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Dyeing with Onion Skins

by Irene Rasetti |


  Here is a follow-up to the reel I posted on Instagram on dyeing with onion skins. I hope you enjoy it and try it out. Please reach out if you have any questions, and please share your work on Instagram by tagging me! I would love to see your results.

One of the most satisfying ways to naturally dye just about anything from your Easter eggs to linens and garments is using onion skins. They give a range of beautiful warm tones, and it's easy peasy. Dyeing with onion skins is not only an excellent way to start learning about and using natural dyes but remains a favourite for those of us who dye on the regular! As you can see, you can achieve a range in colour by using the simplest ingredients, which are easily accessible in any home or grocery store. So let’s get started! 

Things you will need:

  • A pot (preferably one you can use only for natural dyeing)
  • Water
  • Onion skins (you can mix red and orange, or experiment with each colour to see the differences.)
  • Citric acid (or lemon juice)
  • Ferrous sulphate (this is iron reduced to a powder form, using anything rusty around the house works just as well)
  • Sofa ash 
  • Gloves (if you have these items in powder form, please use gloves!

*You can purchase these items online from Maiwa,

  1. Always mordant your fabric before dyeing. This is a crucial step for your dye to bind to your fibre. For those of you who do not know about this step, you can check out my other blog post, ‘Bundle Dyeing Tutorial’ for the details and how to. :)
  2. Fill a pot with water and add some onion skins. You can mix orange and red together or experiment with each colour individually. (They give different colours). In this tutorial I used both colours together. Also, it is wise to have a pot on hand strictly for dyeing (do not use the pots you cook with.)
  3. Bring to boil and then down to a simmer for about 20 minutes or so. You’ll begin to see the colour.
  4. Strain out the liquid and discard your skins. 
  5. At this point, you can dye your fabric by immersing it into the vat, or you can experiment with your modifiers to achieve a range in colour by pouring liquid into four different glass containers. 
  6. If you’re going to experiment with the modifiers, your first cup should remain the original and untouched liquid. This is your controlled sample. Don’t forget to label everything so you don’t confuse your results.
  7. If you do not have citric acid in powder form, use lemon juice. Add half a teaspoon to your jar and stir. Citric acid is considered ‘the brightener’ 
  8. In your next sample jar, add a quarter teaspoon of ferrous sulphate. For this ingredient, a little goes a very long way! If you do not have ferrous sulphate, simply add a rusty nail in your sample cup. Iron is considered ‘the saddener’ in the natural dye world because it creates moodier, darker tones.
  9. For your last sample, you can add half a teaspoon of soda ash. Soda ash is typically used in the scouring (deep cleansing)  process to strip your fabric of any gums and oils due to processing. However, I find it fun to experiment with because at times, but not always, it can shift and change a colour, a delightful little surprise!
  10. Now, you're ready to add your strips of fabric into your sample jars. I would let them sit overnight.
  11. Check your results!

What did you discover? Which colours are your favourite? This process is all about play and experimentation. Try mixing multiple modifiers together onto a sample piece and watch the magic happen. Keep a notebook with your sample pieces and take some notes. I hope you enjoyed this tutorial and it inspires you to continue your natural dye journey!