This spring I’ve had a go at solar dyeing for the first time. The method suits me very well – after preparation, you can just leave the jars for a few weeks until you are happy with the colour, or more likely, until you have a spare moment to deal with them again.
The method is remarkably simple. I had washed and mordanted the yarns with alum and cream of tartar in advance (apparently you could put the mordant in the jar too, although I haven’t tried this method so I’m not sure how well it works). As I had been dyeing with madder and brazilwood, I already had dye liquid I could use so I just half filled my pickling jars (found on eBay) with the dye liquid and added some wool, closed the lid and left the jar in my green house for some weeks (I think they were there for over a month as I was busy with other things).
The brazilwood dye liquid was in fact the rinsing water I had rinsed my previously dyed wool in – it is just amazing that there’s still enough dye in it to dye wool a lovely shade of pink. And it’s great there’s an easy way to use such left overs and nothing goes to waste.
As it was the height of daffodil time when I was doing this, and we have hundreds of daffodils growing in our garden, I picked some daffodil flowers (ones that were past their best), poured boiling water from a kettle on them and left it for a few hours before preparing the solar dyeing jar. I put some flowers at the bottom, then some wool and some flowers at the top. This method produced a really lovely gentle yellow, but after a few weeks the flowers went rather slimy and it was difficult to rinse them off the wool fibre, so I wouldn’t necessarily recommending this method with unspun fibre.
I also used nettle and ivy, following the same method as with the daffodil flowers. The nettle went quite slimy too and again it was difficult to rinse the plant bits from the fibre. Ivy leaves, being more sturdy, didn’t go slimy and so I had less of a problem with getting them off the wool.
Daffodil, nettle and ivy all gave me various shades of yellow. My favourite one was the daffodil, it was a lovely buttery shade but quite strong nevertheless, so I will definitely use them again next spring.
Another problem I had was that some jars developed some mold over the weeks. It only developed on the surface, so most of the wool was unaffected. I know I could have brought the wool to a simmering point to kill the mold but that sort of defeats the point of solar dyeing. Excluding air from the surface would probably help to prevent the problem. One way to do this would be to fill the jar all the way to the top but it’s not a good idea to do this because the liquid needs room to expand as the temperature rises. I might try putting a piece of plastic on the surface next time and see if this makes a difference at all. If you have any good tips for preventing mold, please let me know!