Weekend Dyeing with Red Onions

This weekend I decided to continue playing around with natural dyes.  This time I decided to give red onion skins a try.  I have to admit that I am fascinated by natural dyeing techniques.   I wonder about the person who thought of trying onion skins to dye stuff.    Was he/she weird? or brilliant?… was this an idea generated from careful thought and experimentation? or just a happy accident?   What did they dye?

Geek fact…. evidence of textile dyeing has been found all the way back to the Neolithic period (stone age)

I am a red onion dyeing virgin.  (That is quite the confession).   I have read up on this and have seen pictures.   All of which has created this urgent need and excitement.  Red onions are magic… and can produce a very surprising color.   I was anxious to see if I could get that color (you will have to read or scroll down to see what I was chasing after.)

Onion Dye 08

I bought 5 very large red onions.  I only need their skins and you can see that I put the skins in a gallon of water.   I have a “non-reactive” pot (at least I think it is) and I threw all caution to the wind (danger is my middle name) and used tap water this time.   (Every other time I have bought distilled water to know exactly what I was starting with… no minerals or other stuff that may change the outcome)

Onion Dye 05

I put on the heat and simmered these skins for about and hour.   You can see the color is a red brown.

Onion Dye 06

I soaked both single ply wool and regular washed wool in an alum mordant.

Mordant Recipe and Instruction:

  • 1 gallon of water
  • 6 grams of alum
  • 6 grams of  tartaric acid
  1. Bring mixture up to a simmer then add wool.   (DON’T stir the wool unless you want felt.)  
  2. Let this soak for at least one hour.
  3. Rinse wool… again being careful not to turn it into felt.   (always add the wool to the water never poor water onto it and keep extreme temperature changes to a minimum)

This mordant process is suppose to help with both the intensity of the color as well as helping to set the color.

Onion Dye 04

I added just the yarn (wet) to the dye and being lazy didn’t remove the onion skins.   Ben came by and asked what I was cooking.  I had him convinced that I was making cow brains for dinner.   (Ben was disgusted and said that he was probably allergic to brains)  Doesn’t this look like brains?

I could see it turning a beautiful rosy brown…  but that is not the color I wanted.   (Rosy brown would be too obvious.)

Red Cabbage and Bean Dye 04

I decided to play with the pH and see if I could get the color I wanted.   I tried baking soda first.   Water has a pH of about 7 and baking soda moved it up to around 9.   (I have litmus paper).   This did the TRICK!!!   I don’t have a picture of the solution since I was too excited to remember I was documenting this.  (Remember this is my first time)  I let the wool simmer for about 40 minutes in the dye bath until I got the intensity I wanted.  I then hung the yarn to dry.

Onion Dye 03
Green color from red onion skins


My kids say this color is “diarrhea green” but I think it is more of an avocado green.   There is a bit of irony to this..  using red onion skins to get avocado green and in a past experiment I used avocado pits to get a pink (See photo below)

Pink color from avocado pits

I plied the yarn and then decided to add it to a scarf I am knitting.   Actually a scarf is the only thing I know how to knit… and well my knitting needs practice before I try something new.    Here are some pictures and you will note that the “avocado” green goes very well with brown…. (No diarrhea scarf for me)

Onion Dye 02

Onion Dye 01

Onion Dye 00

I love this green color and will probably be doing this again.  I am lucky that Isabelle is very patient…. that is as long as I figure out something to do with all of the “skinless” onions.  (had the same problem with the avocados)

hmmm… maybe a tarte aux oignons?

Do you have an idea for these onions?…

Weekend Dyeing with Cabbage and Beans

This weekend I played around with natural dyeing.

I just re-read that sentence and two things came to mind.  First dye and die are awfully close… thank goodness I was not talking about death.   Second.. several years ago I would have never guessed I would be fascinated with dyeing wool.   This dye fascination (almost fetish) began with one of my first posts on this blog.  (see Weekend with the Cochineals) Not only did I find a real joy in crushing beetles I was completely enamored with the wonderful resulting color.


Red Cabbage and Bean Dye 02
Here are white strings I used to tie the yarn while being dyed.   The top is dyed with red cabbage while the bottom is dyed with black beens


This weekend I revisited two natural dye techniques I had previously tried.  I dyed with black beans and red cabbage.   In the picture above you can see the color you get when dyeing white wool. This time I decided to try dyeing another color of wool.   Instead of starting with white wool  I am using gray.

