Tuesday, August 24, 2010

How- To: Dyeing with Onion Skins

 ONIONS Skins are my absolute FAVORITE way to dye and overdye fabrics.

Here is a fun and natural way to dye fabric and yarn.  I am using a mix of cotton fabrics found and collected from various sources.  All natural plant fiber fabrics can be dyed this way but depending on the fabric content results may vary.
I love when I go to the grocery store and the onions have been overlooked- that is the perfect time to get big pieces of peel.  The cheesecloth helps remove all of the skins from the dye bath and makes it easier to rinse the fabric after dying.  Use dyed pieces of cheesecloth in your next project or as a colorful way to package a future gift :)

 What you need to start is: A produce bag full of onion skins and cheesecloth. Optional- cotton string to tie cheesecloth closed.

These red onion skins turn the fabric more orange and golden.  I love mixing all the onions all together to achieve a "Marigold" color of the fabric above. 

However, for this project I am trying to get some good yellows for a color pallet inspired by my dear friend Dani.  I am trying to get some good yellows for a grouping of Yellow, Black and White.  So I will dye two batches one with only the red onion skins and one with a mix of the others.

I wish there was more white onion skins for this project.  The sweet yellow onions will still produce a more golden yellow but in comparison to mixing them all together this batch will yield a more classic yellow.

 Bundle up the skins inside the cheesecloth and wrap shut.

Here is the pot getting ready-  I have a couple of these great pots during college @ Big Lots, I believe...
Anyway, the cool thing about the onion skins is you don't have to use separate pots and utensils that aren't food ready! So its safe, easy, and all natural :)

While you get your pots of water boiling with the bundled onion skins get your fabric prepped and soaking. This is a MUST to maximize the dye job being even.  
***Just getting it wet first will help if you don't have this soap at hand.***

Synthropol is an amazing soap to keep on hand if you will be dyeing a lot.  It is really neutral and clean. AND is a hearty bubble producing soap- a bit goes a long way.  It doesn't leave any residues or other things behind so the fabric can be prepped for dyeing.  Soak all of the fabrics you want to dye for ~20min in warm warm water, with synthropol or pure castle soap.  Use this sparingly since it is so concentrated as a pre- and post-soak.

Let the fabric soak and bring the onion water to a boil for at least 30minutes.  The more onion peels and or the longer the water boils; the deeper/ stronger the color.


You want to "cook" the fabric at least 30min.  Make sure to stir frequently to achieve even dyeing.  You can even let sit over night and steep if you are doing a tie-dye!  Once you are either done, bored, or ready for the next step... All you have to do is rinse!  Wash the fabric with warm/hot water, then soapy + warm, then to cold rinse when the color doesn't bleed.


Test out tons of fun fabrics!  You never know exactly what color will yield with vintage or fabric that the fiber content is unknown... But the beauty is the uncertainty :)

 Here is a sample where you can see the variation in color. It isn't as sever as if I had been able to use more white onion skins which come out "yellower". 
A) Pure Red Onion Skins(1bag) B) Mix of Sweet Yellow and White Onion Skins(2 bags)

I was really surprised how dark this remnant from a bottom of a dress took the color.  The contrast makes the calico flowers pop!  Can't wait to use all these fabrics!!!

If you like this technique or natural dyeing as a go-to method there is all different things you can do to achieve a full range of colors with addition of mordants and other natural elements.

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