Onions are not only a great vegetable to eat but also to dye with. If you’re new to dyeing or want a fun project to do with the kids, onions are a great place to start. Their skins produce rich, vibrant shades of yellows and browns, depending on which skins you use. Onion skins, however, do not contain tannin so you will need to pre-treat your fabric with alum if you want stronger, longer-lasting colours. When added to madder dye baths, the colour becomes more orange. When over-dyed with indigo, you can get vibrant shades of green.
Step 1 - Preparing your Fabric
Step 2 - Making your Dye Bath
You will need:
- stainless steel pot
- wooden spoon or tongs
- heat source (induction stove or gas)
- dyestuff (onion skins, dried or fresh)
- soda ash for scouring fabric
- fabric to dye, must be 100% cotton, linen, silk or wool
To extract the dye:
- Pre-soak your fabric in a bowl of water for about an hour.
- Tear the onion skins into smaller pieces to make it easier for dyeing.
- Fill a large pot with water. Add the skins.
- Simmer for about an hour, stirring occasionally. You should see the water slowly change colour.
- Turn off the heat. Sieve out the pieces of onion skins, making sure you are left with a clear dye bath.
- Add your pre-soaked, wet fiber. Simmer for between 30 mins and an hour. Turn off the heat. I prefer to leave my fiber overnight in a cold bath to get a stronger colour but it’s up to you.
- When you’re happy with the colour, rinse in cold water and hang to dry.
Naturally dyed garments are just that - natural. They can be sensitive to strong heat sources and changes in pH water when washing. A few suggestions to keep your colours vibrant:
- Always wash your naturally dyed garment with pH neutral soap or detergent.
- Hand wash in cold water if possible.
- Never use fabric softener.
- Air dry in the shade.
- Store out of direct strong sunlight.