Sun Dyeing

I was reading a blog a couple of weeks ago with some scepticism. With the benefit of hindsight I concede my scepticism was a little unfair. The blogger in question had posted about sun dyeing and said that you don’t need to buy those expensive photo-sensitive fabric dyes / paints, any old fabric paint will do. My initial reaction was, if any old fabric paint will do why is there a market for those expensive photo-sensitive paints? Too good to be true right?

The scientist in me made me set my scepticism to one side long enough to perform a little experiment. We all want to save our pennies to spend on more textile toys don’t we??


  • Light coloured cotton based fabric (I expect silk will work too but synthetics possibly not – those are experiments for another day 🙂 )
  • A pad of newspaper or a large box (I used a plastic under-bed storage box)
  • Masking tape
  • A spray bottle filled with water
  • Fabric paints (I used Setasilk (iron-fix) silk paint and acrylic paint mixed 50:50 with textile medium). If you don’t plan to wash your fabric you can replace the textile medium with water.
  • Large brushes (I used the foam type)
  • Resists – I used leaves but anything that will lie flat on the fabric and block the light all work well. Paper cut outs and opaque stencils work well.

This is what I did:

  • Stretch your fabric over a box or a pad of newspaper with masking tape
  • Spray with water until evenly wet, allow the water to disperse while you gather some leaves or other objects to create a resist.
  • Working quickly, cover your fabric with fabric paint and lay out your resists, ensure they are as flat as possible to the surface of the fabric.
  • Leave in a sunny spot for 2 hours (beware of breezes blowing all your resists away if you put your box outside – I left mine in front of a south facing window).
  • The hardest part is resisting the urge to lift the leaves to see what is happening underneath 😉
  • Remove the leaves / resists and iron for several minutes to heat fix.

Sitting in the sun catching some rays, the pink and blue on the left is the Setasilk paint and on the right is red acrylic paint mixed with textile medium.

I think I applied the acrylic paint (on the right) too thickly, hence the effect is not so noticeable. In the areas where the paint is a little thinner the leaves are paler.

A second attempt with a lighter coating of acrylic paint. I also sprinkled a few grains of rock salt in the bottom right to see what effect that would have:

After 2 hours on a sunny windowsill:

Close up of the salt effect, it appears to have concentrated the paint under the grain and drawn the paint from the surrounding area:

A close up of an acer leaf outline.

Have you done any sun dyeing? What paints / fabrics did you use?
Linking up to nina-marieoff the wall Friday

Kumihimo Braiding Tutorial

I recently discovered Kumihimo (pronounced koo-me-he-mo) braiding and thought I would share some of the techniques with you.

It’s a fascinating technique with a mind-boggling array of different pattern possibilities, a small selection of which I have shown at the bottom of this post.

You will need a Kumihimo disc and some yarn or thick threads, embroidery thread works well, the discs are not expensive but you can also make your own. All you need is a disc off dense (stiff) foam (the sort garden kneeling mats are made from is good) or some thick cardboard, a craft knife, pencil and tape measure or ruler.

Making a Kumihimo Disc

  1. Use a compass, saucer, small bowl or pint glass to trace a circle on your foam / cardboard and cut out the circle. 
  2. Mark the rim with 32 evenly spaced pencil lines, this does not need to be exact but I find it easiest to mark the 12, 3, 6 and 9 positions of the clock first. 
  3. Then measure the distance around the edge between 2 of your marks, this is easiest with a tape measure but can be done by rolling the disc along a ruler too.
  4. Divide this figure by 9. 
  5. Use the result to mark out 8 equally spaced lines between each of your clock quarters, you should now have 36 equally spaced pencil marks.
  6. Using a craft knife cut notches at each of the marks and a 2 cm wide hole in the middle of your disc.
This is what your finished disc should look like:
I have a commercial foam board that I like to use but the technique is exactly the same:

Setting Up Your Disc for Braiding
There are dozens of different braiding patterns available and these are largely determined by where the different coloured threads are placed on the disc at the start.

