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dyeing with onion skins  RSS feed

 
Judith Browning
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I've been dyeing with organic yellow onion skins this past week. We eat a lot of onions so it's easy to save in a bag in the kitchen and as I only dye once a year I end up with many more than I need or can use. Onion skins are a great permanent dye...best on wools and silks (animal proteins) but also work on linen, hemp, rami and cottons.

I bring in a 55 gallon barrel of rain water every fall for dyeing and to water plants in the house...this is what I use for all of the water in the process including rinsing.

I use a large aluminum canning kettle for the dye bath itself.

I soaked the onion skins in the kettle in rain water for a few days prior to the actual few hours of simmering. Once during the soak I heated the kettle to a simmer and then removed from the stove and continued the soak for a few days off the stove.

After barely simmering for an afternoon to really bring out the color, the next morning after it cooled I strained out the onion skins and added 2 tbs. of food grade alum. I try to use sumac leaves as a mordant much of the time but it seems to add a greenish or grayish cast to the color and I love being able to get this lemon yellow color.

The yarn I found at a thrift store.....10 pounds of 3-4 oz skeins of what the 'Yarn Barn' called 'dyers delight' or something......I think I paid $5 for all and it has lasted me years. I like to tie the skeins in a few more places to avoid to big a tangle in the dye bath and then soak in rain water for a day before dyeing. If necessary, I heat that slowly to the same temp as my dye bath so there is no shrinking of the wool from temperature change when I add the fiber to the bath.

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onion skins in to soak
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several days soak with one heat up
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3-4 oz bundles of undyed wool yarn, skeined and tied
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skeins soaking in rain water preliminary to the dye bath
 
Judith Browning
Posts: 5912
Location: Arkansas Ozarks zone 7 alluvial,black,deep loam/clay with few rocks, wonderful creek bottom!
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a few more pictures.........

Please ask questions if I haven't covered everything
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dye bath color after simmering.
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after adding 2 tbs food grade alum.
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fresh out of the bath before a rinse.
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dry yarn after several rain water rinses.
 
Judith Browning
Posts: 5912
Location: Arkansas Ozarks zone 7 alluvial,black,deep loam/clay with few rocks, wonderful creek bottom!
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Here is a link with similar instructions http://www.folkfibers.com/blogs/news/6652230-natural-dyes-yellow-onion-skins

Some examples of different fibers dyed with yellow onion skins.....
 
Judith Browning
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Location: Arkansas Ozarks zone 7 alluvial,black,deep loam/clay with few rocks, wonderful creek bottom!
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A friend just sent me this poem after seeing pictures of my onion skin dyes....I think it is fitting in this thread.........

Ode to the Onion

Onion,
luminous flask,
your beauty formed
petal by petal,
crystal scales expanded you
and in the secrecy of the dark earth
your belly grew round with dew.
Under the earth
the miracle
happened
and when your clumsy
green stem appeared,
and your leaves were born
like swords
in the garden,
the earth heaped up her power
showing your naked transparency,
and as the remote sea
in lifting the breasts of Aphrodite
duplicating the magnolia,
so did the earth
make you,
onion
clear as a planet
and destined
to shine,
constant constellation,
round rose of water,
upon
the table
of the poor.

You make us cry without hurting us.
I have praised everything that exists,
but to me, onion, you are
more beautiful than a bird
of dazzling feathers,
heavenly globe, platinum goblet,
unmoving dance
of the snowy anemone

and the fragrance of the earth lives
in your crystalline nature.

by Pablo Neruda
 
Cassie Langstraat
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OMG I LOVE ONIONS and I LOVE that ode to onions! Seriously, all my friends make fun of me because I will eat raw or cooked onion with EVERYTHING.


Awesome stuff you're doing with the dying too!
 
Dan Boone
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Location: Central Oklahoma (zone 7a)
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With me the question is never "how much onion?" to go in a recipe. The question is always "how many?"

Judith I remember my mother making natural dyes from onion skins and lingonberries. She used them to make colored beads from king salmon vertebrae and then she used those to decorate birch bark baskets she'd learned to make from a couple of ancient Athabascan women. I was not typically the favorite child but I did earn some brownie points for being the only kid willing to cheerfully help her dig spruce roots and cut birch bark for the baskets.
 
Olenka Kleban
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Here's a picture from a month ago in the tipi. I had just made a fresh batch of red onion skin dye.
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Thekla McDaniels
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I used to do a lot of dying with natural materials, especially onion skins, walnut hulls, eucalyptus bark and tea and coffee. When dying wool and silk, these need no mordants at all, and I think the same is true of cotton.

I used to use welches grape juice ( concord grape juice), can't remember whether it required a mordant, but the grape juice made an olive green on wool.

Marigold petals make a nice yellow.

You can use chrome as a mordant, but it will make a yellow cast.


Have fun!

