Sun Powered Natural Plant Dye Explorations: ’18

by Renee Lindstrom, GCFP–Living in Natures Love Lifestyles

I have been spoiled by the Butterfly Tree (Buddleia davidii) dye baths.  They have been easy with good results and  no complications.  The plant dye was absorbed evenly into the material in the tops pictured below even though they were not treated in a soda or alum bath.

Pic by Renee Lindstrom

Tops dyed with Butterfly Tree

Here is a picture below of a top that was prepared for dyeing ahead of time with soda ash and alum baths.  It is a top sourced second-hand with a fluorescent image that was too bright for my taste.  I wondered how dyeing it would calm it down.

Pic by Renee Lindstrom

Top after a Butterfly Tree Flower dye bath

It completely calmed the image colours, however the picture is not showing the depth of colour the dyed outcome actually is.  The material itself is patterned and the coloured material from the dye differentiates this pattern.  It dyed the raised pattern  more quickly that is darker of the lower pattern which dyed more slowly.

The ease and colour consistency of the earlier Butterfly Tree flower dye bathes was misleading.  I came away thinking, “Wow, this is easy!”  However I am discovering that not all plant dye baths will have the same outcomes.  This is defiantly a learning experience as I go.

Just below are some sample patches of some exciting new and surprising plant colours.  I am noticing that the plant parts that are making the darker colours I enjoy are actually considered invasive species here in #yyj’s Greater Victoria Region.

pic by Renee Lindstrom

Natural Plant Dyes

In this photo it shows the dye water after two days in the sun and clothes after a day in the sun.  Had I taken the clothes out at this point the second sample from the left would be a light green and the third a bright green.  Both nice colours.  From left to right the plants are:

  1.  Saint John’s Wort – Landscaping scrub variety
  2.  Butterbur Leaves
  3.  Dried Feverfew branch with spent flower cuttings
  4.  Dried Butterfly Tree Flower cuttings

Here are two samples of Feverfew and Saint John’s Wort dye bath samples that were left for in for 3 days.  The Feverfew stayed bright and deepened in colour while the Saint John’s Wort in the photo above is dove grey while now it darken into a stronger colour with black tones.


Had I taken the top out of the Feverfew pot at 2 days it would have been an even and perfect dye absorption.  Unfortunately, I left the clothing in the pot with the plant matter to darken in the sun.  The plant material against the material created dark spots.

Pic by Renee Lindstrom

Top dyed with Feverfew – spotted after leaving in pot too long with plant material

I can type in the same for the Butterbur plant parts.  This plant is extreme in it colour variations and even having the material bunched up causes differences in the absorption of the colour.

Pic by Renee Lindstrom

Butterbur Plant Dye – clothing left in pot with plant material

I have just learned that when dyeing clothes to soak the plant material in the sun until reaching desire dye colour.  Then filter out the plant material before putting in the articles to dye.   I have come away now understanding that dyeing wool and clothing articles have differences.  Experiential learning!

A oberservation I had that I did not pay attention to at the time, is that when I first put in the clothing to absorb the colour they absorbed colour immediately.  I had my mind-set on slow-colouring and now realize that had I followed a similar pattern of moving the articles through the dye bath evenly the results may have been different.  Next time!

Now I am off to change the steps in my post about Dyeing cotton using Natural Plant Dyes! 

Read more on Natural Dye Plants, Dyeing with Butterfly Tree Parts

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This post may contain Affiliate Links, thank you in advance for your support!  Renee

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Mordants for preparing recycled cotton clothes

by  Renee Lindstrom, GCFP–Living in Natures Love Lifestyles

These whites are soaking in baths of Alum and Soda Ash preparing them for experimenting with natural plant dyes.  In most articles I have been able to find about  scouring with mordant the subject focus has been on wool.  I was curious about dyeing clothing.  In my first test dye buckets from last summer, ’17,  I used recycled cotton curtains that had been treated in Soda Ash and Alum.  In the second set of test buckets this summer I used cotton tops, T-shirts and some of the re-purposed curtains that had not been treat in Soda Ash or Alum.  The dye was not absorbed evenly and I do not know how long it will be before the colour washes out.  I will be mindful to use a Ph Balanced Laundry Detergent with these pieces.

The pieces drying on the laundry rack have gone through 2 of the 3 baths that I  recommended in Scouring Cotton: 1st step to dyeing naturally last year for preparing them to dye naturally.  The 3rd bath will be a Soda Ash soak once they are dry.

Sourcing Soda Ash and Mordant for myself here in Greater Victoria was time-consuming and challenging.  For convenience I have some links to getting them on-line to be delivered to you door.

 Soda Ash

 Alum (Potassium Aluminum Sulfate).

These pieces of clothing will be kept on hand and as natural plant parts are discovered for dyeing they will be ready to go.  This includes having some on my travels during the summers heat to try new flowers, leaves, branches, bark and roots from nature that is being visited.

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Scouring Cotton: 1st step to dyeing naturally

by Renee Lindstrom, GCFP – Living in Natures Love Lifestyles




Scouring is the first step for preparing cotton or plant-based fabrics such as bamboo, linen or hemp. The purpose is to remove fillers and additives added in the manufacturing and marketing process.

This post may contain Affiliate Links, thank you in advance for your support!  Renee

To scour the fabric I use Soda Ash. Soda Ash, Sodium carbonate Na2CO3, is the water-soluble sodium salt of carbonic acid.  It is usually found in laundry soap.  In the pictures above you can see the differences in the colour of the solution before and after the scouring process.  The solution has turned yellow, yet, this material was washed and bleached before hand.  The chemicals used to give the material a stiff finish has been scoured out.

I weighed one piece of material before and after the soak as I was curious about how much would actually come out of the fabric.  Here are the results:

  • Cotton weighed 15.2 oz (434 grams) before scouring
  • Afterwards it weighted 5.9 oz (167 grams)
  • That is a difference of 9.3 oz (267 grams)

Imagine 9.3 oz!  That is more that  the weight of the cotton, itself.  What are we putting against our skin and using in our homes!

The Process of Scouring

The soda ash was slowly added to the water.  Once the water became clear I brought the pot ingredients up to a boil and then added the material.  I turned down the pot and simmered for two hours stirring every 15 minutes to unfold the fabric.

  • I used 1/3 cup of soda ash in this pot of water which is about 40 grams.  

If you take your material out and the solution is grey and dirty you make wish to repeat this process before dying.

Washing Soda with no additives has been used for this process, however the amount increases 3 times that of soda ash.  The results are not as good as if using soda ash.


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One should be careful using any product like soda ash ensuring not to splash it on bare skin or breath in the chemical reaction of adding the ash to the water.  With this in mind one is advised to wear gloves, glasses and a mask.  This is not to create fear of experimenting yourself, just advice to be cautious.  If splashed, flush with water.