In the early 1970s, Robert and I wrote a small book called An Introduction to Natural Dyeing. Used copies come up for sale on Amazon quite regularly. Dyeing small batches of wool with onion skins is a very easy thing to do and the colors are beautiful.
This week, while you are shopping for Thanksgiving, pick up an extra large bag of onion skins. We buy one or two yellow (or red) onions and put them in a sack, then we clean out the bottom of the onion bin and scoop up all the loose, papery skins and fill the bag to the brim. While you are at the grocery store pick up some Alum in the pickling supply area (or you can order some Alum from Dharma Trading and it will arrive in a few days).
Onion Skins Dye Project
Gather your supplies.
Clean, white wool yarn or cloth (1/4 pound).
A two gallon enamel pot.*
A candy thermometer.
Large wooden spoon.*
Soap or detergent.
Stove or outdoor burner.
Rustproof “T” pins for blocking fabric.
*Dedicated to dye projects and not for regular cooking use.
Bring your soaked onion skins and water to a simmer in the enamel pot and keep simmering for an hour. Add water as you go so it will not evaporate. Your house will smell like onion soup. Let the brew cool down and then strain out the dye liquor (you won’t need the skins anymore) and put it in a clean glass container.
You can dye wool yarn or cloth. The wool must be free of dirt, grease or sizing so it will accept the dye.Weigh your clean, dry wool. The recipe is for one quarter (1/4) pound. Wind yarn into skeins for dyeing and tie them loosely with cotton string.
The wool has to be mordanted so it will take the dye. We are going to use Alum for our mordant.
Fill the enamel pot with 1 ½ gallons of water and heat it to 130-degrees F. Add 1 ½ tablespoons of alum and stir until dissolved. Bring the heat to 150-degrees.
When the mordant water reaches 150-degrees, enter the wet wool (gently). Push it down with your wooden spoon so it is covered. Bring to a simmer for one hour. Stir regularly. Remove the pot from heat. Set wool aside.
Pour your onion skin dye liquor into an empty enamel pot and add enough water to make 1 ½ gallons of solution. Heat to 150-degrees and gently add mordanted wool. Bring to a simmer (190-degrees), do NOT boil, for one hour, stir occasionally and make sure the wool stays down in the pot. Remove the pot from heat and let the wool cool down in the pot with the dye liquor. Cooling overnight is good. It will absorb dye as it cools.
Remove wool from the dye when it is cool. Squeeze wool gently. Rinse. Wash dyed wool thoroughly with soap or detergent. Do not rub, wring, or twist. Rinse well. Wrap wool in a clean terry cloth towel to remove excess moisture.