Solstice Magic: Dyeing With the Sun!

The Summer Solstice has arrived here in the Northern Hemisphere. Today we celebrate the longest day and the bright heat of the sun as we start our long, slow transition to the dark half of the year. We will also have a full moon, which feels especially potent and auspicious!

I do not enjoy the light half of the year. The sun’s warmth throws all of my shadowy corners into harsh relief, where I can’t tuck them safely into a dark corner and ignore them. I am happily at home in the dark, in the fall and the winter when everything is snuggled up tight and a quiet stillness takes over. I begin my day in the dark, and I return home in the dark. Now is the phase of the wheel of the year where I wrestle with my own demons the hardest; shadow work does not just take place in the shadows.

As I so often do when my emotions start to feel bigger than my body, I turn to making things. The power of the sun can be harnessed for all sorts of uses, both magical and mundane, and one of my favorite things to do on bright days is solar dyeing! Using solar energy to heat the water in a dye bath is a slow process, requiring patience and persistence, but when combined with botanical dyes it is one of the most ecologically sound ways of applying color to fiber around! Most of what you’ll need, you likely already have hanging around. For this activity, you’ll need to gather:

  • A container or vessel of some sort to hold the dye bath– large Mason jars work great for this
  • Water
  • Something to dye! Cotton is a great choice for this. Try an old t-shirt, a pair of socks, or some handkerchiefs. I often use plain white cotton handkerchiefs to do dye experiments with, as they are small and relatively inexpensive.
  • Dye material of some sort

And that’s basically it! This is a great time to rummage around in your kitchen and see what could be used as a dye material; I bet there is more in there than you think! Some ideas to get you started:

  • Onion skins
  • Black tea
  • Coffee
  • Blackberries
  • Turmeric
  • Mint

(A word of caution: botanical dyes are not terribly color-fast; in other words, the color will start to fade much faster than something dyed with synthetic dyes. There are a variety of methods you can use to treat your dye material to help it hold color; this process is called mordanting. Mordants can be somewhat irritating to your skin, so this step of the process should be done with adult supervision if dyeing is an activity you’d like to do with little witches– or, simply enjoy the ephemeral quality of nature’s hues! For more information on mordants, I highly recommend seeing about getting your paws on a copy of Sasha Duerr’s The Handbook of Natural Plant Dyes.)

For this round, I decided to try out a tea blend that contains hibiscus. The tea bags produce such a lovely fuchsia shade in my tea cup, so I had hopes that it would transfer to my fabric!

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If you are dyeing something you plan to use for a magical working, now is a great time to start working some of that intention into your dye bath. As you start to fill your dye vat with water, think about what you are making and what plans you might have for it; if you don’t have a specific project in mind, take a moment to revel in all that untapped potential!

Add your dye material to the vessel, then prepare your goods (that is, the stuff you want to color!). There are all kinds of wild and wonderful ways you can manipulate fiber to create different patterns– I could write several more posts about those! I still owe you all a post about my indigo dyeing adventures from a few months ago, so I will save the shibori talk for another day. For now, I encourage you as always to play and try whatever seems like a cool idea. When you are ready, add the material to be dyed and place your dye bath in an area where it will get as much sun as possible.

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If your materials don’t start releasing pigment right away, don’t worry! Some materials can take a while to reveal their colorful secrets.

Remember when I said this was an exercise in patience? This is the part where you walk away and forget about your dye bath. Leave it out there soaking up all that solar goodness for as long as you can stand it (or until you finally remember it’s out there; it’s okay, I won’t judge). When you finally can’t wait any longer, fish out your dyed material and admire your handiwork!

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If you applied any kind of resist technique to your work, this is the big moment of truth when you get to see how it all unfolds (sometimes literally). This is my absolute favorite part! Rinse your material in cool water, until the water runs clear, then carefully remove any stitching, binding, folding, clamping, or anything else you’ve applied.

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Let your material dry fully, and it’s ready for use!

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I loosely pleated a length of white cotton left over from another sewing project, and secured it with a rubber band to create a soft tie-dye effect. I didn’t have any particular use in mind when I set it into the dye bath, but I’m thinking I’ll use it as a wrap for one of my tarot decks.

Go forth and soak up that powerful Solstice energy! May you be blessed with radiant clarity and warmth, and may you be filled with renewed energy to go and walk whatever Path you are on at present. I cannot wait to see what you will make!

In Joyful Service,
Kitsune

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