Red Cabbage and Bean Dye 08

I have read and been warned that natural dye especially red cabbage is not ideal.   The  color will fade away etc… While all of this is probably true I really don’t care.   (Umm don’t read that wrong.  I like it when people offer advice.  I just like the process more than I care about the end result)

The first step is getting the wool ready to accept the dye.   This time I spun it into a single ply yarn than I “mordanted” the wool… yes I know that is probably not a word.   Mordanting helps the wool absorb the color.   I will quote myself from the first dyeing post instead of writing it out the instructions again.   (I know I am being a bit lazy… but I followed the same process)

Mordanting the wool (from the french word mordant… My wife is french but I don’t find here “biting” or caustic… ).  This step helps the wool absorb the dye as well as changes the end color… all depending upon what is added.   I presoaked the wool (150 grams) for an hour than dissolved 12 grams of Alum and 10 grams of Tartaric Acid in 2 gallons of distilled water (mixed marriages do have their consequences… gallons mixed with grams… sorry).    Added the wool (wet) and simmered at 93º F. for an hour. I than removed the wool and let sit overnight to dry.


Here is the result from the first time… Dyed with cochineals (not spun).   I still love this color!

My first dyeing experience has not yet been replace with a better experience.  I loved the resulting color and  the idea that it came from a “bug”.

Let me come back to this weekend… (jesh… need to stop living in the past)

Black Bean Instructions:

Black bean dye gives a nice gray blue color when dying white wool.   It is also a very easy technique.   I added water to dry black beans (2 gallons of distilled water for one large sack of beans) .  I don’t believe you can do this with canned beans… in fact I bet that would make a huge mess.  (Maybe I will try it) I let this sit 24 hours then removed the beans… (I made refried beans by cooking  the beans then adding bacon, onions, and garlic and frying… no wasted food for this dye)


Red Cabbage and Bean Dye 06
This is what the color looks like.   It has a purple hue and well looks disgusting.

I warmed up the bean water to about 140 and added the yarn.  I let this soak for several hours.   The first time I let the yarn soak  until I got the color I wanted…  below is an example of the white wool color.


Red Cabbage and Bean Dye 09
This is a sample of white wool dyed with black beans.  (I was going to crochet a hat but stopped so it is now just a color sample)

I really like the blue color from black beans… but the gray wool didn’t take the blue in the same way. I left it in the dye for about 3 hours and  It actually turned to a “blackish” color… who would guess black beans making something black.


Red Cabbage and Bean Dye 07
Pulled out before it went completely black…

Later in the post I will show the yarn made from the combination of both but in the above picture you can see how dark the gray became.   (I wont lie… I was a bit disappointed)

Red Cabbage Instructions:

Red cabbage is much more fun to play with and you have your choice of colors by changing the acidity of the water.

Red Cabbage and Bean Dye 00





You cut up the cabbage place it in water and bring it to a boil.   The water will be a dark purple… this is the starting color.   I recommend doing this with your children or curious spouse (if they are curious… this kind of stresses Isabelle since she knows I can’t help making a mess).   You should remove the cabbage if you do not want to waste it.   I didn’t think about this until Ben (my 7 year old) asked me what smelt so good…. (weird kid… who thinks cabbage smells good).  With cabbage acid takes it to the red hues and base takes it to the blue/green hues.   I wanted blue/green so I added baking soda to the water.  Red Cabbage and Bean Dye 04

Red Cabbage and Bean Dye 03

I gradually added the backing soda and you can see the blue starting to happen.   (I don’t have exact amounts… just play with this).   I love the purple blue color.   It would make a really interesting yarn if you plied the two colors together… similar color to these cabbage leaves in the above picture.

Red Cabbage and Bean Dye 05

UMM… Sorry Ben… (who still wanted to eat the cabbage) this is what the cabbage looked like when it was finished cooking in the baking soda water.  I didn’t taste it nor did I allow Ben to try the cabbage… although I was kind of tempted.  Next time I will take the cabbage out first and will not waste it.

Red Cabbage and Bean Dye 10

I  added the yarn to the cabbage water and let it simmer for two hours (not to hot).   The color came to a gray-forest green color.   I was not sure that I like this color either.  Two fails… hmm… leaves me with only one option… combine the two by plying both colors together.  This way it is only one fail or maybe two negatives will make a positive.

Red Cabbage and Bean Dye 11

Here is the result…kind of a green gray. I am not sure that you can see the color well in the pictures…  let  me know what you think.

Quick Update (7/4)

I began a new scarf. with this yarn.. (the only thing I know how to knit… need to learn how to knit a sweater… next goal)  I think you can see the color better when it is knitted.

