Eddie and I have both been collecting onion skins for a while for dyeing purposes, and my mother added to our collection. We separated our bounty in three groups, one with only yellow skins, one with only red skins, and one with yellow onion and garlic skins (at some point Eddie was keeping both and it was a bit too complicated to separate those). We therefore did three main baths first, all using the same technique. Although onion skins do not require mordanting, in each of the dye pot we used one skein of alum mordanted yarn, one skein which had been heuchera mordanted and one unmordanted one (or in most of them anyway).
Eddie first put the onion skins in a pair of old tights so as to make them easier to take in and out of baths. Think teabag technique, we also did that with our dye pack, cutting up the tights to create small bags. For the onions, though, we had enough to fill the whole of the tights. We put those in plenty of water and brought them to the boil, left them simmering for about half an hour, as it seemed to yield enough color. Taking the pan off the hob, we then let it cool down with the onion tights still in. I’m saying we… but really Eddie did most of the work on those, as I was dealing with the black beans…
Once it had cooled down we lifted the tights off the pan and squeezed the water out of it, leaving the pot ready to dye with. Since we were trying different dye solutions at the same time, we put our pre-mordanted and pre-soaked skeins in jars, covered them in dye solution and set it to simmer for about half an hour. The skeins were then taken out, rinsed, and dried.
Separating the skeins into jars is not necessary, and if you have only one batch of onion skins you are using, they could certainly be thrown in the dye solution in the pot which was used to make it. Separating the skein into jars can be an interesting alternative if you want to try only very small amounts of yarn and several types of dye solution and save on time and energy by heating the dyeing pot only once for dyeing the samples. The only problem is making sure you can recognise which jars were which dye solution. To do this, we used elastic bands of different colours around our jars, and wrote down what each of the colours meant.
We got quite a range of colours:
- Yellow Onion skins on alum mordanted wool
- Yellow Onion skins on heuchera mordanted wool
- Yellow Onion skins and garlic skins on unmordanted wool
- Yellow Onion skins and garlic skins on alum mordanted wool
- Red Onion skins on unmordanted wool
- Red Onion skins on alum mordanted wool
- Red Onion skins on heuchera mordanted wool
As for the rest of our dyeing experiments from that week, you can see more pictures in the flickr group
We were quite amazed especially at the variations in the red onion skins depending on the mordant, that’s quite a colour range from a single dye solution.
And in the next episode, our heroins will be dyeing with black beans… Blues ahoy!