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Solar dyeing wool

Solar dyeing uses the energy of the sun to transfer dye to yarn. It takes time, but your input is very minimal and it is a pretty project to watch develop.

You need:

  • A large jar – a pickle type jar is ideal.
  • Alum mordant, 10-15% of the dry weight of yarn.
  • Undyed wool yarn that will go inside the jar - you may be better with a few small skeins than one large one.
  • Dye material (I used turmeric and blackberries).

1) Mordant the yarn

Dissolve the alum with a little boiling water and then mix it into water in your pickle jar. Remember to leave space to add the yarn.

Wet yarn thoroughly and add to jar.

Leave for 12-48 hours and then drain (you can save mordant to do more yarn – just add in an extra 5-8% alum). Dry for use when dye jar is ready.

2) Dye jar - One step process

Add your dye stuff to your jar – you need 2 tablespoons per litre of water for Turmeric and as many as you can fit in and still get the yarn in for blackberries.

Add yarn and stir. Put on lid.

Put on a sunny windowsill and upend daily to mix colour for at least 2 weeks.

Remove yarn, leave to dry and then rinse until water runs clear.

3) Dye jar – Two step process

If you want to use berries but obtain an even colour without any plant matter sticking to your yarn then add in an extra step.

Do not add the yarn alongside the berries, rather wait a week until the berries have turned the water a deep rich colour and then drain them through muslin or a sieve – returning the dye to the jar.

Add yarn and put back on the sunny windowsill for 2 weeks, upending every day to mix the colour well.

4) Dye jar – Three step process

Blackberries and turmeric dye fast but are not colourfast and will fade over time. If you want to use a more colourfast dye – like nettles, onions or tansy - then heat the plants in 1 litre of water, as you would in normal dyeing, and simmer for 10-15 minutes and transfer to your pickle jar and leave for a week before straining and adding yarn.

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