The Magical Sun FairiesAug 30, 2022
I love this time of year...back to school, harvesting the late summer’s garden bounty, and
with the help of the magical sun fairies, using natural dyes from Mother Earth to dye the
fiber and textiles I will use throughout the school year for all of my handwork projects.
Natural dyes are the oldest way of dyeing textiles. Our ancestors used plant materials,
leaves, roots, bark, flowers, veggies, fruits, and even insects to dye fiber and fabrics. Using
natural dyes is a great way to connect with the earth.
My favorite method of natural dyeing is solar dyeing. Solar dyeing requires very little work
and it produces the most magical, beautiful, intense, rich colors. It also requires very few
tools as compared to stovetop dyeing as you are relying on the sun as your energy source.
Something important to remember when using natural dyes is that the dye will only bond to
natural fibers such as cotton, linen, wool, and silk and some dyes require the addition of a
mordant, such as alum, to help the dye bond to the fiber.
There are so many natural dye materials to choose from. There are some that you can forage
for in the wild and many that may already be growing in your garden. You can even use
kitchen scraps! One of my favorite kitchen scrap dyes is onion skins, both yellow and red.
Yellow onion skins create gorgeous shades of gold and orange, while red onion skins give
the most surprising result...green!
The first step to solar dyeing is to gather your dyestuff. Some examples that are easy to
forage this time of year are goldenrod, marigolds, cosmos, walnuts, black-eyed susan,
dahlias, and amaranth. Kitchen scraps would include beets, purple cabbage, onion skins,
avocado stones and skins, blackberries, black tea, and black beans.
One thing I want to note is that you can use both fresh and dried flower petals. During the
summer I dry flowers from my dye garden by bundling them and hanging them to dry, and
then storing them in glass jars to use later.
After you have your dyestuff ready, gather the rest of the materials and supplies. You will
need fiber or fabric scraps, again make sure you are using only natural fibers. If you are using
a larger skein of yarn, you will want to split it into smaller skeins to fit in the jar better. You
want your fiber to be able to move around easily to take the dye evenly. You will also need a
glass jar with a lid, a teaspoon, water, and alum. Alum can be found in most grocery stores in
the spice aisle. You may also want to use cheesecloth to hold dyestuff in so bits of plant dyes
don’t get stuck in the fiber. I mainly use the cheesecloth with berries.
Step 1: Prep your fiber by soaking it in lukewarm water for at least 30 minutes. This helps
open the fibers to accept the dye evenly.
Step 2: Fill a glass jar with 1 tsp alum and a small amount of warm water. Stir until fully
dissolved. Make sure the water cools to room temperature before adding wool so you don’t
shock the fiber, water that is too hot will cause the wool to felt.
Step 3: Add a bit of dyestuff to the bottom of the jar. Add your fiber to the jar, layering in
more dyestuff in the middle and top of the jar to give even color distribution. Fill the jar with
Step 4: Put a lid on the jar and label it so you remember what you put in the jar. Find a sunny
spot outside or on a windowsill and let the sun fairies work their magic! This could take as
little as a couple of days or as long as a couple of weeks depending on how sunny it is where
Step 5: Once you see that the fibers have absorbed the color, it is time to rinse! To rinse,
gently lift the fiber out of the jar and wash gently with wool wash in lukewarm water until
the water runs clear. Be mindful not to agitate wool fibers too much as this will cause
felting. Hang your yarn or fabric to dry. Once dry, wind yarn into a ball and enjoy your
naturally dyed fiber gift from the sun fairies!
~ Ms. Maggie (Seasons of Seven Handwork Teacher)
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