How to use Sun Dyes

How to use Sun Dyes

How to Sun Dye fabric result 2I have been experimenting with Sun dyes or Heliographic dyes and decided to share what I did. Sometimes this technique is called sun dyeing or sun sensitive dyeing.

Sun dyes are very easy to use. This is what I did to get the vibrant results illustrated here. I first washed a pile of cotton and linen fabrics in order to remove all sizing. I had read online that synthetic fabric did not respond as well to sun dyes so as this was an experiment I followed directions and used cotton and linen. On the first day I chose fabrics like homespun cotton and cheap linen from Ikea. The following day, after I had seen the result I achieved I sun dyed some good evenweave 26cnt and 28 cnt linen. All fabrics worked well

How to Sun Dye fabric result 3How to sun dye fabric

On a sunny day, I placed a cheap plastic picnic table outside in the sun. You can use a board covered in plastic you just need to be able to lay the fabric out in the sun to dry. I mixed the dyes 1 part dye to 2 parts water. After I laid out the fabric out on the table and wet it before I painted the fabric with the Sun Dyes using foam brush.

How to Sun Dye fabric method 2Moving quite quickly as it was a hot Australian summer day I placed found objects on the fabric. Items such as stencils, feathers, sequin waste, buckles, knitting needles, pop sticks, jigsaw puzzle pieces, plastic canvas, cosmetic sponges, nuts bolts and bits and pieces I had been accumulating for a while worked well. Anything that will create a silhouette on the fabric will work. Online I had seen good results for leaves but I was looking for something a bit different. You need to choose a still day as you leave the fabric with objects on it exposed to full sun until the fabric has dried. On my second day I had a few interesting moments when the wind came up!

How to Sun Dye fabric method 1When the fabric is dry you lift the objects to reveal wonderful ghost images. To make colour permanent and washable you iron it for a few minutes on the cotton/linen setting.

How to Sun Dye fabric result 1
Taking Sun dyes further

Next time I have a dyeing day I will try some cotton synthetic mixes as although I have read that they do not work as well the result are so vibrant some softer results to compliment these would be just fine! Also I will experiment either less paint on the fabric and with a solution that is not so strong in order to get more subtle results too.

How to Sun Dye fabric result 5These type of dyes are really simple to use, the resulting fabric is soft to handle & permanent. They are lots of fun to use as you never quite know what is going to happen. It makes the process exiting but the downside is that the results are non-repeatable. They definitely give me interesting fabric to embroider. I now just have to decide what I am going to make!

How to Sun Dye fabric result 4


Thread Twisties!

Experimenting with different threads can be expensive. You would normally have to buy a whole skein of each type of thread. My thread twisties are a combination of different threads to use in creative hand embroidery. These enable you to try out stitching with something other than stranded cotton. For the price of just a few skeins, you can experiment with a bundle of threads of luscious colours and many different textures.

These are creative embroiders threads. With them, I hope to encourage you to experiment. Each Twistie is a thread bundle containing silk, cotton, rayon and wool. Threads range from extra fine (the same thickness as 1 strand of embroidery floss) to chunky couchable textured yarns. All threads have a soft and manageable drape. Twisting them around a needle makes experimental hand embroidery an interesting journey rather than a battle.  Many are hand dyed by me. All are threads I use. You may find a similar thread twist but no two are identical.

You will find my thread twisties in the Pintangle shop here.


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  1. After you dip the fabric in the chemicals did you iron the fabric or just lay it out on your tables. Did you need to weigh the fabric down or just hope the fabric would stay put? Thank you Barbara S. in Colorado Springs

    Barbara Simpson
    1. Barbara you iron after the fabric is dry- so I just lay out the fabric. There was little wind on the day so I did not weigh it down. If it was windy you would have to do that.

      1. I’m sorry, I did not see that you put it in a chemical first before laying it down. Can you please tell me which chemical? Also can you wear these fabrics? Thank you! Beautiful work

        1. Hi Juliana – no chemical before the dye just lay our the fabric and painted it with the sun dye. They are a particular type of dye that reacts to the sun. Once it is set with ironing you can wash and wear it like normal fabric

  2. I did quite a bit of this a few years ago…lots of fun. I used pfd cotton, which took the colours very well. Paint I used was pebeo setacolor, transparent. I used a variety of objects, including leaves, flowers, scissors, keys and other stuff. I used straight pins in each corner to hold my fabric to a piece of Styrofoam…where the pins went through the fabric, there was a tiny collection of paint, but other than that, it worked beautifully.

    Joyce Szoladi

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