Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Tutorial: Onion Peel Dyeing

It's been a few weeks since I took the pictures for this tutorial, can you tell it's been a busy "vacation"? Right now things are getting back to normal with more craftsy time, so I will try and post more regularly.

Right now I want to talk onion peel dyeing! I'll give you a little tutorial. It's one of the the most simple plant dyes and it's almost free, if you regularly use onions for cooking, you'll have enough for a small batch of wool in no time. If you do not use onions, maybe you can ask some one to collect the peels for you.

Although I generally dye on a wood fire, you can totally do it in your kitchen in a (old) pot.

What you will need:

For 100 grams of wool, you will need 100 grams of onion peels. Only use the hard and dry outer part.

For a mordant you need alum in powder form. You can buy this online or at your local pharmacy. You only need about 15 grams foor 100 grams of wool, so look around a little. Some shops only sell them in 1kg jars.

You need a cooking pot of at least 3 litres, but bigger means more room for the wool, which means a more even dye. Don't go overboard, you won't need a huge soup pan, but at least make sure there is plenty of room for the wool and peels.

If you want to dye more than 100 grams of wool, just multiply the ingredients, and use a bigger pot.

Now, to prepare:

I like to let my onions peels soak for a night. Just put them in a jar or bowl with water. Do it the night before you are going to dye, to give them a night to soak, a lot of the dye will already come out of the peels, making it easier to go right into the wool when you put the peels and the water in the bath dye pot.

In front is a bowl with madder roots, I was dyeing both at the same time that day, and they too were soaked. I also dyed a little more than 100 grams, so don't be confused by my amount of onion peels.

Your wool needs to be in a skein, and to prevent it from forming knots in the dye bath, tie it together with short strings of a dark colour (so you can find them back) in a few places. Don't tie them too tight!

Dyeing Day:

You have your dyeing pot, alum powder and soaked onion peels, time for the fun part!

First you also need to soak your wool, put it in luke warm water and just let it sit there to absorb the water. This makes it easer to absorb the alum mordant later, and the wool won't get too much of a (felting) scare when it's put into the warm water.

Then it's time for the mordant. Put enough water in your pot for the wool to move freely, but don't forget you will still need to add the onions and their water as well. You don't put in the wool yet! Let it soak a little longer. While the water is warming up, mix 15 grams of alum in a cup with hot water, let it desolve. When the water in your pot is luke warm, put the alum in it, and stir until it's mixed with the rest of the water. Now you can put your wool in. Let the water reach boiling point, and let it slowly boil for 60 minutes. Don't worry about felting, wool is sensitive, but because you let it warm up slowly, it will be fine.

After an hour, you'd best take out your wool for a bit, just lay it aside, so you can pour in the onion peels and the water they are in. I love seeing how the water turns orange right away, and just imagining how pretty the wool is going to get. When the onion peels are in, and spread evenly in the pot, you can put back your wool. Right now, the water should not boil anymore, you want to keep it just before boiling point. If it does boil a little, just turn the fire lower. You need to keep in in for an other hour, but I usually give them a little more time, about half an hour longer.

Don't forget to take a peek and see how the wool is getting its new gorgeous colour.

You don't have to stay in the kitchen the entire time, but you will have to keep stirring it every now and then. This is so you won't get extra dark spots where onion peels have been sitting on the yarn for an entire hour. Don't worry if it happens after all, even though you have been sitrring all the time, it still happens to me sometimes, and aren't those little flaws the charm of hand made things?

When your wool is dyed, you take it out of the bath. I like to hang it up to cool first, before rinsing out the dye. But as long as you use warm water, you can also rinse right away. Just put in in the sink and let water pour over it, you can pick it up, and move it around a little, but do not squeeze, your wool has been through a lot and you don't want it to felt right at the end! Just let the water rinse through. Most of the times the colour will become a little less intense, that's all the excessive dye that's not absorbed by the wool, some wools absorb the colours better than others. This was my first experiment with merino and I was delighted, so pretty!

When no colour is coming out anymore, you are done, that is the new colour of your yarn! Find a place to dry it. You can dry your wool outside, just try to find a place in the shadow. When the weather is bad, I sometimes hang my dyed yarns in the shower to dry. Anywhere is good.

And then, one or two days later, after it has dryed and been rolled up in a ball or skein, admire your beautiful, beautiful natural coloured yarn.

My onion dyed merino is going to become a cute little African Flower pony, together with the madder merino I dyed on the same day, and some more, lighter onion orange that I will dye later this week. As you can see, my wool has little flecks of lighter colour, I did tie my strings to keep it all together too tight. It was my first time dyeing merino, and apparently it needs extra loose strings. You'll always keep learning.

I hope you will love natural dyeing as much as I love it, and always feel free to ask me questions.

Enjoy! xxx


  1. Gorgeous colours! And great tutorial!
    I can't wait to try this!

    I'm sure your pony will be sooo cute!

  2. Wow wat cool! Wat een super mooie kleur!