More sunny solar dyes from the kitchen and garden

As I sit here in temperatures hitting 40 degrees celsius, I thought I’d take a moment inside, in the shade to sit quietly and tell you about a some more glorious colours this summer of high temperatures and ‘burny’ sun have enabled me to create.

Following the wonderful vibrant yellow I was able to create using yellow coreopsis and the power of the sun which I shared last time, I’ve been trying this approach with a range plant materials because it’s just so easy. We’ve had a wonderfully busy summer of travel and visiting friends and family with still more to come, hence things being so quiet here on the blog, but I’ve learnt that solar dyeing, albeit in small batches, is the perfect method of dyeing to fit in around whatever else I need or want to be doing.

The skeins I want to share today were dyed using plants I’ve not dyed with before. There’s no particular reason for this, just that I haven’t got around to it. The first is a ubiquitous dye material, often one of the first for many people, and one I observed being dyed at the inspirational natural dyeing course I took with Elizabeth Johnston at Shetland Wool Week. This inspiration has had me saving the skins of our home grown onions since I started my experiments in natural dyeing. So, as you van imagine I have fair few bags of them!

A few weeks ago however, between us returning from our holiday and my visiting the UK to visit my two new great nieces, I needed to plait this years onion crop ready for storage. Itching to get something more in a dye jar I decided to collect up all the dry skins that flaked off during the plaiting process and pop them in a jar. I covered it with warm water and left it in the sun. The colour began to emerge almost immediately.

Meanwhile, spurred on by the alchemy before my eyes, I thought I’d get on and try another plant that I’d been thinking about for ages, docks.

This is the time of year when our top ‘field’ where we have a vegetable patch, fruit and olives trees, also produces a good crop of deep red dock seeds. So I went and gathered some of these dramatic looking spears and harvested the seeds.

Again I added warm water, but this time the transformation was a little slower getting going.

I left both jars to steep overnight while I soaked 3 skeins of yarn that had been cold mordanted with alum.

The next day I decanted the steeped solution into three jars, 2 from the onions skins and 1 from the dock. To the second jar from the onions skins I added a teaspoon of and iron solution. In theory, onion skins with iron can create colours ranging from green to grey and even black, so I wanted to see what I would get.

These jars were then left for 2 weeks because I had baby nieces to go see. Because I would not be around to check on them I did not leave the jars on the table in full sun as I normally would but instead in a slightly more shaded position on a shelf next to the house. I hoped the extended length of time would make up for any lack of sunlight, and the forecast was for hot weather so I thought I could rely on the jars heating up nicely….

So what do you think?

In both onion skeins I noticed that I was not as careful as I could’ve been when straining off the steeped solution and a couple little bits of onion skin made it into the jar. This has created little patches or perhaps speckled on the skeins, of a more intense, burnt reddish orange on the orange skein and almost black on the iron modified green skein.

I like this effect, and writing this post has reminded me that I was going to dye another skein using some more of the original steep solution but this time mixing in some dry onion skins with the skein to see if I can create intentional colour variation and a more tonal effect where they touch.

Now for the dock seeds. How lovely is that yellow?

I’m getting very excited about yellows these days, despite it not being a great colour on me, but it does play so nicely with other colours.

I wasn’t really expecting such a lovely bright clear yellow, I’ve seen examples of dock dyed yarn and fabrics and sometime they cn be a little on the ‘beige’ end of the spectrum, and I’ve dyed an awful lot of beige in the past, especially with some of my earlier oxalic acid mordant experiments, that the thought of more had dampened my excitement about dock. It just goes to show, sometimes you have to try if for yourself. Once I’ve done a test for lightfastness I’ll know if its a true yellow candidate going forward. We certainly have a plentiful supply and who knows, perhaps the yellow coreopsis flowers may get a reprieve!

How’s your summer going? Mine has more dyeing than knitting given the heat, but I’m looking forward to picking up my needles and working with my own dyed yarns soon.

All the best, and happy knitting,


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