Red Cabbage and Bean Dye 12




Weekend Finishing Alpaca Scarf

Well… my first raw fiber to finished scarf project is Inky Dinky Done…  (I am not being cute… or maybe I am..,)   Inky Dinky Do is the name of the Alpaca who offered its hair so I could make this scarf.

If you are not familiar with this project there are earlier posts! (you don’t have to go to these… this post will have cliff notes)

  1. Weekend with a Llama (Inky Dinky Do… actually an Alpaca)
  2. Avocado Dye and Inky Dinky Do
  3. Weekend Carding Alpaca (Inky Dinky Do)
  4. Weekend spinning the rolags (Inky Dinky Do alpaca fibers)
  5. Weekend Knitting (Manly… Knitting)

Scarf 03

This all began when a wonderful person (CLAIRE Small Holding Dreams) and a wonderful alpaca (Inky Dinky Do – I wished I could hug inky! )  sent me a gift of alpaca fibers. Those fibers left their home in England and travelled across the Atlantic to end up in Utah (where the heck is that) USA.   Can you imagine the trepidation and excitement those fibers must have experienced?

After enjoying many hours (more than I could have imagined… I probably should say days) the fibers have decided it is time to return home.   I said my goodbyes and sent them on their way.  I know that the fibers have dramatically changed during their time with me.  I hope that change is for the better.   I would love to see Inky Dinky’s face… not even sure they are going to be recognized.

Scarf 12

I created a “souvenir” box for those fibers.   It is fun to see that actual transformation from unwashed fibers all the way to knitted 2 ply yarn.  I actual really like this box.  It makes one wonder about the origin of this simple but amazing process.  Who was this person?…  who looks at a sheep (or alpaca) and says.. hmm I think I could make clothes out of them.   Do you think they talked about it before they did it?  I would have loved to listen to that conversation…  “hey… you know what?  I bet if I shaved that animal, twisted its fur, then tied it in knots… I could make cool sweaters, socks, gloves, and scarfs…. (he/she wouldn’t have said pants cause everyone knows knitted pants are weird)

I would like to share pictures from the beginning to the ending of my “scarf” journey.  (Maybe less words… I imagine I have already used up most of your patience…with my odd fiber voyage story)

Fibers just arrived… and unpacked… and Ben not hiding his disappointment
First washed batch!
Dyed pink using avocado pits
Carded and ready to be spun
knitting 3
Knitting…  I had to learn how to… 
Scarf 11
More Yarn! (natural color)
Scarf 10
more… knitting
Scarf 08
more dyeing, carding, and spinning
Scarf 07
and more yarn… I had no idea how much yarn a scarf takes….
Scarf 04
Knitting is DONE!!!
Scarf 01
Every handmade scarf needs a “custom” label… got this done at Wunderlabel…  and that is A.S.H… not an “A” followed by 2 “S”s… (the letters ash are my initials… ) 
Scarf 02
Label is now sewed on and the scarf is ready to be sent home!!!

All you are missing is me sending it off at the post office.  (almost took a picture but people were watching… ).   I calculated the time for the entire process… and … (please no mocking) this scarf took me 1 hour and 55 minutes per linear inch (2.5 cm).  I think I am horribly slow…

My fiber and wool adventures are not finished.  Claire also sent me wool… (Jacob Wool).  I am anxious to make something out of it… and yes… you can count on me boring you with the details as soon as I decide what I will be making with it.  I wonder if I can increase my throughput?….   maybe a spinning wheel instead of a drop spindle?

Thanks for taking the time to look/read this post.

Avocado Dye and Inky Dinky Do

If you read last post (Weekend with a Llama (Inky Dinky Doo) you would already know that I am not Inky Dinky Done with the alpaca fiber.   (I also learned from a very kind reader the word wool is only used for sheep…  Leonor was very kind to point this out and clarifying that “fiber” is the best word for generically describing Inky Dinky Do’s hair.   She is an amazing textile artist and you would do well to check out her blog and her store- Felt Buddies and Yarns )

I also want to clear up one more thing from the last post.   In my Inky Dinky Don’t section I mentioned you shouldn’t taste the fibers.  I think I owe more of an explanation. (so you won’t think I am weird)  In between washes I made a peanut butter and honey sandwich.   I worked with the fibers and not thinking  immediately took a bite of my sandwich.  What I didn’t know is that there was a small romantic spark between the alpaca fibers and the honey and they had “hooked up” on my sandwich.   As one thing led to another they tried to elope and took a ride into my mouth with that bite. YES…I am not exaggerating and you know during a wedding when they ask “if anyone objects to this marriage, let them speak now or forever hold their peace” … well my taste buds and mouth both raised their hands…

Llama fibers that were washed and explained in last post.   This is what we are going to dye with Avocados.

