Nature TableThings to Make and Do

Natural dyeing adventures never stop.

Yellows aren’t hard to obtain. But really good yellows are still to be prized. Here we have the traditional versus the modern.


Filipendula ulmaria is a common plant of field margins, hedgerows and waste ground. It is perennial, with long, strong stems of richly scented, frothy creamy white flowers appearing in late spring to early summer. It comes up in list of traditional plants used for dyeing wool for tartans. It was also used for flavouring mead and as a cure for malaria. Meadowsweet was also a favoured strewing herb, with just the right sort of slightly pungent fragrance to cut through the less desirable odours of a medieval or Tudor hall.

Use the whole stem, including the flowers. It yields a good yellow to mustard coloured dye with good fastness. Use alum and cream of tartar mordant. A ratio of 2:1 dyestuff to dry weight of fibre for a good result. The colour becomes more mustardy with older flowers.  Chop up into a pot and bring to the boil, simmer for an hour or so and leave to cool. Strain and add prepared yarn/fibre (make sure it is wet). Bring  to the boil again, simmer for 40 minutes or so, leave to cool before removing yarn and rinsing.


When it comes to natural dyeing, Buddleia is a new kid on the block. It doesn’t come up in the old literature, but then it wasn’t introduced into Britain until the l8th century, and then it was as a decorative and exotic garden shrub rather than for its practical usefulness.

The colour of the flowers is immaterial. They all produce a potent golden yellow/mustard dye. Use just the flowers. !:1 ratio. The older the flowers the more mustardy the results. Use the same process as for Meadowsweet.

It has good colour fastness, and would surely have been used in the past if it had been around, especially as it grows easily and anywhere. If you don’t have any in your garden, a scout around waste areas or the outskirts of an industrial estate and you are bound to find some.

Here is Meadowsweet on the left and Buddleia on the right. The soft hue of the meadowsweet would be perfectly suited to a medieval kirtle. The Buddleia is much more vivid, those medieval folk would surely have gone wild for it at a time when brightly coloured cloth was something to be prized.

Buddleia on the ends, Meadowsweet in the middle. When it comes to natural dyeing both are lovely, it just depends on what you want to achieve.