a pile of buddleia heads in on epot and was about to throw out the leaves and stems! After reading your post, I’ve made a secpnd pot with the leaves and stems – they are now on the stove, and will spilt the mordented fleece between them tomorrow (or later today – I’m up late waiting for the pots to heat up before I go to bed).
    Thanks very much for this information.
    Catherine, Westmeath, Ireland.

  10. Charlie
    Charlie says:

    I am very excited to find sites like this. I have never done any dyeing but am dying (pun really unavoidable) to. Are there any comprehensive books on the subject that I could ask for for Christmas that give the basic low down on mordants, plants and materials and anything else that a beginner would like to know. I can’t wait to do some of this – the colours look so beautiful and to get them naturallly is such a bonus.

  11. Jan Miller
    Jan Miller says:

    Hi, I’ve only just found your very interesting blog! would you like to add a link to my website where people can buy many of the plants and seeds you mention? I also have Japanese/Chinese Indigo which gives the same blues as other indigoes but with far less quantity of leaf material needed.

    • Jenny Dean
      Jenny Dean says:

      I think it’s debatable whether less leaf material is required when using Japanese indigo, (presumably Polygonum tinctorium/Persicaria tinctoria), rather than woad (Isatis tinctoria). I have found woad much easier to grow & more productive where blues are concerned, but that may be because of my growing conditions, of course. Perhaps other dyers might like to comment?

  12. Catherine
    Catherine says:

    The Buddleia dying came out great! The first dip with the flower heads a nice soft yellow and the leaves gave citrus yellow. Repeat in the afterwash gave lighter shades of same. Making batts and spinning – planning to weave with same.
    Now I need a deep brown to contrast and tone it down so into the marsh for those Iris roots!
    Really appreciate your blog. Thanks again.

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