Creating colour

The sun was up early this morning, so I put some wool in my solar ovens. I used my usual natural dye materials; walnut leaves, fennel flowers and leaves, onion skins, and avocado peels.

The onion skins I started the day before.




By the end of the day there was a bit of colour showing.




Here is some grey yarn I dyed on the weekend with onion skins.


I will leave the wool in the ovens for another day to deepen the colours, then they will be ready to spin!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Unique

Here are some unique yarns, spun by me. The yarn is a mix of mohair, from my semi-angora goats with wool from my sheep. I washed the wool and mohair separately, passed them through my wool picker, and then passed them through the drum carder to blend the two fibres. I spun the wool on my drop spindle and on my wheel.

These photographs show the yarn being dyed in my solar oven with onion skins and walnut tree leaves.





Quick, before the sun goes

Yesterday it was warm and sunny, it has been all week, so I thought I would do some solar dyeing.  I decided to dye wool before carding or spinning. I am not sure if this is going to give me good results, because the wool may still be greasy and there are bits of vegetable matter.

I put the dye material in first; avacado peels, onion skins, ivy and eucalyptus leaves.  These are all things I have in abundance. We eat a lot of avocados, as do most Chileans, so I have been saving the peels in the freezer.

Ready for the water and a spoonful of vinegar.

Then I stuffed some wool on top.  Most dyeing books recommend plenty of space and water when dyeing, but because I am going to leave the jars for a couple of days I think it will be okay all squashed in.

By yesterday afternoon there was a little colour starting to show.

And this afternoon a bit more colour.

I will leave the jars in the oven for another day and see how the colour develops.

Of course this morning there were mists rolling in from the ocean and there was not a lot of sun.  This is normal weather for La Serena, misty mornings, winter and summer.  Because our farm is outside of the city we get more sun than in town, but the further up the valley you go the more sun and drier it gets.

I have also been spinning some wool that I bought a couple of years ago, already dyed, (and felted).  I am not sure what the wool was meant for, it was too matted to spin, (I put it in my wool picker, then through my drum carder), and too thick to use in a weaving.  I think someone saw pretty roving on the internet and said “I can do that, who cares what it is for!”  It was cheap and at the time the first roving I had seen on sale in La Serena.  So the spinning is bumpy and full of  lumps, but the colours are pretty.

And Sheldon quite liked it!

Solar ovens in the valley

Last week, before my daughters went back to school, we had a day in the Elqui Valley.  We joined other people with solar ovens at an ecological camp ground.  The camp ground uses reed beds and natural spring pools for swimming pools.

Natural spring pool

We had a picnic and my youngest had a swim.

Steps between pools

We also walked down to the river where there are natural swimming pools and paths to follow and explore.

The Elqui River

While we had lunch and explored my yarn was dyeing in my solar oven and rice, cake, and sausages were cooking in the other ovens.

Solar ovens dyeing wool and cooking food

Rice cooking in a solar oven

There was a solar water heater on display, made with plastic tubes encased in recycled plastic water bottles.

Solar water heater and information about solar energy


Sharing food and ideas

After three hours in the oven my yarn was ready to remove and left to dry.

Solar dyed yarn

We had a lovely day chatting with interesting people and seeing how other people live with their surroundings.


Decorations around the camp site



Solar oven meeting

Last week I participated in a reunion of the Mujeres de Comunidades Rurales para el Uso de la Energía Solar, (Women from rural communities and their use of solar energy), and an exposition by the same group.

This was the second reunion, and it was nice to see some familiar faces and a lot of new ones.  Most of the women were from rural areas and had already participated in government granted projects and owned a solar oven, (like me), or they were hoping to be awarded a grant to build their own.  After listening to speakers we divided into groups by area and introduced ourselves.  Then with the help of professionals, we discussed and presented ideas to develop future projects.

Two days after the meeting we displayed our solar ovens in the Plaza de Armas in La Serena.  We showed how the solar ovens work and the different products that we make with our ovens.  There were jams and preserves, breads and cakes, and I showed my oven dyed wool.  There was a lot of interest by people passing by, as well as the local paper and TV.

Spinning in The Plaza de Armas

I had fun making new friends and sharing ideas with other women who enjoy creating.  I was also nicely surprised by the amount of people interested in hand spinning and wool dyed with natural materials.

Solar dyed wool

For more information, (in Spanish) this is the link of the organisation that builds and teaches solar ovens here in La Serena.

Hornos Solares Chile

Weekly Photo Challenge: Opportunity

A couple years ago my daughter’s school had the opportunity to learn how to make, use, and own solar and wood burning ovens.

This photo shows one of the ovens we made and the adobe oven built behind the school.  We use the adobe oven to cook food which we sell to raise money for the school.


More information on this project can be seen here :

And how I use solar ovens to dye wool can be seen here:

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!

Solar dying and knitting mittens

A couple weeks ago my daughter’s school hosted an environmental day.  I took my solar ovens to show how I dye wool with them.  Another mother brought jam that she makes in her solar oven, and we displayed our products to the visiting schools.

Yarn and jam with solar ovens

Baskets of hand spun wool and a Peruvian drop spindle

I thought of making hot water-bottle covers with this wool, but I only had about 50g of each colour.  I love knitting hats and scarves, but thought I would try mittens.

Hand spun yarn dyed with walnut leaves and onion skins in my solar oven

I used the pattern from Weekend Knitting, by Melanie Falick, “super mittens”.  I made a slight change to the pattern by putting an opening for the fingers to come out.

Green and purple two ply

They were fun and easy to knit, and make great presents for people who work on computers in cold offices!

Fingers out

Now I need to knit some smaller mittens, for smaller hands.

Mittens for my kittens

Cooking with the sun

A couple of years ago I was the president of the “Parents Association” at my daughter’s school.  This was a two year position, (that actually slid to two and half), and entailed a lot of work, mainly raising money for the school.  However, the “Centro de Padres” was lucky enough to win a grant which we used to learn how to build and use solar and adobe ovens.

With 15 other mothers we spent a year building solar and mud ovens, learning to cook with them, participating in workshops and demonstrations, and getting to know each other better.  It was a great experience, if not a bit stressful because it was a government grant with my name on it.  These are a few of the pictures I took to document the process.


Mothers learning how to make solar ovens with the teachers and students watching.


Students working with us. It was the first time many of them had used power tools, they had a great time.


The girls also had a go with the tools.


Getting dirty building the adobe wood burning oven. It uses wood more efficiently than an open fire.


Empanadas cooking in the oven.


All of us at the end of the project, me in the middle.

We all received a solar oven that we could continue to use in our own homes.  When you drive through the “pueblo” you can see some of them in use during the summer.

I have used mine for cooking, but also use it for dying wool, especially in the winter when the temperatures are lower.  I put hand spun yarn in jars, (or a big pot), with different leaves, flowers or onion skins.  The water does not boil and I can leave the wool “stewing” without worrying about over cooking.  It brings the water up to temperature very slowly, and then in the evening I leave it to cool slowly through the night.

We are now into autumn here and so last week before the temperatures dropped I cooked a black banana bread.  The recipe is from the internet, but it is just like one my mom used to cook when I was little.


Banana bread cooking in my oven.

It cooks at a low temperature for two and a half hours, but because the sun wasn’t strong it took longer and didn’t go as dark as it should have.  It was very sticky, (instead of moist), but still yummy.


Banana bread cooked in the solar oven.