Dyeing: Yellow Onion Skins

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset(Photo by Carly Lynch)
Yellow onion skins are, perhaps, the easiest to find/use dye material (dyestuff). When my favorite friend, Carly, took a week out of her life to visit me, we experimented with onion skins on different types of fibers. She threw in some scratchy wool she found as a freebee! at a garage sale. I threw in my wool/acrylic sweater (previously dyed with turmeric).

Natural dyes are basically magic. They’re amazing.

We filled up about half a pot (20 quarts) with onion skins, filled the pot with water, and let it simmer for an hour. We strained the onion skins out (mostly) and submerged our scoured dye goods.

img_5062
So… we didn’t mordant… which is not usually my style. I am a pretty big believer in mordanting all fibers before they go into the dye pot. It improves overall color and longevity of the dye. However, life gets in the way, and the best thing we could do was scour our goods in an aluminum pot, praying that some aluminum would change the fibers to be more receptive to the dye.

Processed with VSCO with f2 preset(Photo by Carly Lynch)
The wool yarn turned out beautifully. A perfect warm, mustardy, autumnal color. Also, how awesome is that hanging shelf that Carly made!

img_5131
The sweater could have used some mordanting… It’s pretty splotchy. But this is already a workshop sweater; I’ll use it for those projects where I don’t mind discoloration or stains. I think the wool/poly fiber combo could have contributed to the splotchyness as well… But overall, the onion skins did their job – it is now yellow.

I’d love to hear if any of you have dyed with onion skins, or have found success mordanting in an aluminum pot. Let me know in the comments below.

Happy Making!

Natural Dyes with Alpacas

img_4909-1
I was so lucky to assist my good friend Theresa at her natural dye class. We had seven dye pots during this class. But the best part was all location, location, location. This dye class was at an ALPACA FARM, people: Alpacas of Troy.

img_4892

Let’s talk about Alpacas:

A camelid native to South America, Alpacas are herd animals bred for their fiber. There are two types of Alpacas, both of which reside at Alpacas of Troy: Suri (long smooth fibers) and Haucaya (lofty fibers).

img_4910(An unusually cuddly Alpaca named Helen interrupts my lunch)
Alpaca fiber is softer and less prickly than wool, but just as warm. It’s a great fiber to wear close to the skin, for things like scarves, cowls, and maybe even underwear (alpaca bra, anyone?).

Alpacas have a range of natural colors, all of which are desirable for garments. But the lighter colors (white and silver) lend themselves more towards dying than those dark varieties (obviously).

Local Yarn

Alpacas of Troy is not only a fiber farm, it’s also a fiber mill! The farmers have a fully operational mill than turns beautiful fleece into high quality yarn. They do it all.

img_4877

This is a great ethical option for yarn.

  • The need for fuel to transport fiber to and from a mill is eliminated
  • A local farm can remain small and independently/family owned
  • Alpacas are known, named, and cared for
  • Natural color variation in Alpaca fiber means less water is used to dye yarn and no new chemicals are introduced into the environment

img_4893

Natural Dyes

While natural color variation in Alpaca is amazing, sometimes neutrals don’t cut it. Enter the process of natural dyeing. Natural dyes are sourced directly from the environment, they are biodegradable, and do not contribute to pollution. We had seven dye pots at the farm, and produced an actual rainbow of colors.
img_4911
Clockwise from the top: Annato Seeds, Turmeric, Red Onion Skins (with alum), Indigo, Alkanet, Cochineal, and Madder

In classic reclaimed fashion, I also tossed a few non-alpaca pieces into the dye pots.

img_4921This reclaimed mohair/merino blend (now in cochineal)

img_4927This marinara sauce stained dress (refreshed by indigo)

img_4925This hand me down sweater (bathed in turmeric)

img_4928img_4932And this deconstructed fitted sheet (top with alkanet, bottom with madder)

Some colors really turned up the bright in this dye session. Others showed up muted and delicate.

  • Annato seeds – what a great orange – if only I wore orange.
  • This is the first time I’ve intentionally dyed with turmeric. I’ve stained many a cuff while making curry. And I’m not thrilled with how it took to this sweater, or the yarn. I’ll probably stick with yellow onion skins for my yellow dye, or maybe marigolds.
  • Red onion skins with alum is one of my favorite dye combinations. On it’s own, red onion skins can produce a purple/red, but mordant your fibers with alum and it’s a whole new world. A green world.
  • I love indigo. It’s enchanting.
  • Our alkanet dye was extracted from soaking the root in alcohol. Another hallmark of natural dyeing in my experience is variegated fabric. This is most visible on the small piece of purple cotton jersey. I think its magical.
  • Cochineal is a bug that feeds and lives on the prickly pear cactus. Other cochineal dyes I’ve encountered have been maroon pink or purple pink, but this one was a shocker. Bright.
  • Madder root is known for producing a true red. Our dye pot produced a peachy coral color that was deeper on cotton. I’m really excited about this coral color at the moment. We expected a deeper red from our dye pot, but in true natural dye fashion, our expectations were so off the mark.

When I dye with natural materials I rely heavily on Kristine Vejar’s book The Modern Natural DyerI appreciate her precise approach to materials and measurements. That said, I tend to estimate my weights and measurements in practice. Natural dyes are welcome to both approaches, it welcomes both the methodical scientists and the haphazard artists with open arms.