Once you have chosen your pattern (see below), cut 8 or 16 lengths of yarn (as dictated by your pattern). They need to be 3 times the length of your finished braid plus a few inches for knotting the ends. Tie them together with a single knot at one end and drop the knot through the hole in the middle of your disc.

Place the threads in the groves according to your pattern, making sure each pair is at least 2 notches from their neighbours (unlike the image below), they should be fairly taught with the knot just below the surface of the disc:

Holding the disc in your left hand (it doesn’t matter where you start) *take the left hand thread at the 6 o’clock position and place it in the grove to the left of the 12 o’clock position.

Then take the right hand thread from the 12 o’clock position and place it to the right of the thread at the 6 o’clock position.

Rotate the disc anti-clockwise 1 position so the next pair of threads are at the 6 o’clock position and repeat from *. Keep going until your cord is the desired length then remove all the treads from their notches and tie them all together with an overhand knot to finish.

If you have to put it down and come back to it, simply look for the uppermost threads and start with the next pair to the lower left (at the 8 o’clock position).

A Neater Way to Finish
If your ends will be seen or you want to tuck them into jewellery findings this video describes a better method for finishing the ends.

Pattern Choice
There are countless patterns available on the internet and in books but there is also a lot to be said for exploring and finding your own patterns too, just start with lengths of wool approx 20 cm (5 inches) long and make a note of the starting position of each colour on the wheel.

Here are a few examples to get you started:

How do you use your braids? Please feel free to post a link to photos of your work below.

Happy Braiding!

Paper Making

Last Sunday the sun was shining and lifting my spirits, almost perfect weather for drying hand-made papers, something I haven’t done for a few months now but it was so much fun I can’t think why I have left it so long.

I thought I would share my method with you as I think it is much easier than the mould and deckle method most people / books teach. For my method you will need:

  • a paper-making mould (this can be an old picture frame with some fine mesh stapled across the opening)
  • some shredded paper (I use photocopier paper with printing on it but any paper that’s not too shiny should work fine)
  • some inclusions (optional), I have used flowers and tea bags but the world is your oyster here. Acrylic paint or food dye can be used to give a more uniform colour but I like how the colour from many flowers “bleeds” through the paper.
  • a blender or food processor
  • boiling water and a sink or tub large enough for your mould / frame
  • a sponge
  • some old towels

This is a selection of my dried inclusions. I keep a saucer in the kitchen and add things that I think might make interesting inclusions, here I have some used tea bags, a variety of seed heads and some dried flowers rescued from dying flower arrangements destined for the compost bin.

I used some fresh flowers too:

For an A4 frame (US letter size), put approx. 300 ml of shredded paper into a blender or food processor and cover with boiling water. 300 ml of paper will give quite a thick sheet of paper, try using less for thinner paper (but this requires a little more skill to make sure you don’t end up with holes).

Let it soak for a minute or two while you part fill a sink with cold water and lay the paper-making mould in it, mesh side down. The mesh of the frame should sit just beneath the surface.

Whiz the paper at a moderate to high speed for 5 seconds to get a smooth pulp. Add your inclusions and whiz briefly to mix.

Pour the pulp across the mesh surface of the frame, rinse out the blender pouring the solution over any thick areas of pulp in the frame to thin them out. Give the frame a little jiggle while it is still the water to even out the pulp.

Carefully lift the frame out of the water keeping it level, wipe a sponge across the base several times to remove excess water, lay the frame on an old towel (this will help remove so more water).

Place piece of blotting paper over the wet pulp.

Gently tap the blotting paper all over with your finger tips until it is evenly wet:

Note: using coloured blotting paper will transfer some of that colour to one side of your paper, if you can get white blotting paper this is better.

Turn the frame the other way up over a dry towel and tap the mesh until the pulp starts to detach (as it has in the bottom of this photo):

Keep tapping the mesh util the pulp has completely detached from the mesh and leave your paper to dry.

