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Sun Dyeing


I have spent over 20 years mastering the art of sun dyeing.  I know just about every plant in my home province of Ontario that will work on natural fabrics.  No, not all plants will work and I have spent many years learning what will create the magic known as Sun Dyeing!  The Art of Sun Dyeing actually involves special paints that react to the ultra violet rays of the sun. Also known as Heliographic Art, wonderful results are achieved if practiced under the right conditions.


Sun Dyeing requires a blue sky day, with little or no clouds in the sky and the air must be still for the entire duration of the process. Heat is also important, to a degree, as the quicker the fabric dries; the easier it is to keep the masks in place for the time period needed. Needless to say, there are few perfect sun dyeing days and I tend to drop all other commitments if possible when a good working day presents itself.  I have turned recently to sun dyeing under UV lights.  This allows me to work on rainy days and also extends the season for working.


I have been sun dyeing various fabrics for about 20 years. I started off using strictly cotton and then introduced silk and rayon more recently. The latter is much easier and more forgiving since the plants “stick” to the silk and rayon easier than they do to cotton.


I start the process by gathering plants and flowers from the extensive gardens around my house. Since the plants quickly wilt and shrivel, I can’t go too far away for the materials I use in my sun dyeing. I have been known however to carry a pail of water in my car along with a pair of clippers in case I see some fascinating new plants along the sides of roads. I have been known to get quite excited when discovering a new plant or flower that would be perfect for sun dyeing. Certainly not all plants can be used for sun dyeing.


The next step after gathering the botanicals is to apply the dyes to dampened fabric quickly with some theme in mind. The plant material is then pressed down onto the wet fabric and left in place until everything dries completely. This can be challenging if a sudden breeze blows across my work and disturbs the botanicals. There is no saving or redeeming the item being dyed if an unfortunate gust of wind blows the plants off before the fabric is completely dry.


The areas of the fabric that are masked by the flowers and leaves will prevent the sun’s ultra violet rays from affecting the dyes. These areas will fade significantly while the other areas left without plant materials will become vibrant.


The plants, having transferred their exact image to the fabric, are then removed and the fabric is heat set for permanence. Each finished product is laundered, ironed and signed by me. I also include a list of the various materials I have used to create each item. The end product will not shrink or fade.


Sun Dyed Scarves

Sun Dyeing, also known as heliographic printing, requires perfect weather conditions for success. I start by gathering leaves and flowers from my garden right before I go to work. The silk or cotton piece is then laid out in the sun and dyes are rapidly applied, to create an artistic blend of colours. The plants from earlier are then laid over the fresh dyes and completely dried in the sun. The botanicals create a mask pattern, where the dyes beneath cannot be activated by the UV rays of the sun, and thus do not fluoresce. This requires a perfectly cloudless day with no breeze, so you can imagine how few days these pieces can be produced here in Ontario! After drying, the scarves are washed and heat set to create a permanent product which may be washed without fear of shrinking or fading. Period.



Feel free to get in touch with me at The Living Canvas in Deep River, Ontario for any questions you may have about the process of sun dyeing.

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