Dying with onion skins

I learned to quilt at a young age (and still do it), as well as knit, crochet and weave. But some where along the way, I became interested in dyes.

When I was researching the Dyes for “Death of a Dyer”, I started to think about the bright colors we take so much for granted. Most natural dyes produce pastels, which is why indigo, madder and cochineal were so prized. They yield bright colors, especially when used with appropriate mordants.

So, what would people use who had little or no access to indigo, which was expensive, or cochineal, which was VERY expensive?

I started with onion skins. I saved the papery covers up for about three months. I mordanted a cotton towel with 2 tsp alum and 1 tsp cream of tarter.

onion skins


Simmering the onion skins until they are transparent yielded a yellow brown dye. I tried the dye with the cotton towel and also with unmordanted plain yarn.


One of my students preferred to dye lambswool with the onionskin dye.

onion skin dyed yarn





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