19 September 2013

Oh, oh, oh, it's magic!

hibiscus juice, red onion juice, dahlia juice, lily juice, aster juice

For what feels like a hundred years, I've been throwing away my red onion skins. Those gorgeous wispy flakes of dazzling royal purple.

Until this summer, when I learned onion peels make great dye.

Good thing I love red onions!

Red Onion Love

I've even had mild success at growing them in my garden. Not this year, however. We didn't get the veggie garden in this year. So I bought red onions. For the last few months, each time I bought one, I also cleaned extra skins out the bin in which I found the one I bought. I brought home bags of red onion skins until I had enough to dye a skein or two of yarn.

red onion skin juice

I soaked onion skins in a clean spaghetti sauce jar in the sun for nearly a week at a time, always checking for mold, which was promptly discarded if found.

After what seemed like maximum purple extraction, I'd strain the fluid and store it in a clean orange juice jug in the freezer. After collecting nearly one gallon of ruby red fluid, it was time to dye.

red onion juice

I'd read the red isn't the final product. I expected green. Lime green. Luscious, beautiful, nearly glow-in-the-dark green.

I'd read mordanting the yarn with copper helps the green. So I mordanted a skein of cotton in copper. Copper can give yarn a slight green tint all by itself. That's actually what I hoped for.

I soaked the yarn, a copper dish scrubby, a tiny bit of vinegar and a lot of distilled water in a giant clean pretzel jar in the sun for at least a couple of weeks. The water eventually turned just slightly green, but the yarn stayed white.

Copper Mordant

While my mother-in-law was visiting, I attempted to perform magic for her by dropping the copper-mordanted yarn into yet another clean pretzel jar with thawed red onion juice. We watched. We waited. The yarn stayed reddish orange. My mother-in-law eventually went home, and the yarn was still peachy orange.

red onion soak

After two days of soaking, I removed the yarn and washed it in cool tap water and watched as magic finally happen right before my eyes!

Voila! Magic green!

two days of red onion juice

cold water wash produces green

That was so much fun! Let's do it again!

I mordanted a second hank of cotton yarn in the copper water. I hoped the onion skin exhaust (pigment leftovers from the first red onion yarn) would make a slightly lighter shade of green.

I soaked the yarn in the red onion juice for a day, then called The Lizard to come watch as the color changed from rosy pink to minty green as I washed the yarn in cool tap water.

red onion exhaust

Voila! Mission accomplished!

red onion soak before washing

magic stripes

Two shades of green!


  1. You could try with normal onion with its brown skins - we are coloring in Poland, egg shells for Easter with them. First boiling skins to get brown color then adding 1 table spoon of vinegar. Then when its still hot, boiled egg in egg shell, we put into this liquid and leaving it for few minutes. Egg shell get nice brown color - depends how long time you are keeping it in that liquid, the color is more intensive. Probably with yarn would be same.
    Also the water after cooking beetroots is giving great that red-violet color. You could try to make yarn with it as well + 1 TBsp of vinegar. Just Im not sure for how long such colors would stay on yarn after washing...
    Another color - green - Ive heard you can get by boiling green grass...but I havent tried it yet.

    1. Ingalill, I have not tried regular onion skins yet because I'm so addicted to red onions, but it is something I want to try at some point. I may have to make cream of onion soup just so I can collect the yellow skins! I have seen eggs naturally dyed, and I think they are more beautiful than what you can get from the store-bought kits. I guess I like the natural colors on eggs. I've used pickled beet juice, and although it was not colorfast, oh, was it ever fun to play with! Oh, my neighbor's going to give me his next grass mowing clippings, so I expect to have more green by the time we get our first snow!!!

  2. I guess they are good for more than chucking away

    1. You'll never, ever catch me throwing them away again, Pat!

  3. Patience and reward.....nice.

  4. YOu can also dye fabric with boiled lily of the valley leaves. I would think that it would work for yarn as well. I dye cross stitch material and like to use fruit as a dye base. I dyed a piece of fabric with blueberries and it turned out great.

    1. I don't believe I've ever come in contact with lily of the valley leaves, Penny. I have dyed with berries though, and as long as I don't put the yarn or thread in the sunlight or the washing machine, the colors are glorious!

  5. Wow - you would never guess it would turn green like that. I especially like the middle hank. Can't wait to see what you make of all these naturally died yarns! :)

    1. The really cool thing about dyeing so many hanks this summer, Sue, is I have a LOT of yarn to make LOTS of cool stuff now! Anxious to share!


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