How to dye fabric with onion skins

Dying fabric to create new and unusual colours is a pastime that many craft enthusiasts enjoy. Naturally dyed fabrics are used to create one-of-a-kind quilts, clothing and accessories. A natural, easy-to-make dye can be made from onion skins, which produce a yellow-orange coloured dye. Using 100% wool or cotton produces the most vibrant colour; blended fabrics will not appear as vivid.

Immerse 1 pound of dry weight or approximately 2 yards of 45-inch cotton or wool fabric in water. Allow to soak for 5 minutes. Note: White or light cream coloured fabric are the best colours of fabric to use when dying with onion skins.

Place 4 gallons of water, 118ml alum and 28.4gr washing soda in a large pot. This mixture is called a "mordant bath" and helps the pigment adhere to the fabric and keep its colour after dying. Stir the mordant bath with a wooden spoon.

Remove the fabric from the water bath and wring well. Place the wet cloth in the mordant bath. Heat gradually to a gentle boil. Boil for one hour, stirring periodically. Remove from the heat and allow the fabric to sit in the water for 24 hours. Remove the fabric from the mixture. Wring well. Dispose of the remaining mordant bath.

Place 16 cups of loosely packed onion skins in the pot. Cover the onion skins with water and stir the mixture with a wooden spoon. Boil for one hour, then strain the onion skins from the water. Put the water back into the pot.

Add enough water to the pot to make a 4-gallon onion skin dye bath. Add 1/2 cup of plain salt. Submerge the wet fabric in the onion skin dye bath. Boil the fabric until the desired colour is achieved (15 minutes to 1 hour).

Note: The plain salt is added to the dye bath to help set the colour in the fabric. This simply means that the salt acts like a binding agent so the colour adheres well and stays in the fabric when washed. It is not essential to add the plain salt but it definitely helps in maintaining the dyed colour if the fabric will be washed repeatedly.

Remove the fabric from the dye bath. Rinse with cool water until the water runs clear off the bottom of the cloth. Hang dry the wool, and either hang dry or dry the cotton fabric in a clothes dryer.

Note: Wool fibres will shrink when dried in a drier. If the fabric shrinking is not a problem, then dry the dyed wool in the dryer.

Things You'll Need

  • 1 pound dry weight fabric (wool, cotton, wool blend, or cotton blend)
  • Alum (aluminum potassium sulphate)
  • Washing soda (sodium carbonate, not baking soda)
  • Cream of tartar
  • Large canner
  • Wooden spoon
  • 16 cups loosely packed onion skins
  • Plain salt
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About the Author

Kim Blakesley is a home remodeling business owner, former art/business teacher and school principal. She began her writing and photography career in 2008. Blakesley's education, fine arts, remodeling, green living, and arts and crafts articles have appeared on numerous websites, including DeWalt Tools, as well as in "Farm Journal" and "Pro Farmer."