Earlier this winter, I came across a recipe for making caramelized onions in the slow cooker and this obviously appealed to every iota of my being. (Well, I'm a tremendously lazy person who loves french onion soup.. let's leave it at that) As I was chopping through my first 5lb bag of yellow onions, I decided to stockpile the skins and do a little dyeing project. After about 3 months and between 10-15lbs of onions I had a pretty decent sized bag of skins ready to go. As you can see from the picture above, I achieved a really vivid result and it was super easy to do. Here's a little breakdown of what I did:
- I soaked my undyed yarn in water for about 5 hours prior to starting anything with the onion skins. I changed the water maybe once to make sure it was nice, clean, and evenly soaked. The base I used here was Skein's Top Draw Sock (which I adore! It's got a really lovely almost Wollmeise-ish hand to it)
- The onion skins got dumped into a big stock pot with enough water to cover most of the skins. I turned the heat on and got that water boiling (which took forever) and then let it simmer for a bit over an hour.
- As the onions were almost finished simmering, I dissolved a bit of alum (maybe 1 tsp) in a bit of boiling water. I mixed this into a smaller pot containing the wet yarn and enough water to cover. (The alum serves as a mordant, and I'm not sure how important this actually is for onion dye, but I had it around so why not. Alum is also safe to dispose of in the sink which is great!)
- The blank yarn is slowly warmed to almost-boiling temperature. This is key because shocking the yarn is a bad idea and it may felt if tossed directly into the hot dye.
- Using my jinky kitchen tools, strained the onion skins so that I was left with only orange onion-scented water. I recommend wearing either dark colours or an apron and not your new white t-shirt.
- Drop the warmed yarn into your big pot of dye and let it simmer for maybe an hour or so, or until you stop noticing the colour getting much richer. After that I turned off the heat and let the yarn stay submerged overnight. Again, I don't know how helpful it was to leave it overnight, but I am deeply lazy and didn't feel like rinsing yarn at midnight.
- Rinse (many times), and hang to dry!
I'm really happy with the result! It's a really nice and bright orange, and it's surprisingly even. I'm planning on making a pair of socks with this eventually, and I'm interested to see how the colour holds. It's inspiring to see so many naturally-dyed yarns popping up, but I'm still a little skeptical of some dyes due to the mordants that are required. (If your mordant is gross for the environment, why bother with the natural dye, am I right?) Maybe I'll talk more about this in the future, as I have a natural dye kit from Maiwa that I've been carrying around for ages and it would be fun to try out all the varieties that I have available to me. (Including cochineal! So many wee bugs!)
James and I are getting ready to move into a new apartment next week, so I've been busy trying to wrap up a bunch of WIPs and I hope to share some of them soon!