Natural dyeing: onion skins

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Onion skins might be my favorite dye. They’re always around when you want them, easy to extract, and make a beautiful array of colors. After Prima and my eucalyptus dyeing experiments, I turned to this reliably lovely dye. I started with a small batch of dye from the skins at the bottom of my mom’s onion drawer. We used a lot of shallots in Christmas dinner, so shallot skins made up a substantial portion of the mix, along with yellow onion skins, one medium sized fragment of red onion skin, and a few garlic skins which probably didn’t contribute to the color. I brought the skins to a simmer, threw a couple of test swatches into the pot, and went to bed. In the morning my swatches were a gorgeous mottled pink and yellow (top left and center of the swatches bellow). I tried a couple of other swatches (top right, and later bottom right and center), but it had been a small batch of dye and the color was quickly exhausted.

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For the second batch (bottom left swatch above), I stopped by the grocery store and gathered up the skins from the bottom of the onion bins. I ended up with 30 grams of yellow onion skins and 20 grams of red onion skins. When I threw in my first test swatch, a linen which had soaked over night in aluminum acetate, it came out bright green! My first thought was that the shallots must have been responsible for the peachy pink of the first batch, and the large proportion of red onions for the new green color, but further experimentation suggested that the aluminum mordant changed the color from peach to green. Potassium aluminum sulfate (alum) had a similar effect (bottom right). After all this swatching, I dyed a square of unmordanted silk peach with white resist stitched lines, and half an old linen table cloth to a yellow green much like the linen swatches above.

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