Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Dyeing Playsilks

Since reading up a bit on Steiner Waldorf education, I've started to think more carefully about the toys Alice plays with. Some toys are quite prescriptive and can only be played with in a particular way. They have limited value to a child's imagination. The best sort of toys (in my opinion) are ones which can become whatever the child imagines! Blocks of wood can form walls, chairs, steps or countless other things. Play silks are another good example, able to become tents, capes, bedclothes or to dance with. You can buy a whole range of beautifully coloured silks, but I have been a bit put off by the cost of them. I was so excited when I came across a post on Natural Mamas forum giving information on where to buy plain silk scarves, and how to dye your own with food colouring! There are lots of guides about how to do this, so I've muddled through using a combination of a few. Here's what I did:

Put the silks in a bowl of very hot water with some vinegar. The vinegar acts as the mordant, allows the dye to fix properly. You need to leave this for at least 20 minutes.

In a glass or ceramic bowl, (plastic stains and metal does something funny - not sure what but was advised to avoid!) mix half a cup of vinegar with 2 cups of very hot water, and enough food colouring to get a dark colour. I used about 15 drops to get the colour above. Make sure you use synthetic colours. The natural colours apparently are less effective for dyeing. You can mix colourings too to get the colour you want.

Put the scarf in the bowl and ensure it is completely covered in the dye. Cover the bowl with clingfilm, and place in the microwave on high for 3 minutes. Stir, allow to sit for a few minutes (very important. See my notes below!) then repeat until there is hardly any colour in the water. It will probably take between 9 and 12 minutes in the microwave in total.

Carefully remove from the bowl, and rinse in cold water before wringing out and drying.

Here are my colours! They are a bit splodgy in places, but I quite like the home-made look. It nice to know they are an individual set!

Unfortunately, I was a bit hasty. I didn't allow the bowl to sit for long between stirring, and it didn't agree with my microwave! After my third silk, I realised the microwave was no longer actually heating. I put the remaining two silks in the same dye mix in covered glass casserole dishes, and put them in an oven at 180° for about half an hour. The red one looked great, but I think the oven heat didn't agree with the green as it went a bit funny coloured with splodges. Alice didn't seem to mind though. She's been playing with them non stop. That's worth a broken microwave I think!


  1. Wow, they look fantastic! Thank you for sharing, this is definitely something I'm going to try.

  2. Should have asked above, what size silks did you use? I'm wondering if I can get away with the cheaper 50x50cm ones or if they would be too small.

  3. Thank you! These are 90 x 90. I think they've got more of a range of uses in that size, for instance, Alice has been wearing one as a sarong today! They are Ponge 5, apparently that's lighter weight than Habotai 8 (no idea what the names mean!) but they're cheaper too, and seem to do the job. Good luck, and try not to blow up your microwave!

  4. lovely idea.
    my yoga teachers' son is at a steiner and he loves his scarves- they are fantastic for so many things.
    i recently got some lovely coloured flat nappies for missy to sit on in the car/ buggy/sofa while we started potty training. we don't need them now but she is using them for so many different things that i can't help feeling they were a seriously awesome buy for more than just future nappies !
    it is truly amazing what children can imagine with the simplest of items.
    I admit to having got her many modern toys but she seems to take her own ideas and use them in ways i could never imagine or have used them for and yet it works.
    I think i might give the scarves a go as well.

  5. I love the idea of using the nappies. I've been thinking I might dye some muslins or maybe terry squares too. All good for the different textures. I know what you mean about 'modern' toys. Children are so creative at finding new ways to play!