Folk Fibers Blog

  • Natural Dyes - Yellow Onion Skins

    Yellow onion skins create a golden range of earthy colors. With a concentrated dye bath and enough time for the fibers to soak, the colors achieved are a combination of red and yellow, usually resting in the middle as an orange. The results radiate warmth and happiness, combining the physical energy and stimulation of red with the cheerfulness of yellow. Protein fibers such as wool and silk, dye deep to medium shades of ochre, creating pigments in the cadmium-orange families. Referencing sienna, burnt orange, pumpkins, terra cotta, and rust. Cellulose fibers such as cotton, hemp, and bamboo dye a range of dark orange to a lighter orange peel, having deep notes of golden-yellow or light yellow-brown, but remaining a soft earth pigment. Referencing California poppies, deep saffron, with a mix of mustard. For a beginners introduction to dyeing with onion skins and to compare color results of red onion skins and yellow onion skins read my previous blog post: Natural Dyes - Red Onion Skins 

    I took my time when creating these dye samples. I gathered plenty of yellow onion skins to fill my dye pot completely. I then added water to my pot, boiled the skins for 30 minutes, and allowed the skins to soak in the bath for a few days. I strained the skins from the bath and added my (pre wet) fabric. I brought the dye bath back to a boil for 30 mins with my fabric, keeping an eye on the surface making sure to release any air bubbles from the fabric. I allowed the fabric to soak in the bath overnight. This amount of time isn't necessary to achieve color results, but it is how and why my colors are so saturated. I did not use a mordant in the dye bath but I did use an aluminum pot to heat the dye, which creates brighter color results. An alum mordant would generally give the same effect as an aluminum pot. The overall process can be done back to back without overnight soaking, the results will vary, and with less time the colors will range in the light-yellow hues. Whether the fabric turns out light yellow or deep orange the natural colors are full of life and uplifting, rejuvenating our spirit! 

    The Recipe

    onion skins (the more the better)
    water to cover 
    bring the water to a boil and let simmer for an 1 hour
    remove the onion skins from the pot (I suggest using a colander)
    soaking the dyestuff a few days before is an alternative or aid in extracting color from dyestuff
    evenly soak fibers in hot water before placing them in the dyebath (this helps achieve even color)
    place pre-wet fibers into the dyebath 
    heat dyebath for 1 hour, using a spoon or stick to submerge fibers and free air bubbles
    to achieve even color avoid crowding the dyepot 
    let the fibers cool in the dyebath this will give brighter results 
    most dye artist let the bath sit and cool overnight or even a few days, longer is stronger
    remove the fibers from dyebath, rinse with cold water until water runs clear
    hang to dry

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  • Comments on this post (37 comments)

    • Jo / thedesertecho says...

      Fantastic post. Need to dye wool orange for baby jumper with a fox motif. Perfect!

      On November 18, 2017

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      On January 23, 2017

    • Cindy says...

      Can the colour withstand multiple cold washers?

      On December 10, 2016

    • Jessica says...

      Would adding a cup of salt set the dye or does it need to be set with any other additive?

      On March 30, 2016

    • Prima Chemicals says...

      Really, a true fun reading it. Natural coloring don’t we think often takes over synthetics. Its results, cost-effectiveness good to see. A golden, earthy color from onions, just superb!

      On February 02, 2016

    • Vanessa L. says...

      Wow what a great post! And so many fabulous questions in the comments section. What a huge pity that none of them were ever answered. It would have been so nice if we could engage and connect with you and each other, especially since inquiring minds want to! :)

      On January 25, 2016

    • Loid says...

      How long would I have to keep my (white, cotton) socks in the dye to get a goldish-orange colour?

      On October 20, 2015

    • miriam says...

      my daughter’s wedding is coming up next week, and the outfit i picked out will be too warm for the unseasonably warm weather. so i ran to the nearby consignment shops and found a lovely white skirt to go with a lightweight top i have — but wearing white is apparently a no-no for anyone but the bride. onions to the rescue! thanks!

      On October 08, 2015

    • bex says...

