Good Old Onion Skins

I haven’t used onion skins in the dyepot for several years, although I still always save them, and I keep the red onion skins separately from the brown ones, as they often give slightly different shades in the dyepot. Whilst rummaging through some of the boxes in my workshop recently, I unearthed several bags of onion skins, so last week I decided to use some of them to dye some skeins of wool.

Onion skins will dye quite readily without the use of a mordant but for the strongest, most vivid colours I use an alum mordant. However, if you use unmordanted fibres, the use of an alkaline modifier after dyeing will increase the depth and brilliance of the shades. For very deep colours you may need to use 100% weight of onion skins to weight of fibres, but I usually find that 50% gives sufficient depth and brilliance.



Colours on wool from brown onion skins






I started off by using some brown onion skins. The above photo shows, from left to right: Alum mordant, alum + iron and, from the exhaust dyebath, alum mordant, alum + iron

I then made a dyebath using some red onion skins. In the past, I have sometimes achieved interesting green colours from red onion skins but this time the colours obtained were not as bright as I had hoped they would be, probably because I only had a handful of skins. The photo below shows from left to right: alum mordant, alum mordant + alkali, alum mordant + iron, no mordant, no mordant + alkali.




Colours on wool from red onion skins






Afterwards, I wondered why it had taken me so long to get round to dyeing with onion skins again, as they really do give lovely colours, even if their light-fastness is limited.

9 replies
  1. colouritgreen
    colouritgreen says:

    we liked onion skin dyeing – and able to get lots of colour from the exhaust.. 5 more dips in the dyebath. The first was the best colour of course.. nice deep burnt orange 🙂

  2. Marian
    Marian says:

    The colors are so beautiful!
    I was talking to a friend today, both felters and taking our first steps into natural dyeing; and waiting for spring, we are both saving onion skins and tea bags!

  3. Kite
    Kite says:

    I get great lightfastness with copper mordanting on wool, as per Gill Dalby’s recipe. Negligible fading compared to control when exposed to a week’s worth of full tropical sun. Bright yellow with brown onion skins, only a slight green tinge. Thanks for the tip about alkalinity.

  4. Kite
    Kite says:

    Oh, and I can sometimes get a lovely deep orange-red from the red onion skins, at least with alum. Might depend upon the skins in question, as results seem to vary with the red ones for me. Marian – I collect handfuls of skins from the supermarket – I consider I’m doing them a favour – I get odd looks at the checkout until I explain it’s for dyeing, but no one charges me for them – and if they did – well, the weight is almost zero!

    • says:

      No. I used iron and washing soda as modifiers after dyeing. Colour modifying is described in all my books & also in some of my earlier posts. Some people use an alum mordant after dyeing but this is not a practice I follow, as it’s less reliable than pre-mordanting. But you could always try soaking wool in a mordant bath after dyeing & check the results.

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