An experiment with solar dye jars

Solar dye jars are an easy way of dyeing your own yarn without any special equipment. They are also a great way of creating multi-coloured skeins. I have been using this technique for over 5 years and achieved some really beautiful results.

Solar dye jar colours
Solar dye colours

Whilst setting up solar dye jars, I have often wondered whether the UV light has a significant effect on the final colours, or whether it’s just the length of time that the yarn is soaked in the dyes. I have also wondered if heat makes a difference….

So I decided to set up a two stage experiment.

I used 30g madder and 30g rhubarb root which are both reliable natural dyes, and layered them with 100g yarn in a solution of 10% alum with 8% cream of tartar.

Rhubarb root and madder for my solar dye jars
Rhubarb root and madder for my solar dye jars

I have set up 2 jars in winter with one in the light and one in the dark. One is on the window ledge in the dye kitchen which is cool, and one is in the garage which is a similar temperature. This will test whether it is light or time that makes a difference. If it’s light, then the jar on the window ledge should be brighter or darker than the jar in the dark. If time of soaking in the dye is the main factor, then they should both be a very similar colour tone. These will be left 6 months.

One the window ledge
In the garage
solar dye jar mordants

Later in the spring I will set up 2 identical solar dye jars and put one outside in a warm, sunny place on the patio, and the other will be outside in a cooler spot in the garden where it will get lots of sun but won’t get so hot. These will be left for 6 months too.

In the early summer I will empty the light/dark jars and have a good look at the colours, then put them in a drawer so there’s no risk of fading. The hot/cool jars will be emptied after 6 months, in the early winter.

Once all the solar dye jars have all been emptied, rinsed and dried I can compare the results. I’m interested to see which natural condition (time, light, hot, cool) has had the greatest effect on the yarn colours. What do you think it will be?

I have plans for other natural dye experiments through the year too, including a mordants experiment to test length and method of mordanting to see how it affects light-fastness.

I’ll let you know how it goes in a blog later this year.

Bye for now!

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