blue, violet, and green

three bowls of treasure

The butterfly pea flower or Bunga Telang (Malay) is a fast growing creeper plant that is widely grown in tropical countries, such as Malaysia and other parts of Asia. The scientific name for it is clitoria ternatea, as the shape of the flower resembles part of a female genital. The plant is a perennial and bears a striking deep blue flower year-round.

freshly picked flowers from my recent trip to Malaysia

dried pea flowers

dried pea flowers

The pea flower is commonly used as a natural blue food dye in Peranakan or Nyonya cuisine, and also to make a delicious blue tea. The blue color can be obtained using both freshly picked or dried flowers. Some popular Nyonya rice and snack dishes that uses this flower as a coloring agent are pulit inti, and bah zhang (click on link to recipe on my cooking blog). Pulut inti is a Malaysian snack made with glutinous rice and topped with coconut, while the latter is a sticky rice dumpling with a sweet and savory filling.

Nyonya bah zhang, a savory glutinous rice dumpling. The rice was pre-soaked in the blue dye before cooking

Nyonya bah zhang, a savory glutinous rice dumpling. The rice was pre-soaked in the blue dye before cooking

On my recent trip to Malaysia, I brought home some dried flowers and seeds to  try to grow in our garden. Alas, only one plant survived and grew into a thin and leggy vine, bearing tiny blue flowers. Nevertheless, I was glad to see them popping up in the garden.

An interesting observation that I’ve made with tea from pea flower is the blue changed to violet when I’ve added an acid such as lemon juice to the tea. This tells me that it is sensitive to ph.  This really piques my interest, and I wondered how it would react to fabric?

In this post, I had fabric samples dipped into the blue dye to get different results. In another test, I pre-dyed a fabric swatch in yellow with turmeric and then into the blue dye. The color changed to apple green. For violet, vinegar was added to the blue dye. Below are results from these simple experiments.

blue color from steeping dried flowers in boiling water

instant results of blue on a strip of wool fabric

instant results of blue on a strip of wool fabric

wool fabric: medium blue, without mordant

wool/silk: from blue to violet, a result from a shift of pH in the blue dye

silk fabric: pre-dyed in turmeric and then into blue dye

apple green from yellow and blue dye

blue, violet, and greens

shades of blue in shibori (resist-dyeing) on silk fabric

*Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Melinda Tai and Obovate Designs with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Thank you for visiting, I welcome all your comments.

“A smile is worth a thousand words, live happy, dye happiest.”

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9 Responses to blue, violet, and green

  1. Marlene Chapple says:

    You are amazing! I continue to be inspired by your posts. Would love a book by you on natural dyes.


    • mltai says:

      Hi Marlene, I am honored with your compliments. There are so many accomplished artists out there about eco printing. One book I recommend you read from India Flint.


  2. mltai says:

    Hi Kit, it is not as invasive as kudzu. Nevertheless, it’s controllable as long as you have it growing in pot. And one can bring in dried stuff as long as there is no dirt. Thanks for your wonderful insight!


  3. Do the colours fade easily?


  4. Hi! I was wondering about the ratio of flowers to weight of fibre you used (if that’s ok to ask??!)? They seem to make such a vibrant shade; I’m curious if you need a 1:1 ratio or if less flowers will do just as well.
    Also gorgeous colours ❤


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