my experience with solar dyeing
As you may have seen over on Instagram, I just returned from an entire summer spent with my family in Canada. It was such a wonderful time for us and I really took the opportunity to pursue a few creative pursuits that I had had trouble finding time for this past winter and spring.
One of these was most definitely natural dyeing. Right at the beginning of our time away, I made a little trip to the Maiwa Supply Shop on Granville Island and purchased some extracts for natural dyeing. While I did spend a lot of time experimenting with these (and was able to create some lovely mini skeins for the shop) the real surprise for me this past summer was how much I loved working with raw natural dyestuffs that I had foraged myself- particularly dried marigold flowers from my mom's garden.
While I did create a traditional dye pot to dye up my mini skeins for the shop, I also took the time to experiment a little with solar dyeing- a super simple technique that can yield rewarding results. Because this was really so easy, I thought I'd share a short tutorial here, in case you want to try it yourself. It would make a great project for a beginner who doesn't want to bother with too many steps before jumping in to plant dyes, and it would also be a super fun activity to do with kids!
So without any further rambling, here's my tutorial for solar dyeing with kids or as a beginner:
First off is of course to gather your natural dyestuffs. As I mentioned, I used marigolds for this. The ones I used were fresh, right off of flowers from the garden, but you could also try this with dried flowers, or another flower or leafy plant from your garden.
Then you'll need your fiber. I used 100% wool (because, well I'm partial!) and split a larger skein of Origin into smaller 20-25g skeins so that they would fit in my jar better and so I could move them around easier to ensure the dye took to the fiber evenly.
You will also need: a glass jar with a lid, a wooden spoon, and lukewarm water (can be straight from the tap).
Optionally, you may also like to use some kind of filter (like a strainer, coffee filter or cheesecloth, depending on how small your petals and leaves are) If you're using plant dyes with very very small petals you may wish to create your dye bath first, strain it, and then add your fiber afterwards. This will take longer but would keep little tiny petals from attaching themselves to your fiber. For my experiment with the marigolds this wasn't necessary. (I did however do this for the solar dye jar I made using Osage, which is a form of sawdust)
The final thing you'll need is a warm sunny day. You'll definitely want to do this before winter hits! What makes sun dyeing so simple is that you can literally just leave your jar in a warm sunny spot for a day or two (or more, depending on how intense you want the color to be) to work it's magic. So you'll want a warm day, and a spot with as much sunlight as possible.
Step One: Alrighty, so once you've gathered everything you need, there's really not too much left to it. To prep your fiber, soak it in lukewarm water for 15-20 minutes, ensuring there are no dry sections left. This will help it take on the dye evenly. (At this point in the process, you may also scour and/or mordant your fiber should you choose to. As I was doing this purely for fun and to keep the fiber myself, I decided not to do either of these steps for my own solar dye experiment).
Step Two: Now you can make your dye bath! This is a great step to involve kids in. Simply pick the plant dyestuff (petals/buds/leaves) that you're going to be using and add them to your jar. Fill the jar with your water and add your (pre-wet) fiber. Pay close attention here to the temperature of the water, as you don't want to "shock" your fiber by putting it in water that's too hot or too cold. A good rule of thumb to follow is that you’ll want the water your fiber has soaked in to be a similar temperature to the water in your dye jar.
Step Three: Find your sunny spot and let your dye bath heat up over the next day or two. You can use a wooden spoon to move it around in the jar (to ensure all parts take on the dye evenly) and you can even pull it out to check how it's taking on the color every once in awhile if you so choose. Once you're satisfied with it, remove it from the dyebath, also removing any petals or leaves and rinse it gently. Then hang it to dry in a dark place, out of direct sunlight.
And there you have it! Your own mini-skein, dyed up using only flowers, water and sunlight. How amazing is that? This really was a very simple tutorial but do let me know if you give solar dyeing a try- either by yourself or with your kids. I'd love to hear how it goes! Also if you’d like to use Origin (our own 100% merino base) for your own solar dyeing, I’ve created a kit in the shop which includes four 25g mini skeins, already pre-divided up for you to separate into jars. The kit also comes with a free digital download including a simplified version of the instructions in this post, which is meant to make it as easy as possible for you to try out solar dyeing with kids or as a beginner.