Thekla
 
Judith Browning
Posts: 5912
Location: Arkansas Ozarks zone 7 alluvial,black,deep loam/clay with few rocks, wonderful creek bottom!
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...and for more dyes beyond onion skins, check out other natural dye opportunities in this thread http://www.permies.com/t/15888/ancestral-skills/growing-harvesting-natural-dye-plants and a few others listed as 'similar threads' at the bottom of this page. I am on to bodark next if my rain water holds out.....
 
Judith Browning
Posts: 5912
Location: Arkansas Ozarks zone 7 alluvial,black,deep loam/clay with few rocks, wonderful creek bottom!
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Olenka, Thekla...please post pictures of things you've dyed with onion skins if you have some photos, I love seeing what others are doing.
...Daniel, I would love to try dying bone. Did your mom do anything to the bone to prepare it to dye?
here is my last years attempt at coloring eggs with onion skins (and some with turmeric) dying eggs with vegetable dyes
 
Thekla McDaniels
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Sorry, Judith.
In my case it has been 40 years since I did the dying. No photos (since before digital cameras, computers, cell phones ;-} ), no yarn, no remains.
Thekla
 
Olenka Kleban
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Marta Iwanek, photographer, had the great idea of putting some of the dyes I've been exploring (including onion skins) into a video for the Toronto Star.

 
Thekla McDaniels
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Olenka,
That's beautiful, and it leaves me feeling I could try it and enjoy it. Thanks so much.

Thekla
 
Olenka Kleban
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Thanks, Thekla! Mission accomplished. Art is really for everyone.
 
Sharon LaPlante
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I've done the yellow onion skin dye with t-shirts using alum as a mordant and they kept their color for years. Great post ... great photos ... it should certainly inspire someone to try it!
 
Dan Boone
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Judith Browning wrote:
Daniel, I would love to try dying bone. Did your mom do anything to the bone to prepare it to dye?

As far as I recall she just cleaned the salmon vertebrae (I think she cooked them just enough to make the spinal cord tissue easy to remove) and dried them. Then she'd keep them rattling around in a jar until she was ready to do a dye job, which might be a year or more later. But it's been a long time, and maybe she did other stuff I didn't know about.
 
Vida Norris
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This is beyond awesome. Love it.

A few questions - Does the yarn smell like onions after? Also... what is alum? Mordant?

Really well done Judith and co. I'm very inspired to give this a try.
 
Thekla McDaniels
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alum is a powder used in pickling, and first aid/wound dressing, and McCormack, the spice company also considers it a food additive used for "firming". It is one of those multiple use powders that old timers had around the place. It is, of course, also used in dying. What a mordant does is make the fiber ready to bond to a molecule that happens to be a pigment. Which mordant you use affects the color you get. Some mordants are pretty toxic. Alum is not too bad, considering it's been used on open wounds, and EATEN for generations. But pay attention to what kind of pot you are using. Enamel, stainless steel, or glass are the safe ones, both for clarity of color and not generating fumes.

Wikipedia says alum usually refers to a specific chemical compound, but it also refers to a group of compounds.

If you go to a drug store or the pharmacy department of a large grocery store and ask for it, they will likely have it. You can also buy it on amazon if you want some and can't find it in your area.

Thekla
 
Judith Browning
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Location: Arkansas Ozarks zone 7 alluvial,black,deep loam/clay with few rocks, wonderful creek bottom!
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Vida Norris wrote:This is beyond awesome. Love it.

A few questions - Does the yarn smell like onions after? Also... what is alum? Mordant?

Really well done Judith and co. I'm very inspired to give this a try.


Thanks, Vida.....this is fun to have more folks interested in natural dyes

Thekla has answered the alum question very well...I get mine at the pharmacy in a one pound bottle. It lasts a long time as I use the bare minimum only when it is necessary.

And to answer your other question about smell....I've never noticed an onion smell in the dried skins in storage, the dye bath or the yarn. I guess because we only use the very dry outer layers.

Post some pictures with your results
 
Judith Browning
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Location: Arkansas Ozarks zone 7 alluvial,black,deep loam/clay with few rocks, wonderful creek bottom!
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Sharon LaPlante wrote:I've done the yellow onion skin dye with t-shirts using alum as a mordant and they kept their color for years. Great post ... great photos ... it should certainly inspire someone to try it!


I haven't dyed much cotton with them.......I think I'll look for some white t-shirts on my next trip to the thrift store and give it a try as I have two gallons of dried yellow onion skins jam packed into a container and all of my rain water barrels are full........I need that outdoor rocket stove to simmer on though. Thanks!
 
Erica Wisner
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We tried some natural dyes for eggs, and I definitely liked the onion skin.
My mother did this egg - white egg, turmeric yellow, then onionskin yellow over that. Not a huge difference between the two yellows, but maybe you can see it.
(Onionskin, being the last color, is the big sections "between the lines." Turmeric are the lines that are paler yellow but not as white as the white lines.)
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Onion-dyed pysanky
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Dying pysanky eggs
 
I agree. Here's the link: http://stoves2.com
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