Onion Skin Fiber Dyeing: Recipe and Video Tutorial

by WSP Handwork teacher Tami Denette

Dyeing with onion skins is a fun project we do with the younger grades in Handwork class.  The children can bring the papery onion skins from home  It is amazing to watch the lovely color that can be extracted from something that people so often toss in the compost!

Onion skins are a great starting point for plant dyeing for a few reasons.  First, they are readily available.  You might have some in your kitchen right now! Second, they are non-toxic.  It is nice not to have to be quite so careful when making up your first dye pot!  Onion skin dye is one that I don’t hesitate to simmer in my own kitchen.  And third, onion skins don’t require that you treat your fiber with a mordant before dyeing.  Though not required, you will likely find your fiber will have increased color fastness if an alum mordant has been used.

Things you will need:

-a bowl of water large enough to submerge your fiber

-a natural fiber to dye (wool is a good starting place, but any natural fiber will do)

-a non-reactive metal pot (stainless or enamel coated)

-onion skins (keep yellow and purple skins separate for the best color)

Other handy tools:

-a metal strainer or sieve

-metal tongs

Depending on where you look, you will find many different recipes for a yellow onion skin dye.  Most dye recipes are based on weight ratios.  I have settled on a recipe that uses onion skins at a weight of 25-30% the weight of your fiber


-25-30 grams of onion skins for 100 grams of fiber

-2.5-3 ounces of onion skins for 10 ounces of fiber

This is my opinion of an ideal ratio, though I would never hesitate to experiment with whatever quantity I had!

First, fill your metal pot with water enough to cover your volume of onion skins and fiber, and set it over medium/high heat.  While waiting for your water to warm up, soak your fiber to be dyed in a bowl of warm water.  Add onion skins to your dye pot and stir.  Now is the time to decide if you prefer an even color tone, or more of a mottled color. 

For even color: simmer your onion skins for 1 hour and then strain the onion skins out (reserving liquid for dyeing).  Next, squeeze excess water from fiber and add fiber to dye liquid.  Simmer for an additional hour.  Turn off heat and allow to cool.

For mottled color:  Squeeze excess water from fiber and add fiber and onion skins to dye pot. Simmer for one hour.  Remove from heat and allow to cool slowly.

Once fiber is cool, rinse and hang to dry.

Enjoy your plant dyed fiber!

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