If you are confused by all of this Inky Dinky talk you may want to read the previous post.  This is a continuation of last post.   In this post I am going to dye the alpaca fibers with an avocado dye.  I have been thinking about this day for a long time…don’t laugh… I am being honest.   I landed by happenstance on dyeing with avocado pits while searching natural dyes last May and I really liked the color.    If you don’t know  the color that comes from dyeing with avocado pits…you should continue reading.  The color may surprise you… or it may not I am not going to promise anything.


Step 1: Prepare the fibers to receive the color by impregnating them with a mordant (as least I think you should do this… Please feel welcome to correct me or add anything I might be missing).   The mordant solution I will be using is an alum  and tartaric acid mix.    I use 6 grams of  alum and 5 grams of tartartic acid.


I poor this into 1 gallon of distilled water and heat it up (not too hot we don’t want to create felt).   Once it is warm add the fibers.  Let the fibers soak  for at least two hours.  I should add a warning that if you have too much alum the fibers will become “sticky”.


Step 2:   Create the dye by boiling avocado pits.  I  tried this with “old – frozen” avocado pits but it doesn’t work as well… plus I had a little mishap… so I ran to the store and bought 10 avocados  (kind of expensive) and started over.   After seeing the difference in color  I recommend using “fresh” pits.   Cut the pits out and do what every you want with the skins and flesh (nothing creepy please… that popped in my head when I re-read “skins and flesh”) Place the pits in a gallon of distilled water.   Simmer the pits until you see a deep red color.  This can take a long time… 2 – 5 hours.  Don’t let the pot run out of water.   (umm… yes I did this with my first batch… that was the “little mishap”)


Step 3:  Let the solution cool down and filter the pits and other avocado bits out by passing it through a colander lined with cheese cloth… or any other filter.


Step 4:  Place the wool into the warm dye water and let it sit over night.   If the fibers are damp when added to the avocado pit water it will dye more evenly (at least from my experience).   I was told that some dyers prefer that it be uneven (art yarn).  Which ever way it turns out… I am going to lie and say that I planned it that way.


Step 5:  Remove wool from the dye and let dry.  This will take longer than you expect.  (you can spin it in the washing machine if you want to speed up the drying)

… et Voila!

Pinky Dinky Doo


I really like this “dusty pink”…  My daughter Gwen wanted it darker, but I like this color kind of an “antique pink”.   Hmm… I guess it is ok to admit my like for pink… especially since I used the word “Fabulous” in the last post. (Caitlyn Jenner is not that only one that can break down gender stereotypes)

Stay nearby… there is more Inky Dinky to Do… (coming, carding, and spinningNow I have to figure out what to do with all of those avocados… hmmm.

Weekend with Woad

Hey… I am back to wool (no hair this weekend) and I am going to play with “woad”.   Why woad?… Here are my reasons!

  • Saying weekend with woad sounds awesome
  • I am a “woad virgin”… (no scoffing or mocking….  I don’t know what will happen… could be exciting or disappointing.. but I will find it interesting in any case.)
  • I like dying (and or staining) things and I love blue
  • Woad is a natural dye and has a very rich history
  • During the french revolution France was not able to get indigo.  Napoleon revitalized woad dying in france with a contest… the army uniform was blue and Napoleon wanted it to stay blue… the french dyers using woad were able to get a blue similar to the indigo dye… and thus the blue army uniform was saved by woad….(actually this isn’t a real reason… just wrote this for my  french wife)woad

I almost bought woad seeds to grow in my yard… but was informed that locally woad is considered a  “noxious weed“.. if you read the (link) you will note in a county near where I live… they refer to this plant as an “evader” and “infestation”.  I have friends… that told me when they were kids they were paid per garbage bag for removing this plant.   With this in mind I made the decision not to grow this plant… and  did the next best thing….bought woad powder on etsy from DragonDyeworks.. (who were awesome… fast… and really helpful)

The rest of this blog will be a step by step guide of how to (or possibly how not to) dye wool using woad.  For those that don’t care (wow that hurts a little… ) or don’t want to read all the steps I am giving you below the “cliff notes” version.



