How to dye with the sun

I have two solar ovens which I made at my daughters school, (more information here,  In the summer I use them for cooking, but when the sun isn’t very strong they are perfect for dyeing yarn and wool.

The solar oven is basically a box with a door at the back.  All of the walls and floor are made with two walls, with a space of 5cm between that is filled with scrunched up newspaper.  This insulates the oven.  The glass “roof” is a form of double glazing, (two pieces of glass glued together at the edges, forming a pocket of air between them).  There are also mirrors inside the oven to concentrate the sunlight.

Solar oven

There are many different types of solar ovens and some designs work better in different parts of the world depending on the angle of the sun and the time of the year you wish to use it.  Before I had a solar oven I dyed yarn using the same principles but inside a black plastic box.  I am sure anyone who does not have access to an oven can experiment with insulated boxes and other materials.

Soaked yarn placed in the jars with dyeing material

To start the dyeing I soak the clean yarn in cold water while I collect the leaves I am going to use for dying.  With the white wool I put onion skins in one jar and ivy leaves in a second jar.  I place the yarn into the two jars and fill them with cold water and a tablespoonful of vinegar.

I have learned that if the water is not level between the two jars the water will move through the yarn to make them even, taking the dye with it.  This can make interesting effects.

After an hour in the oven

I place the jars in the oven and close the door.  If the sun is very strong I will have to watch them more carefully, but this week the sun has not been strong, so I just left the jars alone.

Colours move up the yarn

I particular like working with onion skins and watching how different colours creep up above the dye line.  I left this yarn for two days then took the yarn out and washed it.  I then put a dark grey yarn in with the same onion skins but changed the ivy leaves for pear leaves.

Grey wool with onion skins and pear leaves

I left this wool for two days as well.  After washing and drying this is what I am left with.

Both yarns dried

Near the orange from the onion skins there is a pale pink which was above the dye line.

Subtle colours

I also have a pot with a glass lid which I use for larger batches.  Wool or yarn can also be painted and wrapped in plastic food wrap and put in the oven.  Similar to dyeing with steam or in a microwave oven, only this takes longer.

The advantages in using sun is it is a free energy and it works slowly, heating the wool up gently.  My ovens can’t boil water, so I know the temperatures will be hot but without the agitation of boiling.

Please fell free to ask questions if there is any thing I have missed or your own experiences and tips for dying fibre!

11 thoughts on “How to dye with the sun

  1. IsobelandCat says:

    Wow! I would ask questions but I ams till too enthralled by the whole process. Going to read it again.
    No I do have a question, just to check I have understood.
    You don’t have to move the wool, the water will take the dye from jar to the next via the wool? Is that right? Osmosis?

    • Thanks! It is fun experimenting with different dye materials.

    • Sorry I didn’t answer sooner. No, I don’t move the wool the water seems to move through the wool to make the two jars equal in water. The water “wicks” through the wool. But each jar has it’s own dye material, and the yarn between the jars should be without dye, but some always creeps up as the jars loses water (evaporation I think) at different speeds then the water passes between them to stay equal.

      The interesting part is I usually get pinks in this area above the water, between the jars. I am guessing it is a colour that is coming from the onion skins. Like when you wet black ink on some paper and the different colours in the ink separate the further they move from the ink spot.

      I am sure their is a science behind it, but I like the surprises!

  2. Northern Narratives says:


  3. That was REALLY cool! I’m going to read more about making my own sun oven. I don’t have tools, but my dad does. That may be a great project for him and my little man 😉 You certainly have fueled my fire! Thank you!

  4. OK!!! you have been very busy! This is cool. I wonder if I will be able to find a solar oven like yours around here. Maybe I’ll have to find someone to build me one!

    Would you mind if I linked this up to a blog about different types of “fun” dyeing that people can try?

    • Don’t mind at all! I think it is a really good way to dye, especially when it is winter here. We get the sun but not very hot so it heats the water slowly. I am really glad that people may find this useful!

  5. […] Cita has been playing with natural dying and is using a solar oven to dye and set her yarns.  Check it out.  I thought that this was very interesting.  If we had more sun in the summer I wouldn’t […]

  6. […] post de teñir en hornos solares/ solar dyeing post […]

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