Eco Printing with Buckthorn Berry Dye

You never know what plants you have around you until you look. These berries can yield some great colour. Eco printing with Buckthorn berry dye produces some lovely results and I am happy to share that with you.

An Invasive Plant

Certain plants listed as invasive here in Canada. I started to realize much about what plants are around me since I started Eco printing. A very nature-aware friend of mine pointed that out and it clicked that it is also a great dye source. the Rhamnus cathartica is a small tree that seems to be everywhere I look. I’ve even been hacking a couple back every year in my garden not knowing how they even got there. Well, now I don’t feel as odd when I’m taking a lot of this specimen home. I was looking for the branches to make the bark dye but I also noticed they were jam-packed with berries this year. Bonus!

I snipped several branches in October when they were their nice dark purple colour and harvested at home (instead of at the side of a park) I yielded a nice bucket full without much effort. ‘And I was feeling like I was helping the environment just a bit.

Into a pot

I don’t see much complication to using these to make a dye and since they are readily available I don’t have much to lose. Into a large pot the berries went with adequate water. I didn’t want to over-dilute so only about the same volume as berries was added.

To break the berries up with least manual power I pulsed with the stick blender where it became a bit frothy purple-pink

I slowly heated to about 170ºF as I often read that too high will affect the colour. I am going to use in eco printing so not going to dye whole skeins or fabric pieces. There will be heat involved again later in the eco print process.

Look at that purple! They do smell a bit like blueberries but DO NOT eat any! My hands didn’t get really stained but my apron did show green stains – interesting! I used a sieve to do the first strain of the pulp after it cooled a bit.

Straining the Dye stuff

The next stage was through a layer of organza. It’s fairly dense as I did not dilute much; I can always add water later. That allows less storage space at this point too. I did notice some pinks and greens in my mess of drips – I love when a dye is PH sensitive!

Rich Purple Buckthorn Berry ‘juice’

The juice went into a fridge until I had some time to experiment with it. Often I see dyes change when stored or repeated use but this one stayed the same.

Using it in a Dye ‘Blanket’

Since the dye is so concentrated I dipped a flannel cotton sheet into and wrung it out. This will ‘carry’ the dye into this bundle of eco printing. Look at how rich the colour it soaked up! The target cloth is a heavy cotton fabric. I mordanted the fabric with Aluminum Acetate. It was rinsed and dried before dipping in an iron solution.

I use a barrier and roll tightly before processing in my alternate way.

Even before I unbundle I see some great hints on what is to come. It’s like a lottery whenever you open a bundle! It could be a small win or a ‘drop-dead amazing’ win!

Well, it did surprise me! The green in the background is wonderful and I see the reactions with the tannins near the leaf edges and iron. The level of iron that it was immersed in does play a factor. The leaves are dark since the iron reacts with my favourite high tannin leaves.

As cotton always darkens once dried it still hold a lovely soft green background. I tend to work as an artist with minimal measuring…

Dipped in Dye

When the target fabric is dipped in the Buckthorn berry dye the results end up being quite different! Oh for the love of chemistry!

The leaves have a distinct definition here. The background is affected when an iron blanket is used. The green is more muted as possibly the amount of iron was stronger.

Notice this carrier cloth (on an iron dipped multi-layer thin silk) shows how the acids of the leaves affect the dye blanket after the heat process. The purple has changed to green except over the leaves.

The leaves keep a nice negative image from the green background, the red maple bringing it’s own purple colour.

The background produced some lovely subtle greens since I did not use an iron blanket

Be aware each fabric acts differently as it may hold more dye/iron. This silk satin is a bit thicker so the colours are stronger and vibrant since its a protein fibre.

Habotai silk with a fairly strong iron blanket has a more muted green background but very strong definition. Really, the amount of variables and options are endless! Embrace experimentation and have fun!

The best parts is that I did not need to order any dye stuff from some far away land! I just need to look around… as long as it isn’t while I’m driving! Check my etsy shop as there may be some up there shortly.

Happy printing AND dyeing!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


  1. Barb – I appreciate your sharing and generosity with techniques! I’m an eco printer also, and find it disturbing to see so many “secrets” offered for a fee. I never do that, ever, even though I do lead workshops for people who wish to work in my studio. Thank you for always offering great information and inspiration in an open forum. Check out my DIY for the wonderful Canadian company The Felt Store.

    In gratitude,
    Chris Bentley

  2. Really very beautiful the dyeing with Buckthorn – so many folks are afraid of it or want it all cut down and burned…I really have to search for them now unless I am on a hiking trail!

    Love the prints on Habotai…Thanks for sharing. Next year – the berries on the trails are very visible now that the leaves have fallen, but are drying fast.

    1. I didn’t notice until I saw the huge amounts of berries this year, I think this year has been a strange year for a lot of plants. I have some more jars waiting in the fridge; yay!

  3. Your results look great, it’s a bit hard to get good permanent greens from natural dyes, I usually have to use osage or myrobalan with an indigo second dip to get nice greens. Sometimes I do add some iron to the osage dyebath, but it’s more muted olive green (still pretty!) That being said, I have tons of buckthorn around the farm and I will definitely give this a try next summer/fall.
    Do you have any idea about the lightfastness or permanence of this dye?

    Thanks and thanks for keeping this topic fresh!!

  4. Barb, es precioso ese color, en el satén de seda me enamoró!!! Me podrías decir el nombre científico del arbusto o árbol de esas bayas ? Porque no se silo conseguiré por acá. Me encanta tu blog, gracias por compartir tus experiencias. Saludos desde Córdoba, Argentina!!!

    1. ‘Barb, that color is beautiful, I fell in love with the silk satin !!! Could you tell me the scientific name of the bush or tree of those berries? Because I don’t know if I will get here. I love your blog, thanks for sharing your experiences. Greetings from Córdoba, Argentina !!!’

      The name is Rhamnus Cathartica (as a link in the post) Good luck…

    1. Oh my! I only see bunny pellets, that is so strange. Lye does have a way of reacting to things though, very strong. Some natural dyes are very PH sensitive. Happy dyeing!