Let me start by telling you I’m kind of obsessed with sun-dyes. They are super cool and feel a little magical. Essentially, they are dyes that are colorless when you apply them, but turn vibrant colors when exposed to sunlight. My mom introduced sun-dyes to me when I was in college and I’ve been going through sun-dye phases ever since.
For this activity, we decided to dye bandanas. I couldn’t actually find plain white bandanas, so we used square cotton dishcloths instead. They’re a generous size and work as head wraps, capes, or can even be tied around the waists of little ones as a beach/pool coverup.
The only brand of sun-dye that I’m aware of is called Inkodye. It doesn’t come in a ton of colors, but you could do a little color-mixing if you want to expand the palette. The main trick with sun-dye is you need both a low-light area and a sunny area to work in. The dye will start exposing as soon as there’s even a hint of sunlight, so you want to apply the ink, and add any objects that you want to use to block the sunlight, in low light.
Adding objects creates a pattern — we used plants, leaves, even clothespins. Pretty much any opaque object could work. In fact, my sister Jordan told me about a friend who painted a duvet cover with Inkodye, then took a nap on it in the sun, and when she woke up, the imprint of her body was on the duvet. So cool!
One of the nice things about this activity is that there is some downtime — when we made these, the kids could sit and relax and have a snack while the sun did its work.
One note: I would recommend having extra dyeable items on hand, because the process is super fun! And you’ll definitely want to dye more than one item. : )
I love this project! Even if your kids aren’t artsy, they’ll get a kick out of seeing the colors appear in the sunlight. And it’s pretty much no fail — no matter what objects you add, or even if you add none-at-all, the bandana is going to look fantastic.
Tell me, Friends. Have you ever tried sun-dyes? Is your imagination running with objects you could use to create patterns? (Me too!)
The materials for this project are pretty simple. I used:
– Bandanas (really, dishtowels) — you could use anything you like! T-shirts, a bolt of fabric, a pillow cover, canvas shoes, sheets, etc.
– Sponge brushes
– Wide mouth jars (for dipping the brushes into)
It was such a sunny day that when we put the Inkodye into the empty wide mouth jars, the ink instantly started changing colors!
So we kept the jars in a paper bag to prevent exposure. Another option would be to paint the outside of the jars with an opaque black paint. Or, you could work inside, in a room without windows (or with good window coverings), and then bring your project outside for exposure once it’s prepped.
The bottles of dye aren’t big, and I was afraid we would run out, so I diluted the ink with water. On one batch, I used too much water and the ink didn’t develop as vibrantly. But as long as I didn’t use too much, the final color still turned out as intense as it should have. That’s just a little trick to make the ink go further.
Be sure to gather your leaves/props ahead of time. The sooner you add them to the freshly applied ink, the more crisp your images will appear. Work quickly once you’ve applied the ink!
One other note: If you’re considering this activity for a summer party or gathering, I would definitely recommend experimenting first before trying this with a group. You’ll want to figure out the best places to work as far as low-light and sun-light are concerned. Also, different fabrics will accept the dye in different ways. For example, our dishcloths were starched and when I first brushed on the ink it didn’t soak in well, so I had to use a spray bottle to dampen the cloth first, and then apply the ink.
I think that’s it as far as notes go. Please let me know if you have any questions. And if you try this project, I’d love to hear!
P.S. — Like to make things? Find more awesome projects here.