AFTER (just a bit uneven…)


(remember no mocking… first time… I am a novice… I still love the color and spun this might look fantastic)

I guess I wouldn’t have won Napoleon’s contest… unless he wanted camouflaged uniforms… (“sky camouflaged“….  his solders could blend in with the sky and clouds…)

For those interested in how to do this … or those of you who aren’t woad virgins and want to help me fix my uneven dye…click on continue reading (… kind of like the way “woad  virgin” sounds)

Continue reading “Weekend with Woad”

Un-Weekend or Mid-Week Plea for Advice

HELP….I started weaving my rug… want to change the design….HELP ME design my rug…

5 suggestions So FAR… don’t let your VOICE go un heard… nor miss out on a grand prize!!!

(So it is not the weekend…but I am posting… gosh… makes me feel like I am ruining the theme of my blog… please forgive the weekend faux pas)

I am not going to talk about what I did… (except show some mid week work and than see if I can get some advice).   Above you will note I started the second red stripe… and did it correctly this time.  It looks so much better.   While doing this I started second guessing my design.

(Maybe thinking too much?  I talked about having urges… that can be bad… but you know what is worse…  obsessing over something… overthinking it until all the fun and spontaneity is gone…  and it looses  the “magic”…. so I am hoping to let someone else make a design decision for my rug/blanket)

Here is my design (dont mock my draftsmen or the fact that it is actually versioned…  I write software can’t help myself)


Let me talk through what you are probably scratching your heads at and then quickly get to the advice request.   I like the simplicity of this design dark gray -> gray->light gray -> white…(then the same pattern in reverse) with 5 red lines and 2 dark gray lines. (hope that made sense).

Since I created this design I have dyed more wool…Gray Blue (black-beans), Gold (annatto), Blue-Green(red cabbage). I also have Black wool…  and two more dyeing project Olive (nettles), and Dusty Pink (avocado)…    I am pretty much set on the outer red lines and gray…since I have almost finished one side…  I am looking for advice for the middle section I think I like it white with something in the white… but am open to any good idea.

SO… KEEPING ALL OF THE COLORS AND CURRENT DESIGN IN MIND… Does anyone have a Design Idea???…   PLEASE… PLEASE…Any idea welcome…   any suggestion!!!

Here is what is going on in my head…

  • Should I leave it as it is? (don’t over complicate it)
  • Should I keep the design but change the colors of the inner lines? (currently 2 gray… with middle red… could do blue and gold)
  • Should I re-think the lines and do something else?… (but not too hard this is my first project on a loom)


(think about it… my family will be calling a rug by your name from now until the rug falls apart.. hopefully the rug lasts a long time… what an amazing prize… for those bloggers you can post a picture of the finished rug with the incredible claim that it was named after you )

read below for results of suggestions (I am adding images and short thought on all the suggested designs)

Continue reading “Un-Weekend or Mid-Week Plea for Advice”

Weekend with the Cochineals

I mentioned in my intro that I have “urges”… I am not sure that is a good word to use… I think a chain of serendipitous events that compels actions on my part… is a better way of explaining why I do what I have done.  Let me explain how my last weekend of madness began.  (I like to say it makes complete sense if you know the whole story… like the time I tried to take a tumor  out of my head with a Dremel… it sounds bad but makes sense if you hear the whole story…  I will save that for another post).  Back to the weekend…   this is how it all started.

While at work a colleague  mentioned that “natural red coloring” often called carmine (check your labels) is made from bugs (cochineal).  This statement (think of Cliff from cheers) beckoned a night of googling and youtubing.  Here is one of my favorite YouTube videos from that night  Amelia from Peru…  —  watch closely at 4:20… she crushes several bugs… adds lemon juice smears the bug guts on her lips and says “the single girl use as natural cosmetic for carnival” (no wonder they are single)—

SO… I decide to hunt cochineal… unfortunately I found it is too early (stay tuned… that hunting will happen).  Being a determined type… I would not let this stop me so I did the next best thing and bought them on the internet (you can get almost anything on the internet).  I then had to do what logically has to be done with cochineal (nope not on my lips nor in my food) dye something red.

In discussing my anxiously awaited bugs, I was asked what are you going to dye?  I offered the truth that I didn’t know… something cool maybe a shirt.  I  then mentioned that I had watched a Navajo lady dye wool red… after spinning it…. bingo it came  to me (you see… all of it makes sense now).  I went back on the internet and learned new words like top and roving (already washed and carded wool) then ordered some natural undyed roving.   I also purchased a drop whorl and a loom… (all of that will be discussed in future posts).  This is how it all began and the rest of this post will describe the process I used to dye wool this past weekend.

For those who flip to the end of the book to read what happens… I offer this… a before and after preview (we all suffer from attention deficit)

Before Dye:


After Dye:


Now back to the post… read on for those who want to know how I did this (isn’t that color beautiful)

Continue reading “Weekend with the Cochineals”