This is my solar oven in which the magic happens when I dye. I don’t cook my dinner in it. It’s not food grade and you would never want to have dye chemicals come in contact with what you put in your mouth.
However, this lovely little home-made contraption will generate enough heat to allow the dyes to bond to the fibers of the fabric that has been dyed. It can get kind of whiffy when the lid is opened up after a day sitting in the sun because the urea used to bind dye to fabric degrades into ammonia in the process. Another reason not to cook in it.
The advantage of using the solar oven is that it cuts down on the amount of very hot water required to set the dye, saving a tree or two in the process. Extreme heat such as that produced in the solar oven, in the 200 to 400 degree F range, produce deeper, more intense colors which also resist fading in the washing machine. Most water heaters used for laundry only get water up to 120-140 degrees F.
I leave garments in the oven in the sun for at least a solid 8 hours, sometimes longer, to ensure tight bonding of all relevant chemicals and then allow it to cool off before I open it up and do the final rinse and wash process.
When I am on a roll it takes me about 2 days to dye a shirt from start to finish. Here is what happens:
- New garment goes into the washing machine with hot water to preshrink and to remove byproducts of manufacturing and shipping.
- Garment goes into the dryer.
- Garment is soaked in a basic pH soda ash solution to prep to accept dye, I aim for at least an hour soak.
- Back into the washer for drain and spin.
- Then the folding and tying are done. Imagine trying to do origami with damp fabric.
- Dye is applied. Mixing and preparing the dyes is another process. I usually do this while things are washing.
- Garment hangs out in the solar oven for a while, at least 8 hours, often overnight.
- Solar oven is brought back into the studio, allowed to cool down, again usually overnight.
- Garments are removed from oven, untied, and rinsed with cold water to remove excess dye.
- A final wash with hot water to test for colorfastness and further set the dye. I use a special detergent for this that you can’t find in the grocery store, just like you can’t find the dyes I use in the local Wally-World.
- White vinegar added to the final cold rinse to act as a fabric softener.
- A trip through the dryer.
This is essentially the process that my first ever hand dyed shirt went through and it lasted me for 8 years of regular wear. It never faded nor shrunk and the only reason I gave it up was because it had worn so thin that I could no longer fix the holes or the seams.
I won’t go on a rant about greedy capitalism and clothing considered a disposable item that is deliberately made poorly, especially for women, and the pressures the fashionistas apply to take advantage of shaky self-esteem, trying to manipulate our self images by convincing us that we are not good enough unless we are wearing the latest “fashion”. BUT. . . . I would much rather someone wear one of my shirts for 8 years and never buy another one from me than for them to wear it for a season and throw it away and buy a new one from me each season. Wear my work until it falls apart and concentrate more on building happy times and good memories while you wear it.