Thursday, 3 June 2010

More On Solar Dyeing

From Left to Right the pots are birch leaves with added alum , rusty nails and copper piping

I have added more pots to my array. This is partly because my dye garden is open to visitors this month and it is something else for them to look at, partly because I am demonstrating and exhibiting at The Natural Dye at Trefriw Woollen Mill Conwy on Saturday June 5th. This is a day of dyeing with indigo and coreposis by me , demonstrating of spinning and felting, talks on dye plants , and solar dyeing demonstration. This leads me onto my pots. When my friend Anne was here (who is demonstrating the spinning) I told her about birch leaves and what a good dye it was. Off we went withthe dogs, and picked birch leaves. We half filled her 4 litre pot with birch leaves topped up with hot water, and then decided to try and add rusty nails as a mordant. DH joyfully pulled rusty nails out of planks from our newly demolished shed, we added them to the birch leaf pot and the water in the pot went black almost immediately, indicating that the leaves were high in tannin and the the iron had reacted with tannin to give grey to black. To the next pot we added a piece of copper piping and a tablespoon of the copper mordant I had made by putting copper piping into acidulated water (made by adding vinegar to water). This used up all the birch leaves we had collected but by this time we felt the pots would clearly illustrate colour modification by the different mordants so when DH next took the dogs off to the woods he picked some more and this time I added alum only to the pot. All of the solar pots had some unmordanted fine prefelt added which I had wetted out and some unmordanted mohair. As sod's law ( what ever can go wrong will go wrong) would have it we had no sun for a few days so yesterday was the first day the alum pot really got going and this morning is quite yellow.
This pot was started on May 5th. On the bottom layer is annatto seeds which I had soaked in vodka for 5 days to extract the dye. I added about 200ml or so of water and onto this I pushed down about a metre of pre-mordanted cotton muslin ( mordanted in 5% alum acetate) and added a tablespoon of a logwood dye bath as well as some logwood chips. This experiment was inspired by the new yahoo group I belong to, sustainabledyepractice, where we are investigating dyes month by month. The first one in May was Annatto and the second starting in June is Brazilwood. So yesterday I stuffed down some more premordanted muslin and added some brazilwood chips to the top and little water. It will be fun to see what has happened by the end of the summer!

A few people have asked me how to make solar pots. The most usual way I do it is to start with a glass jar, put in a generous handful of dye stuff if dried and about half the jar if fresh, add premordanted fibres, top up with warm water and leave in a sunny place. You can add unmordanted fibres and put in some mordant solution which is mostly what my friend Anne does. I leave my pots all summer befor emptying them out and seeing what has happened.


  1. Hi Helen, how nice to see you use birch leaves as a solar dye. I was just going to go pick them today and do solar dyeing in the greenhouse, where I started other jars yesterday. I have never used birch leaves like this before and I wasn't sure if the heat from sun was enough but thanks to you I now see it is:)

  2. Hi Helen

    I'm doing some solar dyeing (for the first time) and was interested in the use of leaves with tannin.

    I dried some sumach leaves last year and would like to use those, so I think I'll give it a try. I don't have jars, so have used a stainless steel pasta pan with a glass lid which seems to hold heat quite well.

    Here's a thing. I went to my copper water this year and it's turned brown! I wondered if it had been contaminated, but opened a small bottle I'd decanted from some copper water a made a few years ago and had forgotten about and it too is brown. So is it brown because:
    A it's contaminated or
    B because it's old??

    Best wishes


  3. Hi Leena we have a saying here somewhat used as a light fun jokey comment. " Great minds think alike"
    We always seem to be trying the same things out without meaning too. Incidentally before I started my big pots I tried little jam jar with birch leaves and the wool went bright yellow very quickly.

  4. Hi Alison
    I saw from your blog that your pan was getting to 50degrees C so should be fine as a solar pot.
    I don't know about your copper mordant. Mine is a clear bright blue after a year so to me it does seem as if yours is contaminated. Have you asked Jenny Dean as she is the expert on the alternative mordants? What is it about tannin bearing plants you find so interesting, what are you trying to achieve-blacks or greys or to use them as a mordant?
    Bw Helen

  5. Great Great explanation. I read your first post and loved it. This is such a great experiment.

  6. This looks fun to do-thanks-do you know if I can use oak leaves, hickory or walnut leaves? its what I have plentiful here in my woods

  7. Hi Kathy
    Walnut leaves will give you a soft green which is really nice. as to oak leaves and hickory leaves-why not try a small jam jar first. That is what I do when I want tot try something out. After all what do you have to lose. :)