These are my papers drying in the spring sunshine:

When completely dry, the blotting paper is carefully peeled off, and your new paper can be ironed to flatten it.

My finished papers:

Do you make your own paper? I would love to hear your tips and favourite inclusions in the comments below. Likewise, if this tutorial has inspired you to have a go, I’d love to see your results 🙂

Rainbow / Space Dyeing Fabric

I love creating my own dyed fabrics for nuno felting, it is so easy. The results can be amazing and truly individual. If you haven’t tried it yet you really should!

What you will need:

  • Some plant based fabric or silk, my favourites are cotton scrim, cotton muslin and ponge (pronounced “parj”) silk. Don’t bother with synthetic fabrics, the results will be very pale if the dyes take at all.
  • Cold water dyes (I like the Procion MX range) – if you can only afford a limited number I suggest you start with the primary colours (magenta, turquoise and yellow) as almost all other colours can be made from these.
  • Some old buckets or washing up bowls and a measuring jug (please don’t use anything you plan to use for preparing food as the chemicals used in dyeing are toxic and/or carcinogenic).
  • Rubber gloves (I use latex examination gloves but a pair of old marigolds will be just fine).
  • At least 3 small water-tight pots (old chutney / jam (jelly) jars are good) for mixing.
  • Weighing scales that will accurately measure down to 0.5g or less (or you can just use an old teaspoon).
  • Soda ash and some ordinary table salt (both are needed for the fibres to take up and fix the dye).
  • Newspapers / plastic sheets or old towels to protect your work surface from spillages.
  • If you live in a hard water area, dyer’s calgon is a worthwhile investment, it costs pennies and will make your colours more vibrant.

Getting started:

  1. Protect your work area with newspaper / plastic
  2. Make a note of  how much your fabric weighs (while it is still dry)
  3. Most people will recommend you wash your fabrics to remove any residues or chemicals that might impede the dye from penetrating the fibre. I confess I have never done this and never had a problem but if you are working on something important or cannot afford to buy more fabric if it goes wrong, I recommend you wash it. I like to live life on the edge! ;o)
  4. For every 100g of fabric, put 10g of salt, 0.5g of calgon (if using) and 1 litre of warm water in a bucket and mix well.

    Worked example: for 130 g of fabric (I always round up so I would assume 200g fabric) you will need: 20g salt, 1g calgon and 2L of water.

    Push your fabric down into the solution and squeeze the air out of it to help it sink. Let it soak for approx. 1 hour. While your fabric is soaking you can prepare your dyes…

