Saturday, November 21, 2009

Natural colors

This is a wool quilt top I made several years ago. The colors (except for the black) are all from natural dyes. The deep orange is dyed with onion skins, and the soft yellow comes from mistletoe. The lighter orange came from madder root. The bright pink is dyed with Cochineal.

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).

For one-quarter pound of wool you will need two (2) ounces of onion skins. Put them in an enamel pot and cover them with water. Let them soak for at least three days. You can do your dyeing project next weekend, after Thanksgiving.

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.
Alum.
Plastic (or enamel) dishpan for soaking and washing wool.
Stove or outdoor burner.
Rustproof “T” pins for blocking fabric.
Onion skins.
Terry towels.

*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.
In the meantime, soak your wool in your dishpan filled with warm water. Push it down so it is covered with water. Make sure it is thoroughly wet.

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.
Block wool fabric by placing in on a terry towel over a soft surface. Gently pull and ease the fabric to its original size and pin securely with rustproof “T” pins. It will dry slowly.
To block wool yarn, place a skein over a suspended pole and weight the bottom of the skein. Rotate the skein on the pole periodically to prevent the moisture gathering at the bottom. Remove when thoroughly dry.

I still have not figured out how to quilt my natural dyed wool quilt top. If you have any ideas let me know. I can’t decide what color thread to use.

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4 Comments:

Blogger Piecefulafternoon said...

I don't have any ideas - but I do like the lesson on dyeing. Nice quitl top too. You are so clever.

4:25 PM  
Blogger Linda B said...

Thank you so much for visiting my site and commenting. When I got here, you had the lesson on dying with onion skins and it is wonderful. I am going to go to the store tomorrow and scoop up all the skins.
I'm signing up to follow you. Where is the California Delta?
And, as a quilt pattern designer, you could make yourself an apron! I make aprons out of old overalls, but I just loved this Turkey Day one so much. Glad I won it.

5:50 PM  
Blogger Meggie said...

So very interesting. I will, however, refrain from beginning further new projects.

12:17 AM  
Blogger Del said...

Sometime in an earlier life I did some natural dyeing, but it has been so long ago I remember almost nothing. Every now and then I start saving the flowers off my orchid plants, because I remember the soft, warm green they produced. But I always end up throwing them away because I know I will never find the time. I'll take a lesson from Meg!

7:51 AM  

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