Natural dyeing with onion skins is a great way to get started with natural dyeing. Onion skins are readily available and a form of kitchen waste which makes their use as a natural color source very sustainable.
At the beginning of the year I wrote a blog post about natural dyeing for beginners in which I used onion skins for dyeing a skein of yarn. If you would like to get a detailed step by step tutorial about natural dyeing you can find the blog post here.
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Natural Dyeing with Onion Skins
You can use both red and yellow onion skins for natural dyeing and will receive different color results. Today I would like to walk you through my process of dyeing with onion skins and show you a couple skeins of yarn that I have dyed with different kinds of onion skins and with different methods.
How to Store Onion Skins?
Next time you use an onion for cooking, peel of the outer, papery skin and store it in a jar without a lid. This will allow for air flow and prevent any molding issues. Simply keep collecting the skins until you have about a handful.
Which Colors do you get from Onion Skins?
Onion skins generally yield shades of yellow, orange, rust and brown on fibers. However the exact colorway depends on many factors. The type of onion, amount of dyestuff, age of the skins, the season, if a mordant was used and which one and many more parameters play a role.
Modifying the color with iron afterwards can yield more muted, green toned hues.
Onion skins can also be used as an addition to a dye bath. They will brighten up the color of yellow dyes and intensify the orange hue of madder dye baths .
How many Onion Skins do you need for Natural Dyeing?
In many books you will find a rule of thumb of using about equal weights of dyestuff and yarn. In my experience, using this much dyestuff is almost never necessary. It is usually possible to create saturated, vibrant colors with much less dyestuff. Even if you use non-superwash yarn which doesn’t take up as much color as a superwash yarn. And if you prefer a more muted, pastel look, you will need even less dye material. I exclusively dye non-superwash yarn and have never had any issues with getting rich colors. A hank of yarn normally weighs 100 g and since onion skins are very lightweight, it would require quite a lot of skins to match the yarn weight! For the color I created in this tutorial, I used 6 g (yellow onions) and 8 g (red onions) per 100 g skein of yarn.
Natural Dyeing with Onion Skins Tutorial
List of Materials
|Undyed skein of yarn||100 g|
You can simply use an undyed, natural skein of yarn. Maybe you even have some suitable yarn already in your stash. If you want to use a yarn that is in the form of a ball or cake, you have to create a skein first. This can be done by using a swift (this is the one I use and can recommend).
I used my Luster Sock DK yarn (100% German Merino wool).
Alum or potassium alum (KAl(SO4)2·12H2O) is a mordant which means that it is used to set dyes on fibers by forming a coordination complex with the dye. It increases the fastness of the dye.
|Pot||You can use an old pot or acquire one just for natural dyeing purposes. This is the size I use if I dye only one skein at a time, it has a holding capacity of 6 qt (5.7 L).|
|Bucket or Washing Pan||To scour and wash the yarn.|
|Kitchen Scale||To measure the alum and dyestuff. This is the one I use.|
|Tie||To secure the yarn and avoid tangling. You have to use something that is stable in boiling water and doesn’t give off any color. I usually use some kind of package cord.|
|Spoon||Wooden or stainless steel|
|Dish Shoap||Whatever you have on hand. |
This is used to scour and wash the yarn.
|Wool Laundry Detergent||This is the one I use and can recommend. It is gentle and doesn’t have any smell.|
Precautions: Don’t use the same pots and utensils for natural dyeing that you use for food preparation. Always wear gloves. Creating the dye solution and the dyeing process itself should be done in a well ventilated area. I often use a cooking plate that I put on my patio.
I generally mordant all of my yarns with alum before they go into the dye bath. If you want to know more about mordanting, you can have a look at this blog post.
Creating the Dye Baths
- A. I used 15 g of yellow onion skins and let them simmer in a pot with water for ninety minutes. Then I let the pot cool down and sit overnight.
- B. I used 8 g of red onions skins and let them simmer in a pot with water for ninety minutes. Then I let the pot cool down and sit overnight.
On the following day, I filtered off the onion skins and composted them. Then I put a 100 g skein and a 120 g skein of wet, pre-mordanted yarn in pot A. For pot B, I put in a 100 g skein of wet, pre-mordanted yarn.
Both pots were brought to a simmering and heated for ninety minutes. Then they cooled down and sat overnight again. I took the skeins out of the dye baths, washed them and hung them to dry on the following day.
Modifying with Iron
After the skeins were dried, I split them up into 20 g mini skeins. I took a couple of these skeins, scoured them and put them in an iron bath at room temperature for 45 minutes. Afterwards I washed the skeins and hung them to dry.
In general, I use 1.5 g of ferrous sulfate (FeSO4) per 100 g skein of yarn. In this blog post I go into more detail about using iron as a modifier.
Natural Dyeing with Onion Skins: Color Results
As you can see, the final colorways are similar but different at the same time. The yellow onion skins produce a more vibrant yellow which leans towards orange (mini skein on the right). The red onions skins yielded more of a brownish red hue (mini skein on the second to right).
The skeins that were modified with iron yielded more muted yellows/greens. The mini skein on the far left was dyed with yellow onion skins and the second to left skein with red onion skins.
Creating Speckles with Onion Skins
But what about the speckled skein of yarn? It is, in fact, very easy to create. You simply place a few pieces of red and yellow onion skins directly on the yarn. All you have to do is wrap the skein in a piece of scrap fabric and tie it with a string. After heating it in a pot filled with water for about an hour, you let the pot cool down and remove the skein. And that’s it!
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Want to learn how to dye yarn using natural dyes?
I have created a beginner’s guide to natural dyeing that contains everything you need to know to get started. And the best thing: it is available for free!
 Dean, Jenny, et al. Wild Colour: How to Make & Use Natural Dyes. Mitchell Beazley, 2018