How I do it- Solar Dyeing with Summer Heat!

There are some hot Summer days ahead!  The best way to use the heat is for Solar Dyeing!    When the temp’s are predicted to hit over 90 degrees dyeing becomes easy as setting jars outside in the sun!

2/14/13 update: LOTS of views coming from Pinterest! Hi everyone! I hope you find this helpful and dye up some colorful wools! I have more tutorials here. Thanks for stopping by!

For Solar Dyeing- What you need:
black plastic garbage bags
large mason jars (also gallon freezer ziploc bags will work but it’s not quite as easy to fill)
citric acid or white vinegar
acid dyes
protein fib
large measuring cup for pouring water into jars
plastic spoon or measuring spoon for dye
wooden skewers

I like to fill a couple large dyepots with water and a few tablespoons of citric acid and set them on the stove to boil.
I measure out my fiber in 2-4 oz bundles, and I put them in water to soak.
I set out my mason jars, and add the dye. I usually can fit the bundles of 2-4 oz of wool or locks into the jar, depending on how curly/smooshy the breed. I can fit lots of silk into a jar.. so use as much dye as you’d need for the fiber you’ll use.

Acid dye in jars

Acid Dye in jars

Then I pour the boiling water into the jars (pouring it from the large pot into the measuring cup, so I don’t splosh water everywhere), filling them 3/4 of the way (or so… a bit less.. depending on how much fiber I’m using)
Then I smoosh a bundle into each jar, using a skewer.  If there’s room left, I top off the top of the jar with more of the citric acid water.

dye jars for solar dyeing

Wool in Dye Jars

Then I put the lids on the jars and put the jars outside to set.  I usually put my jars on the rail of our deck, since it gets the most direct sunlight.  If I need to “force” some extra heat, I will put a black plastic bag on the deck, and then put the jars on top of the black plastic bag.  I can even put them IN a black plastic bag, and tie the top.. that will add some additional degrees, if your day isn’t getting as hot as you were expecting, or you put the jars out a little later in the day.

Solar dyeing solids

Solid Jars out in the Sun

For the chemical reaction to happen- the dye to bond with the protein fibers, the temperature has to be at 185 degrees for at least 30 minutes (I prefer a bit longer).  Usually I would put the jars in the oven, a canner or the microwave to reach the heat needed to set, but leaving the jars out in the sun for 3-4 hours in the extreme heat will also do the job.  When the dyes are set, the water-which was at first the color of your dye- will be clear, and your fiber will be dyed.

solar results

All the pretty wool!!

I think one of the coolest things about this technique is the colors will strike a bit differently on the different parts of the wool, since you’re citric acid is in the water you pour into the jar.  This will give you a varying of lights and darks in the same jar.


Dye Strike

You may even get the dye striking different colors in different places- splitting, depending on your water and the acid mix. I especially love this in solar dyeing!

If you want to dye multiple colors in the same jar- rather than adding the dye first, I put the dry wool into the jars first.. THEN I add the colors on top of the dry wool- putting one color into each ‘quarter segment’

Add Dye

Add Dye

Then I add the citric acid water. As the water filters down the jar, it will carry the dye down with it. This creates a wonderful ‘tye dye’ effect!! Keep adding water to the jar until it’s full to the top. Add the lid and put outside.

Solar dyeing multi colors

Solar Dyeing Multi Colors

So now, when the temperature starts to rise, you can use the heat for more than just drying your fleece! Now you can DYE it too!

Posted in Fiber Musings, How I do it and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , .


  1. Dang, you are a mind reader. I saw those gorgeous jars lined up and thought “I wonder how she does that?”. Also, that jars on the railing picture is worthy of a calendar. It could be July, lol.

  2. I’m wishing I had enough heat at all this summer to do this! Apparently I missed it while at Fibre Week. It’s been cold and dreary for the past 2 weeks. I’m hoping for some hot hot days to dye up the fleece I have washed!

  3. Thanks for the comments everyone! It really has been a great way to use this oppressive heat! I have updated the post to include the directions for dyeing multi colors in the same jar!! Have fun!!

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  6. Pingback: How I do it- Solar Dyeing with Summer Heat! | wyrdandwonderful

  7. A great place to put your fibers that need heat (I use Procion MX on cotton that is thickened with Sodium Alginate and “paint” with it) – roll up fiber in black garbage bags and hang or set in the back seat of your car or mini van in the summer. It gets SO HOT in that vehicle – especially when facing the sun, that you will have coclor set in no time!

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