three glass jars prepped for solar dyeing

Solar Dyeing Yarn With Natural Dyes

In today’s blog post I want to talk about solar dyeing yarn with natural dyes.

three glass jars prepped for solar dyeing (amaranth, tansy)

But what is solar dyeing, actually? It is a special technique which utilizes the natural heat created by the sun to slowly dye fiber. You can use it to dye yarn or fabric. You can apply natural or synthetic dyes. It is very versatile and simple at the same time. You just need time and sunshine. Since you are harnessing the power of the sun, solar dyeing is best done during the summer months when the sunrays have more energy.

Solar Dyeing Yarn with Natural Dyes: List of Materials

glass jar with lid, transparent, size at least 1 L
dyestuffsee below for some recommendations
mordantIf you want to know more about mordants in general and how to use them, I recommend this blog post.
fiberI use up to 100 g of yarn in a 1 L glass jar. The yarn doesn’t have to be pre-mordanted or soaked. You can simply use the dry yarn.
waterregular tap water
tablespoonto measure the alum
measuring cupto measure the water
gloves
dish soap, wool detergentto wash the yarn after the dyeing is complete
time & sunlight

Solar Dyeing Yarn with Natural Dyes: The Process

solar dyeing yarn weighing the dyestuff
  1. Start by measuring 1 liter of water and a tablespoon of alum. Dissolve the alum in the water by stirring it in.
  2. Take the yarn and dyestuff and layer it in the jar. I alternate between the dyestuff and the yarn to achieve a more even color distribution in the skein but you can layer according to your preferences.
  3. Carefully fill the jar with the water/alum solution until everything is covered. Check the water coverage a couple minutes later and add water if needed. The yarn and dyestuff always have to be covered with water to avoid potential molding issues.
  4. Wait and be patient. I let the yarn sit it in the jar for at least a week before I take it out.
  5. Washing: The next step is washing out the excess dye. Firstly, take a bucket and fill it with lukewarm water. Then add a little bit of dish soap. Take the yarn out of the dye solution (don’t forget to wear gloves), gently squeeze it out and place it into the soapy water. Squeeze the yarn gently so that the excess dye comes out. Secondly, I wash the yarn very carefully under some running, lukewarm water. Then I fill the bucket with water and a mild wool detergent. I put the yarn in and let it sit for a couple of minutes up to a few hours. After this I wash it under some running water again. I repeat these last two steps until the water runs clear and try to use as little water as possible.
  6. Drying: There are several ways to get the yarn to dry quickly. You can simple wring it out gently and hang it to dry on a drying rack. Especially on a hot summer day, this works really well. You can also use a salad spinner or spin dryer to get out some more excess water.

Suitable Plants for Solar Dyeing

goldenrod flowers in a glass jar on a wooden table

These are the plants/kitchen scraps I have used for solar dyeing so far:

Onion skins : creates yellow/rust colorways

Goldenrod: creates yellow colorways

Amaranth Hopi Red Dye: creates pink colorways

Tansy: creates yellow colorways

During my research on solar dyeing, these plant extracts/dyestuff were mentioned numerous times:

Cochineal

Logwood

Madder

Avocado (skins and pits)

Tea & Coffee

Eucalyptus

Solar Dyeing Yarn with Natural Dyes: Color Development

You can see in the pictures that the skeins absorb the color of the dye plants over time. It is very interesting to watch the course of the color development from day to day.

Solar Dyeing Yarn with Natural Dyes: The Results

Since every jar is unique not only due to the singularity of the layering but also because of the amount of sunlight it gets and its orientation towards the sun, every solar dyed skein of yarn is one of a kind.

The picture below shows a skein that has been dyed with goldenrod and yellow onion skins. It turned into a vibrant yellow with some color variation throughout.

These three skeins below have been dyed with amaranth ‘Hopi red dye’. The skeins formed kind of a color gradient depending on their position in the jar. The skein that sat in the lowest position in the jar has the deepest color.

These light yellow skein have been dyed with tansy. It is not really apparent in the picture, but the skein that sat on the ground of the jar is in the deepest shade of yellow, similar to the results of the amaranth solar dyeing.

Have you experimented with solar dyeing before? What are your experiences? Come share in the comments!

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solar dyeing yarn with natural dyes pinterest graphic

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2 Comments

  1. What great experiments! I have tried solar dying with onion skins, rose hips and goldenrod. I usually let the water and plants sit in a covered jar for a day or 2 – it’s surprising to feel how warm the mixture gets on hot days! Then I add my alum or iron (sampling first to see the color before altering the whole jar batch), then add my wetted fabrics and let them sit a day or so, depending on the day’s heat. It’s fun to save energy and make art!!

    1. Thank you so much for your comment, Anita! It is very interesting to hear about your experiences with solar dyeing.

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