Easy Solar Dyeing: how to get started

Solar Dyeing

Solar dyeing is a fascinating and creative process. Wondering how easy it is to dye yarns and fabrics using the power of the sun? Keep reading as I share a quick and easy way to get started with this simple dyeing technique.

What is Solar Dyeing?

Solar dyeing literally uses the UV light of the sun to help fix the dye to the yarn, fibre or fabric. The dye and yarn are put in a jar together with the right mordant for the yarn type and water and left for several months in daylight. It really is as easy as that!

Solar dyeing is eco-friendly and sustainable. It uses natural dyes from plants, with mineral, non-toxic mordants and everything can be composted at the end of the process. I wonder if the white daisies in my garden will grow bright colours one day…. I grow as many natural dyes in my garden and enjoy the thought that these plants will give me beautiful dyes later in the year.

The jar needs to be able to cope with a bit of pressure which may occur if the dye ferments a bit, so I use glass “Kilner” type jars. They are also reusable and recyclable. Any fermentation or mould that forms in the jar doesn’t harm the yarn or alter the dye colour, don’t worry!

Your solar dye jars don’t need to be in bright sunshine, or outside to work effectively. Its the combination of time and UV light that works the magic. So a north facing windowsill in a flat will get just as good a result as a sunny doorstep into the garden. Its best not to put solar dyeing kits in a green house as they can get too hot.


A few tips on equipment and dyes….

The real benefit of this method of dyeing is that it’s low tech. All the equipment you need to start solar dyeing is a Kilner type jar and a jug. This is in contrast to the more traditional methods of dyeing where you need specific pans, spoons, strainers, jugs etc as well as a hob to heat the dye bath. Natural dyeing is suitable for older children to do. They enjoy mixing the dye layers and creating their own unique skeins of yarn.

Solar dyeing uses natural dyes like madder, rhubarb root and calendula. As they start to infuse the mordant water they bind onto the yarn to create the colour. Several dye stuffs can be used in a single dye jar to create a multi-coloured effect. Of course, colour mixing rules apply, so pink and blue will give purple where the dyes mix. Have a look at my article in The Knitter this month Issue 164 to find out more about Natural dyes generally.

The size of the jar will determine how much you can dye. A standard 1.5l jar will hold 100g of yarn with space for a few extra bits of fibre, silk ribbon etc.

Solar dyed yarns

An easy way to solar dye a skein of yarn.

Use a 1.5l jar for 100g of yarn.

Put a small amount of natural dye stuff in the bottom of the jar and layer the yarn on top until about one third of the yarn is in the jar. Add another small amount of dye stuff on top of the yarn in the jar. Put another third of the yarn on top. Add more dye stuff and then the last third of the yarn. Put any remaining dye stuff on the top of the yarn. Mix the mineral mordant with tepid water and pour into the jar to nearly the top. Allow the yarn to absorb the water/mordant and top up with more water if needed. Close the top and leave for at least 3 months.

After 3 months (or up to a year if you forget!) place a colander in the sink and tip the yarn and dye into it. Gently rinse the yarn in tepid water to remove all the little bits of dye stuff. Keep rinsing until the water runs clear and colourless. Dry the yarn out of direct sunlight, ideally outside as drips may still contain small amounts of dye. Once its dry, its ready to wind into a ball and use for your next project.

Layers of solar dyeing

If you want a really easy way to get started with solar dyeing, try this…

Not sure where to start or what to get? Not sure how much you need?

Why not buy a natural solar dyeing kit from us? They are called DIY Daylight Dye kits (Dye It Yourself of course!) Each kit contains everything you need to get started: Full instructions describe how to use the kit. A skein of luxury yarn such as Merino and Alpaca. The dye stuff and mordant are premeasured for you so you have exactly the right amount. Latex free gloves and a free pattern. The process is clearly explained and there’s even a link to our You Tube clips of me setting up solar dyeing and rinsing the yarn afterwards.

These kits are the ideal way to try this fascinating and creative craft. Solar dyeing kits make an ideal gift too and are safe for children to use. Wool yarn not your thing? Don’t worry, I can make up a kit with cotton yarn for you and change the mordant to suit the fibre. Just let me know.

Solar Dyeing with flowers
Solar Dyeing with flowers

Your Comments

  1. Can I ask if you were at unravelled this year. I’m very interested in sun dying after seeing it at the shoe

    1. Hello Barbara, yes I was at Unravel this year. I was in the Tindle Studio, perhaps you saw me? Best wishes Caroline

    1. Hello, what colours are you looking for? Some are coming back into stock soon. Let me know and I’ll do my best to help.

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