Local Yarn from Happy Sheep | Grown, Spun & Dyed in Central Germany

Journal

my experience with sun dyes

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As you may have seen over on Instagram, I just returned from an entire summer spent with my family in Canada. It was such a wonderful time for us and I really took the opportunity to pursue a few creative pursuits that I had had trouble finding time for this past winter and spring.

One of these was most definitely natural dying. Right at the beginning of our time away, I made a little trip to the Maiwa Supply Shop on Granville Island and purchased some extracts for natural dying. While I did spend a lot of time experimenting with these (and was able to create some lovely mini skeins that will be available in our shop next week!) the real surprise for me this past summer was how much I loved working with raw dyestuffs that I had foraged myself- particularly dried marigold flowers from my mom's garden. 

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While I did create a traditional dye pot to dye up my mini skeins for the shop, I also took the time to experiment a little with sun dying- a super simple technique that can yield rewarding results. Because this was really so easy, I thought I'd share here a little more about what I did, in case you want to try it yourself. It would make a great project for a beginner who doesn't want to bother with too many steps before jumping in to natural dyes, and it would also be a super fun activity to do with kids! 

So without any further rambling, here's how I set up my sun dye experiment:

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First off is of course to gather your supplies. As I mentioned, I used marigolds for this. The ones I used were fresh, right off of flowers from the garden, but you could also try this with dried flowers, or another flower or leafy plant from your garden. Then you'll need your fiber. I used 100% wool (because, well I'm partial!) and split a larger skein into smaller 20-25g skeins so that they would fit in my jar better and so I could move them around easier to ensure the dye took to the fiber evenly.

Beyond your dye stuff and fiber, you will also need: a glass jar with a lid, a wooden spoon, and lukewarm water (can be straight from the tap). Optionally, you may also like to use some kind of filter (like a strainer, coffee filter or cheesecloth, depending on how small your petals and leaves are) If you're using very very small petals you may wish to create your dye bath first, strain it, and then add your fiber afterwards. This will take longer but would keep little tiny petals from attaching themselves to your fiber. For my experiment with the marigolds this wasn't necessary. (I did however do this for the sun dye I made using Osage, which is a form of sawdust)

The final thing you'll need is a warm sunny day. You'll definitely want to do this before winter hits! What makes sun dye so simple is that you can literally just leave your jar in a warm sunny spot for a day or two (or more, depending on how intense you want the color to be) to work it's magic. So you'll want a warm day, and a spot with as much sunlight as possible. 

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Alrighty, so once you've gathered everything you need, there's really not too much left to it. To prep your fiber, soak it in lukewarm water for 15-20 minutes, ensuring there are no dry parts left. This will help it take on the dye evenly. (At this point in the process, you may also scour and/or mordant your fiber should you choose to. As I was doing this purely for fun and to keep the fiber myself, I decided not to do either of these steps for my sun dye experiment). 

Now you can make your dye bath! Simply pick the petals/buds/leaves that you're going to be using to dye up, and add them to your jar. Fill the jar with your water so that your dyestuff is completely covered. And then add your (pre-wet) fiber. Pay close attention to the temperature of the water here, as you don't want to "shock" your fiber by putting it in water that's too hot or too cold. 

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Then find your sunny spot and let your dye bath heat up over the next day or two. You can use a wooden spoon to move it around in the jar (to ensure all parts take on the dye evenly) and you can even pull it out to check on how it's taking the color on every once in awhile if you so choose. Once you're satisfied with it, remove it from the dyebath, removing any petals or leaves and rinse it gently. Then hang it to dry in a dark place, out of direct sunlight.

And there you have it! You're own mini-skein, dyed up using only flowers, water and sunlight. How amazing is that? Do let me know if you give this project a try- I'd love to hear how it goes!  

All photos in this post were taken by Finlay Burrage.

Ruth Werwai