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

HERE IS THE COLOR…

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)

avocado-dye-8
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?…