  5. Select your colours, I recommend starting with 3 colours that sit next to each other on the colour wheel for your first attempt, for example, red, purple and blue or blue, green and yellow will work well together, even where the colours overlap. Some lovely effects can be achieved using complementary colours but if you apply too much dye you could just end up with different shades of brown (see left side of photo above)! If you only have primary colours, select 2 and use them to create your third colour, for example 1g of red and 1g of blue will give you purple. A note of caution with yellow, I find I need more yellow than blue or red to get green and orange, typically 2/3 (2g) of yellow to 1/3 (1g) of blue or red works well.
  6. How intense do you want your finished colours to be?
    Pale – use 1g in 50ml (approx. half a tsp)
    Medium – use 2 g in 50ml (approx. 1 level tsp)
    Intense / deep colour – use 3 g in 50ml (approx. 1.5 tsp)
  7. Put your gloves on if you are not already wearing them!
  8. Measure your dye powders into separate jars and add mix with a small amount of water, make up to 50 ml with water from the bucket your fabric is soaking in. Please be careful not to inhale the powdered dyes as they are carcinogenic. Once made up, these dye solutions will keep for several weeks. Three x 50 ml pots will be enough to dye approx 200-300g of fabric completely (without white patches).
  9. Make up your soda ash solution towards the end of the hour (it only remains active for 2-3 hours). For every 100g of dry fabric mix 15g of soda ash in 300ml of warm water.
  10. Squeeze the excess water out of your fabric and arrange in the bottom of a bowl or bucket.
  11. Pour your soda ash solution as evenly as you can over the fabric, making sure you have covered all of it. Turn the fabric over and kneed it to make sure all of it has been soaked in the soda ash solution.
  12. Drain the excess soda ash water from your fabric (don’t squeeze the fabric, you want it to remain very wet). Arrange your fabric in the bottom of the bowl, if you fold it you are likely to get mirror image effects in the different layers. I like the randomness of loosely arranging the fabric without folds.
  13. Now you are ready to add your colours! I like to use disposable 3 ml pipettes but you can also carefully pour straight from your jars. The colours will spread through the wet fabric, so go gently at first until you have a feel for how far they spread for each type of fabric. There are 3 methods if you want to completely cover your fabric with colour (not white areas left):
    a) with a gloved hand, push down on the dyed fabric to try to squeeze the dye into the white areas. This approach will give a variety of pale and more intense areas of colour.
    b) turn your fabric over in the bowl and sprinkle more of your dye solutions on the larger white areas. This will give predominantly intense colours.
    c) after applying your dyes, pour small amounts of the soda ash solutions onto the coloured areas, this will help the dye to spread to the white areas. This will tend give paler and more blended colours.
  14. Leave you fabric for 1 hour before rinsing it in warm water until the water runs clear.
    TOP TIP: if you have any scraps of fabric that you would like to dye a paler colour, put them in your dye bowl now and using a jug, top up with water from your soaking bucket (the one with salt and calgon in it), for every litre of water you added, add another 30g of soda ash and mix well, leave it for an hour, stirring occasionally, before rinsing and washing.
  15. I then wash my fabrics in the washing machine on the hottest cycle the fabric will tolerate. I find red, purple and orange dyed fabrics are particularly bad for “bleeding” their colour if I don’t include this machine wash step.
  16. Leave your fabrics to dry and admire all the beautiful colours and patterns :o)
This is an example of a predominantly undyed piece with just a few splashes of colour.
    Please leave a comment if any of the instructions are unclear or you have questions or suggestions.

    Ice Dyeing Wool Prefelts

    This post is an extension of Ruth Lane’s excellent tutorial on the Felting and Fiber Studio blog where she describes ice dyeing for plant based fibres (silk also works well in that method).

    I have been trying out a couple of different methods to dye some sheets of merino prefelt (I’m sure the same method could be used for wool top but I can’t see the point as you will loose the beautiful patterns when you come to use the fibre). This is the first (and I think the most successful and least messy) method:

    • mix 1/4 cup of vinegar into each litre of warm water needed to cover your prefelt, add a drop of washing up liquid
    • thoroughly soak your prefelt in the mix, gently squeezing the wool to ensure it is saturated, I left mine for 10 min before the next step. I know most people leave it soaking for a lot longer but I am too impatient!!
    • cover the bottom of a large jar  (canning jars are great for this) with just enough ice to cover the bottom
    • sprinkle on your choice of acid-fast dye powder, I used a total of about half a teaspoon for each layer and 3 colours – black, blue and red
    • gently squeeze most of the water from your prefelt but not all, it should still feel heavy with water, and drop into your jar
    • cover with another layer of ice
    • keep repeating steps 4 to 6 until the jar is nearly full or you have used all your felt
    • finish with a layer of ice and more dye powder
    • set aside overnight or until all the ice has melted
    • to fix the dye it needs to be heated for 40-60 about minutes, as there is quite a lot of water in the jar from the ice, I put mine in a pan of gently simmering water for 90 min to ensure everything is heated for at least 40 min.
    These are the results:

    The colours are far more intense than I expected and I think that was largely due to using the black which becomes a deep purple at lower concentrations, sounds like the perfect excuse to have another go… ;o)
    1 2 3