Natural Dyeing with Onion Skins

I have really been enjoying all the knitting that has been going on around here and felt I really wanted to knit a cowl with naturally dyed wool with an autumn theme. I have been saving onions skins in a packet in the veggie drawer and I finally had enough today to dye some wool. It is such fun watching the colours develop in the dye pot and attach to the wool. So if you feel you would like to give natural dyeing a try, I took some photos of the process to share here…

Materials:
About 5 handfuls of red and brown onion skins
Stainless steel pot used only for your dyeing
Vinegar
Merino wool

Wind your wool into a skein if it isn’t already in one. Soak the skein in a bowl of water for a few hours, making sure the water reaches every part of your skein. Then place some vinegar in the water and leave this to stand for another hour or so.

I love the look of these onion skins!
Fill your pot half full with water and place the onion skins in the water. Push the skins under the water and turn on the heat. Bring the pot to almost boiling point, don’t let it boil as I find this ruins the vibrant colour. Then turn down the heat and let it cool a little. It is always a good idea to let the wool and the dye bath be the same temperature when the wool is placed in the pot so that it isn’t ‘shocked’ as this will negatively affect the colourway.

Lovely rich colour.

Place the skein of wool in the dye bath and allow the pot to simmer gently, don’t let it boil or the colour will become a dirty brown and the wool will felt. Let it simmer for about 45 minutes until there is a beautiful rich colour on the wool.

When you are happy with the colour, remove the pot from the heat and allow it to cool completely.

When your wool has cooled, remove it from the dye bath and rinse it in a basin of water.

Gently squeeze out the water from the skein and hang it out to dry.

And that’s all there is too it:)

PS. this embroidered tea towel is one I sewed when I was in primary school…

Happy wool dyeing! :)

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27 Responses to Natural Dyeing with Onion Skins

  1. Christine April 29, 2012 at 2:05 pm #

    Oh it’s divine, Linda..I LOVE the colour the onion skins have produced. I am very keen to try this.

    Have you ever tried yarn dyeing with calendula petals? They seem to hold their colour quite well in other projects I often wonder…this would be an interesting experiment to try too..

    I’m amazed with your tea towel as well – it’s beautiful.

    Enjoy the rest of your weekend,
    Christine x

    • Linda April 29, 2012 at 4:57 pm #

      Thanks Christine, I have calendula flowering right now in my veggie garden, I think I must give this a try!
      xo

  2. JenMun(a) April 29, 2012 at 3:33 pm #

    what a beautiful color Linda! I really thought about natural dyeing and now it looks so easy, thank you!
    I am so curious to see the knitted result!

    • Linda April 29, 2012 at 4:57 pm #

      It really is fun:)

  3. Heather aka Proud Mama April 29, 2012 at 4:07 pm #

    What a gorgeous tea bowl. The yarn isn’t too shabby either! I had been saving a large bag of skins when we found out we would be leaving for several months. When I get back home, I will start collecting again for some dyeing. Love you color.

    • Linda April 29, 2012 at 4:58 pm #

      Thanks so much, it seems such a long time ago that I made that tea towel.

  4. Stel April 29, 2012 at 4:07 pm #

    Wow, I’ve heard of this, but its the first time I see it – looks beautiful.

  5. eidolons April 29, 2012 at 4:13 pm #

    My internet connection died in the middle of trying to comment here, so I apologize if this comes through twice.

    I, too, am saving onion skins. I have a mesh bag tacked to the wall on the kitchen. (:

    I finished making a horse using your unicorn/pegasus pattern (the Beast didn’t want wings, I guess). I’ll email you a picture and post about it once my camera-to-computer issues are resolved. Next up is a black horse for the Imp with wings and possibly even a horn. (:

    • Linda April 29, 2012 at 5:00 pm #

      That’s the best way to save them by having a bag in the kitchen ready to collect the skins:)

      I am so looking forward to seeing your knitted treasures!
      xo xo

  6. del April 29, 2012 at 4:18 pm #

    Very beautiful color you made there! I’m going to bookmark this for when I’m finally ready to dye my own yarn. Thank you!

