dyeing fabric using red onion skins
October 30th 2018
Dyeing fabric botanically, using food waste and vegetables is my latest jam. There’s just something incredibly beautiful about the colours your sheets, cloth and clothes get from plants. The tints appear softer yet more alive. With depth and character. Botanical dye is non-toxic and food safe, making it suitable for both me, my husband as well as our toddler and newborn daughter.
For bedding, I love crisp white sheets. Everyone in the family has two sets of organic cotton bedding in a basic shade of white. But Lou, who is four and a half now (she tells me I have to make sure I tell people she is four and A HALF, not just four ;), requested a pop of colour for hers. I asked her which two shades she’d prefer and she answered with pink and green. Out of these two colours pink is the easiest for me to dye so I obliged and we made it a joined project.
I bought a couple of kilo’s of organic red onions and every evening, for dinner, I grabbed those red onions instead of white ones or leeks. We had a little cotton mesh bag hanging in the kitchen and Lou collected the dried outer layer of the skins and put them in the bag. This went on for weeks, until we had enough skins to dye her fitted sheet and some other small pieces of fabric.
Most of the botanical dyes need a substance called a mordant to make sure the colour fixates to the fabric. Dyeing with onion skins is fantastic because onions do not require any sort of mordant. If you’ve never dyed fabric before starting with onion skins is a great introduction. It’s easy, attainable and very straight forward.
And as I just mentioned, it is a lovely project to do with kids, as it is completely non-toxic and safe. I’ll share the exact DIY recipe below. Hope it adds a burst of colour to your life as it did to ours!
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RECIPE: DYEING FABRIC USING RED ONION SKINS
Red onion skins
Water to cover
Place water and skins in a large cooking pot. I suggest using one made from RVS. Bring to a boil and let simmer for an hour. Remove the onion skins from the pot using a colander. Soak fabric in hot water evenly before putting it in the dyebath. Place in the pot and heat for an hour, using a spoon to submerge the fabric. Move it around to get an even colour. Let the fabric cool in the dyebath. Remove fabric from pot, rinse with cold water until the water runs clear. Hang to dry.
-The more onion skins you use, the more intense the colour.
-Soaking the onion skins in the water for a few days before adding and boiling the fabric gives depth of colour.
-To make sure your fabric colours evenly avoid crowding the pot.
-Thus: for large pieces of fabric you need a very large pot.
-Consider letting the fabric sit in the boiled and cooled dye overnight or for a few days, to add depth to the shade.
-Avoid direct sunlight when drying your freshly dyed fabrics.
-To keep the colour, wash the fabric using a cold wash cycle and a gentle organic detergent.
The type of fabric you use will affect the colour. I used a organic cotton sheet which will give a salmon pink tint. Silk and wool cloth will become a type of brown when dyed with red onion skins. The colour and patina will be (slightly) different each time you dye. That’s the beauty of natural dyeing.
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