Solar Dyeing

Solar Dyeing

The recent heatwave gave me the perfect excuse to try out a technique i’ve been curious about for a while. Solar dyeing is a technique that utilises the sun and natural materials to dye fabrics and yarns. Using the UV light of the sun to help fix the dye, it is an eco friendly and sustainable practice. To get started you need the following:

  • A big jar
  • Natural fabrics and yarns such as linen, cotton, silk & wool
  • A mineral non toxic mordant such as alum powder or cream of tartar
  • Dyeing material:

 food waste such as 

  • Onion skins
  • Avocado skins and pits
  • Tea
  • Black beans
  • Berries
  • Cabbage

Natural materials:

  • Leaves such as eucalyptus
  • Flowers such as chamomile or marigolds, cosmos or hollyhocks

At a carboot sale I came across a couple of big jars and pulled from my stash some fabrics. I decided for my first try I’d use onion skins in one jar and avocado’s skins and pits in the other. The onions were ready to go but I had to be patient and wait for the avocado skins to dry out first. Next I needed a mordant (a substance that combines with the dye and fixes it into the fabric) . I chose to use a combination of alum powder and cream of tartar.

With my materials gathered all I had to do was add the onion skins in one jar and the crushed avocado skins and pits in the other. Stuff in my fabric pieces, a tsp of each mordant in each jar and then fill them up with water. I popped the lids on tightly and gave them a good shake to dissolve the mordant.

I then placed them outside in the sunlight for two weeks, giving them the occasional shake. Here are the results:

The onion skins worked really well and gave me a beautiful yellow colour. The avocado was more subtle, giving me a pale pink.

It required patience however the process was so easy and I feel I have only just touched the surface. The next one I plan to try is black beans which should give me a blue colour and blackberries for a purple. I would also love to try some different leaves and flowers to see what results I can get. There is something so satisfying about seeing the transformation and using natural materials to extract colours. 

In this day and age it seems a wonderful sustainable way to dye fabric. It’s by no means new. It’s a process that I can imagine our ancestors doing way back when, and it feels amazing to get back to our roots.