recent batches of thread, dyed with brown onion skins and then mixed with leftover tagetes dye. from left to right: onion & tagetes, third dye bath, second dye bath and on the right pure onion skin, first dye bath; vintage cotton embroidery thread.
what you will need: – onion skins (i used yellow ones here, but of course red ones or a mix of red and brown work just fine); i ususally collect all onion skins when cooking and store them in a paper bag. only use the dry, yellow/red parts, no fleshy bits, as they would start to rot and smell. – a cooking pot large enough to hold your fabric or thread to be able to move around freely – a colander or strainer of some sorts to strain off the onion skins once the dye has been extracted – a muslin cloth or any other cloth to strain out fine particles – a tea towel works fine. just make sure it’s okay to dye/discolour that piece of fabric. – wooden spoon or something else to stir – may also discolour in the process – gloves – not really necessary; but if you want to make 100% sure not any tiny bit of yellowish colour stays on your skin, use gloves. i never do with onion dye, though. – fabric or thread for dyeing (any animal fiber or natural fiber will work; i usually dye cotton or linen or a cotton/linen mix and don’t have much experience with animal fiber like wool and silk; they take colour beautifully, though). in this example i’m dyeing cotton embroidery thread.
to prepare beforehand – scouring your fabric/thread (speaking about cotton and linen here, this guide is not for silk or wool!!!) in order to prepare the fiber to take up the dye as best as possible, you need to remove all possible dirt, dust, grease, … even newly bought fabric or thread has residue from spinning and weaving that you need to remove. for fabric, wash accordingly, and then there are two options: – either machine wash at 95° celsius with baking soda – or (especially small pieces or small amounts) put in a pot with water and baking soda and bring to a boil, then simmer for appr. one hour. strain off the water (you will now see how much residue will have come out by the colour of the water) and rinse thoroughly until the water runs clear.
for scouring thread i always use the “simmer in a pot” method. roll the thread into a loose loop and secure it losely so it doesn’t fall apart and tangles up. tie up in one or more places, but keep it lose enough, so you don’t accidentally create a part that can’t take up the dye (this would be called a resist dye technique, which in case you want to create unevenly dyed thread is a nice technique; just don’t do this by accident). when stirring, do so very gently and try not to tangle up the thread too much.
if you dry your material after scouring and before dyeing, make sure to pre-wet it before it goes into the dye pot.
extracting the dye: put all the collected onion skins into your pot and cover with water.
put the pot on the stove and bring the water to a boil. once it has heated up, keep it simmering for at least half an hour. depending on what you want to achieve, use more or less onion skins and let it simmer a bit longer or shorter. the more skins, the more intense your dye will get. keeping the heat below a boil will bring out more of the yellow tones, boiling it will shift the colour more towards orange/rust in brown onion skins. you’ll see the colour of your dye bath change pretty quickly, the skins give off colour quite easily.
once you have extracted the dye, strain off the skins by using a colander/sieve/strainer lined with muslin cloth. make sure to squeeze out all the dye still left in the skins. pour your dye back into the pot.
dyeing: now you’re ready to dye your fabric or thread. for dyeing with onion skin you don’t need to mordant your fabric beforehand, which makes it really easy and quick. take your previously scoured fabric or thread (make sure it’s wet before it goes into the dye pot – soaking longer is better, wetting it quickly is better than dry) and put it into the dye. now start heating the dye up and bring it to a simmer. let it simmer for half an hour or hour – check the colour of your fabric or thread. stir gently to move the material around so the dye can spread more evenly. you can let the material sit in the dye bath over night after it has cooled down. or take it out earlier, if you like the colour. just take into account that the colour looks more intense when it’s still wet and not yet rinsed. once you like the colour, take out your material and wring it out. hang to dry. i usually wait a few days up to two weeks before i rinse out excess dye. it helps the dye stick to the fiber a bit better. but if you’re too curious to wait, rinse right away until the water runs clear and hang up to dry.
you can use the dye bath more than once, until you have used up all colour. if i want to re-use it, but not right away, i pour it into strage jars with a screw lid when it’s still hot (put a wet towel under the glass container, so they don’t break from the heat; and best put them into your sink when pouring, so even if they break you don’t mess up your whole kitchen), screw the lid on and the jars will seal themselves shut when cooling down. this way you can store your dye for a few weeks before re-using.
here is a skein of onion dyed embroidery thread – already dried, but not yet rinsed. look at those wonderful orange-red-rusty tones!
it is a very straightforward dye made out of food waste, so give it a go – it’s fun and really easy. the tones you get are always beautiful.
i’m happy to answer questions, just leave me a message right here. and also do let me know if you tried out dyeing with onion skins, i’d be happy to see your results!