textiles · exploration · misadventure

Bougainvillea Memory


Pruned bougainvilleaBougainvillea is one of my favorite plants.

It grew wild on Teri’s father’s garage. It was huge, and vibrantly out of control, and absolutely lovely. We were constantly losing tennis balls in it, climbing up and stomping around after them, ripping holes in our jeans, but never finding a single ball.

Teri was my best friend growing up. When I was thirteen, I think, and Teri was twelve, she moved away. I remember the kitchen chair and the potted plant, the last two items into the moving truck. I was wordless, voiceless. I might have spoken, but I could never have expressed myself. I think I felt helpless to change anything; she was going, she was gone.

When the new people moved in and cut the bougainvillea off the garage, my heart broke.

176How incomparable, then, to find that the vibrant red flowers can be used as textile dyes. How convenient that I work with textiles, and am learning how to dye. Perhaps I can make something to express the ways that bougainvillea makes me feel.

I’m not sure how well, or even if, the brilliant red will be maintained. I don’t know if it’s the right time of year to harvest the flowers for dye. I don’t know if it’s a vibrant dye, or a milder one. But I love the idea of an experiment.

To make the dye, I pruned my bougainvillea and separated the red flowers from the green leaves.

macerated bougainvilleaThe flowers are macerated…

macerated bougainvillea with water…water added…

bougainvillea dye…and left to steep for a day or two. You can boil dyestuff to release more dye more quickly, but reds from petals are apparently easily damaged. Since I’m trying to keep this as vibrant as I can, I gently heated the petals for a short time, no boiling.

After extraction, I strained the petals and poured an equal amount of dye into four jars and one stainless pot, then placed one yarn sample from the brass, copper, and alum mordants into three jars, two yarn samples from the iron mordant into the fourth jar, and a non-mordanted sample into the last jar.

I plan to have three samples each of the iron-mordanted yarns: one pre-mordanted sample, one post-mordanted sample, and one both pre-and post-mordanted. The idea that rust dyeing and iron mordants really intrigues me, hence the multiple iron samples.

170Here are the iron jar, front left, and the copper jar, rear right, the same day I added the dye. Note the difference in the color of the liquid, which is entirely due to the mordants.
Dyepots and jarsAnd here’s the whole gang. I started a second pot of bougainvillea dye, as I’m uncertain the first batch will be strong enough.

In progress: rosemary and coffee dyes on wool yarn.
Upcoming: yellow dock and lichen dyes on wool and cotton muslin. Possibly fennel and ivy dyes too, as there are enormous stands on these invasive dye plants on Twin Peaks, where I used to live.

19 thoughts on “Bougainvillea Memory

  1. Such a beautiful story about your friend and those flowers. Mix all of that with the hard work on this experiment and I’m sure something lovely will happen.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I hope it comes out beautifully. What a lovely memory.


  3. Thank you, Spence’s Girl. Fingers crossed! If it doesn’t come out how I like it, I can try again in springtime, when the flowers are fresher. Although it will be hard to wait!


  4. What a wonderful story. This is the essence of art.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Sorry for the loss of your friend …a memory made. Hoping the dyes turn out. You are so artsy/crafty/scientist/research etc. Look forward to see the yarn when done


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  15. This looks amazing! what kind of mordant’s did you end use? love to hear about how the colours came out!.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Hi, Lily. Thanks for your nice comment! I have five or six posts on bougainvillea dyeing. This post talks about my most successful experiment, mordants, processes, etc.:

    Sadly, though, although the colors were brilliant and beautiful, despite mordanting, they did turn out to be fugitive. I mentioned that somewhere in a post over the past month or so, but can’t remember which one.

    Thanks for your visit!


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