Steely Seamstress

Sewing for life

#1Year1Outfit – Dyeing with onion skins


I’m sure if you are a follower of Seamwork you will have noticed that the April edition includes an article called Finding Local by Nicki from thisismoonlight. It charts Nicki’s journey from initial thoughts (I wonder whether I can make a locally sourced garment?) through to the completion of a complete outfit. It’s amazing what she has achieved without resorting to any recycled components or “cheating” like I did for some of my notions and tailoring supplies. There is also a photo round-up that shows all the participants in their fantastic outfits (me included!)

This month’s Seamwork also has information about sourcing naturally and locally with articles about the Fibershed project and Spinning. Both worth a look, if you are considering how you to source your own yarn and textiles.

Returning to the subject of this post, I’ve been collecting onion skins at home for about a year for dyeing purposes. To be honest I really should have got round to using them a while back because the bags of onion skins were literally were taking over the kitchen. I’d collected both yellow skins and red skins.

Weighing onion skins

There are so many yellow skins that I had more than would fit into my dye bath, but I used about 80g of skins for the recipe below, dyeing 100g of wool yarn. This gave a very vibrant orangey-red to my yarn.

Onion Dye Recipe:

  • Onion skins
  • Water to cover
  • Large saucepan
  • Yarn or textile


The yarn I used was 100% Superwashed Bluefaced Leicester wool from I’m not sure this actual wool is on the website, as it was bought at Wool in Bath. (I think it may be this one – S Wash BFL DK Type 49212).

  1. Collect onion skins.
  2. Place the onion skins in a large saucepan and cover with water.
  3. Bring to the boil and simmer for one hour.
  4. Remove the onion skins from the pot.
  5. Soak your yarn or textile in warm water for half an hour
  6. Place the yarn or textile into the dyebath and stir to submerge the fibres
  7. Heat the dyebath and simmer for one hour
  8. Let the fibres cool in the dyebath
  9. Remove the textile or yarn from the dyebath and rinse with cold water until the water runs clear.
  10. Dry the yarn or textile


Fortunately, the whole process didn’t smell bad at all (unlike the dock leaves I used before, that had gone a bit mouldy and whiffy). I couldn’t get out of my head the feeling that I was cooking orange noodles though!

For further reading about dyeing with onion skins, I found this post really interesting. It shows the range of colours you can achieve with different mordants. Onion skins are a substantive dye anyway, but I think trying mordants would be good especially as they can modify the resulting colour.

I also like the idea of placing the onion skins in old tights, perhaps that is a way of cramming more onion skins into my pot? Although I’m not sure that I needed to get my dyeing any more vibrant.

I don’t know how fast this dye will be. I suppose it won’t matter too much if the colour softens over time with washing and exposure to sunlight. Given that it is going to be made into a scarf it probably won’t be washed too often anyway, perhaps a couple of washes in the winter.

Author: steelyseamstress

Sewing a new wardrobe

2 thoughts on “#1Year1Outfit – Dyeing with onion skins

  1. I love onion skin dye. Such a lovely colour!
    I thought docks gave a beautiful colour on my cotton scraps so I’m expecting to use more for my one year one outfit

  2. Pingback: #1Year1Outfit – A tentative toe dipped into the world of knitting | Steely Seamstress

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