    • Linda April 29, 2012 at 5:01 pm #

      Thank you Del:)
      xo

  7. owlmazingmakes April 29, 2012 at 5:11 pm #

    That is so cool! And the best color, too.

  8. Leslie April 29, 2012 at 10:01 pm #

    Love the color, You made dyeing look so easy.

  9. Elizabeth April 29, 2012 at 11:02 pm #

    Linda, what a beautiful color! And you make it sound so easy. Someday, I keep telling myself someday I will start spinning and dying. ~ Blessings, Elizabeth

  10. tjf April 30, 2012 at 7:13 am #

    I love the color of your yarn! I spent several days earlier this year dyeing wool with natural dyes to share with my daughter’s 4th grade class. I also used onion skins. . . . and tea, coffee, several berries, mint leaves, beets, beet tops, cherries, grape juice, etc. It was quite fun! Thanks for sharing yours.

  11. Anonymous April 30, 2012 at 10:34 am #

    My mom taught me to put yellow onion skins in chicken soup to make a great color.

    Elizabeth, you can spin, but don’t die(dying) – do, however, give dyeing a try – even with just chicken soup. ;-)

    Marny CA (not anonymous)

  12. Carrie Duvall April 30, 2012 at 2:59 pm #

    Thanks for the “How To” I was wondering what to do with all the onion skins left over from easter egg dying.

    With All That I Am
    Carrie “The Handmade Homemaker”

  13. Natalie April 30, 2012 at 4:11 pm #

    I have been saving onion skins for MONTHS…it takes a lot of onions to get a bit of onion skins! Hopefully by this summer I will have enough. I want to try outdoor wool dyeing over a campfire with the boys.

    PS…fantastic primary school embroidery! I have a little embroidery project coming up…just hankerchiefs, but you inspire me.

  14. maisiemouse April 30, 2012 at 4:32 pm #

    I have used onion skin dye on fabric. I found that shops often have a load of skins left at the bottom of their displays and if you ask they will let you help yourself (local shop) or do it for you (bemused young man in a national chain of supermarkets)

  15. W-S Wanderings April 30, 2012 at 11:54 pm #

    I LOVE dyeing with onion skins. Actually, come to think of it, I knit one of your lab pups out of yarn dyed with onion skin. A cat too. Wait, I never did finish the cat. I must do that and share the photos.

    Your yarn turned out beautifully and I look forward to seeing it grow into a cowl.

  16. Rachel May 1, 2012 at 3:21 pm #

    Thank you for sharing this tutorial! So fascinating all of the natural ways to color yarns!

    You did a beautiful job on your tea towel! Amazing that you did that in primary school!!!

  17. createbellacreate May 1, 2012 at 5:44 pm #

    That color came out beautiful! Thanks for the tutorial :)

  18. Catherine August 16, 2012 at 12:11 am #

    Thanks!! I’ve never dyed anything before but recently have become extremely curious. I want to dye linen. Do I also soak it in a vinegar water solution?

  19. Kate April 10, 2013 at 1:56 pm #

    Thanks for this, you make it look so simple. Thanks also to the person above who suggests asking for the onion skins left in display boxes in shops! Am absolutely going to try this :)

  20. Lois Murphy May 27, 2013 at 1:52 pm #

    I requested how to cook yellow onions with skins , because I have a #3 bag & hate peeling oni

    ons!! Your web site appeared, now I’d like to try dyeing wool.. Where do i purchase the right type

    of yarn?? Sincerely..

  21. Keely January 4, 2014 at 7:56 pm #

    Hi, beautiful results, I think I’m going to give this a try. The only thing is I have a tiny place, and don’t want to invest the money/space into a completely separate dye pot. I have a stainless steel pot that I use for cooking. Since this process only requires onion skins and vinegar, it sounds pretty food safe to me. Is there something I don’t know about that would make it dangerous to cook in the pot again? Thanks so much for your help!!

  22. Pamla April 12, 2014 at 3:59 pm #

    Thank you so much for this, I’m hoping to do some later this year. ;)

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