How to dye fabric and yarn with onion skins

Hi Creative Mamas! I am so excited to show you how to dye fabric and yarn with onion skins. You can create beautiful tones of yellow, orange and copper simply by re purposing your onion skins. The best thing is that onions yield such intense color that you only need 50% of the weight of your fabric to obtain super cool results. So, you can collect the onion skins from your week of cooking and you should have enough onion skins to get cracking!

For this tutorial we are going to focus on protein fibers such as silk and wool. Fiber classification and knowing exactly what fiber you are working on is critical in natural dyeing because you need natural fibers to be able to absorb the natural dyes. So, it’s very important that you do a fabric test to ensure that your wool is 100 % wool and it’s not acrylic and the same goes for fabric.  So, always do a Fabric Burn Test to be sure you you have 100 % natural fibers. Natural dyeing will only work on natural fibers 🙂

natural dyeing onion skins

For this tutorial we will cover the following processes

  • Scouring Process
  • Mordant Process
  • Dye Extraction/Dye Bath
  • Hot Dyeing Method
  • Modifiers

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  • Onion skins (I used brown) 50% WOF
  • Mordant agent:  Allum, (Alluminium Sulphate) since it’s the safest option for myself and for the environment
  • Pots and pans (whatever you use it can never be used to cook food again!)
  • Stirring wooden spoons
  • Strainer
  • Neutral PH soap
  • Heat source
  • Plastic jug
  • Scale
  • Rubber gloves and face mask
  • Plastic bowl and bucket
  • Silk and or wool

Before you start make sure that you weigh your fabric. My fabric weighs 200 grs and its a mix of wool yarn, wool fabric and silk fabric.

Tutorial: How to dye fabric with onion skins


Step 1 & Step 2: Scouring Process and Mordanting Process


Refer to the full Scouring and Mordanting processes here for a full explanation and step by step instructions.

For this tutorial I am mordanting with te following recipe: 10 % Allum WOF (weight of fabric).So I started with 200 grs of fabric and yarn so I am using 20 grs of Allum.

Step 3: Dye Bath/Dye Extraction

OK, so this is the most fun part. This is when you get to play to be an alchemist or a scientist/chemist! In order to extract the color from the onion skins follow the steps below:

  • Fill a big pot with water and the onion skins
  • Bring to a simmer. Keep simmering for 1 hour.
  • Turn the heat off and let it cool naturally. You can leave cooling overnight.
  • Strain and use as dye bath.
  • Basic rule is 100% WOF (weight of fabric) however when dyeing with onion skins you will only need 50%.

PRO TIP: It’s always better to soak your onion skins overnight before you start the simmering process. This will help start the dye extraction and will give you a better result!  

natural dyeing with onion skins

Hot Dyeing Method

Transfer strained dye bath to a stainless stell pot. Fill with more clear water. Add the mordanted and pre wetted fiber to the dye bath. Make sure there is enough space in the pot so that the fabric and yarn can move freely. Slowly raise temperature to a simmer. Simmer for 1 hour. Remove from the dye bath. Rinse fiber in lukewarm water. Make sure the water runs clear of dye. Hang it to dry away from sunlight.

how to dye fabric with onion skins

Using Modifiers to obtain different tones and colors

You can keep having fun well after that first dye immersion process. Once you have dyed your fabric or yarn with a particular dye you can carry on modifying the color further with the use of modifiers. You can extend the range of the color by obtaining different tones or even by changing the color completely.

In this case I have used two modifiers:

  • An acid modifier by using lemon juice
  • An alkaline modifier by using iron water

How to modify the color using lemon juice?

Allow the dye bath to cool down to room temperature. Add 2 teaspoons of lemon juice to the dye bath (the fiber is in the bath). Stir to make sure that the fiber is moving freely and that the modifier is reaching all areas of the fiber. Leave for fifteen minutes. the color should turn to a mandarin orange tone. Remove from dye bath, rinse well and dry.

How to modify the color using iron water?

First of all you need to make the iron water. Iron water can be used as a pre mordant and a post mordant to act as a color modifier.

Download your Free Iron Water Recipe PDF

iron water

Now that you have your iron water you are ready to  modify the color. Allow the dye bath to cool to room temperature. Remove the fiber and pour the iron water by mixing a 1:1 ratio of the iron water and clear water. Stir to make sure that the fiber is moving freely and that the modifier is reaching all areas of the fiber. Leave for fifteen minutes. the color should turn to a darker and duller tone. Remove from dye bath, rinse well and dry.

The illustration below illustrates the original color obtained in the first hot dyeing process, followed by the color obtained with the lemon juice modifier and followed by the color obtained by adding the iron water.


how to dye fabric with onion skin

This illustration shows the modified tones from the original color. Original onion skin color is in the middle, lemon juice modified color is on the left and the iron water modified color is on the right 🙂

natural dyeing with onion skin

You are now an expert on how to dye fabric with onion skins. Please reach out with any questions or doubts that you may have about this process 🙂 I would love to hear from you!

How about checking out the solar dyeing Method. Download your free video tutorial right now!