      I’mm looking to get hold of a ali pot, what size is the one you use? many thanks

      On September 14, 2015

    • JoBeth says...

      I was able to collect plenty of skins from the food pantry where I work. I also had a friend who worked at a different location save some for me. Getting the red skins will take longer as those aren’t donated very often. I many try red cabbage instead. I’m doing cotton fabric and have tried three different natural sources.

      On August 01, 2015

    • iulia says...

      To Nick,post March 2015.
      If you yake off the skin from onions it doesn’t keep growing!
      You can go to the market if there still are markets wherever you live,or to the supermarket ,veggies department and collect or ask for the skins they’ve already taken off (and going to throw).
      before onions look nice for the “show” in the market they are covered in lots of layers of skin.8 onions is not enough by far for dying.

      On June 02, 2015

    • Annie says...

      I really need to know about the colour fastness of onion dye. And, if I can wash these fabrics with other things.

      Thanks! Great information here.

      On April 11, 2015

    • Nick says...

      How can one aquire so many onion skins? I bought eight yellow onions, collected the existing skins, but the onions produced no more skins, they just stayed white, And a white peal of the onion when dried only remained white. Thanks

      On March 07, 2015

    • cen says...

      Many questions: How long does the dye last? Does the colour fade, and if so, can you then re-dye to revive it? If I am making dress-up clothes out of hemp fabric for my son, should I dye the uncut fabric first, or make the item & then dye it?

      Thank you so much for your instructions here!

      On November 06, 2014

    • Courtney says...

      Ibrahim, I’d love to see the primary sources on that. Do you have Egyptian recipes that call for onion skins?

      On October 22, 2014

    • ibrahim says...

      ancient egyptian used it in dying of textiles from 4000 years

      ibrahim hamed
      conservator of ancient textile

      On July 07, 2014

    • Holly blues says...

      Hey Maura, we did both dyeing with red and yellow onion skins last week: the red came out duller than if hoped but figured it may be because the skins were really old? I’d been collecting them over a year…

      But the yellow skins came out beautifully! I dyed some of my daughters clothes and was so pleased with the results. But then when it came to needing to wash a dress I’d dyed, I was a little nervous. I did a cool wash in the machine, but the colour came out. It’s much duller now, a soft brown, all the yellow has gone. I’m worried I’ll lose the colour of the other peices, why did this happen?
      Thanks, Holly x

      On April 01, 2014

    • lorrette says...

      after dying place fabric in the shade to dry

      On February 28, 2014

    • Susan Fried says...

      Hi Maura,

      I’ve done a lot of paper and fabric marbling, as well as some shibori indigo dyeing. When I marbled fabric, I’d wash it, let it dry, soak it in an alum bath, dry again, then marble. I’ve read some articles about using natural dyes, and that different mordants can be used with them, thus producing various depths of color. What mordants can I use with onion skins?

      Also, when fabric dries, should it go into a vinegar bath, and then air dry or in a dryer?

      Any advice you can give is greatly appreciated.

      Susan Fried

      On January 22, 2014

    • Vineca Gray says...

      I have subscribed to your blog! I had the great fortune to experiment a bit with natural dyes and onions are quite wonderful! I add metal nails to create a beautifu reaction, a smokey grey intermingles with the yellow.

      I have referred to your fabulous onion dying post in my blog – If for any reason you would prefer to have this removed, please let me know and I will edit.

      Here it is –

      On December 31, 2013

    • Leonor says...

      I am loving this, I was looking for instructions to dye some felt wool orange and came across this blog… great explanation, thank you for sharing!

      I do however have a question: aren’t we supposed to have an acid of sorts in the mixture? Some vinegar perhaps, to make sure the colour really stays with the fabric/wool? Or is that not needed because of the aluminium pot?…

      On October 28, 2013

    • Mary says...

      Has anyone tried to dye basket reed with onion skins? I am hesitant to leave reed in water the length of time recommended for cotton fabric as it seems to weaken the reed. I have started collecting both red and yellow onion skins, keeping them separate. Do want to try this; made black walnut dye this fall for the first time with good results.

      On October 23, 2013

    • Ada says...

      Wow – fantastic info here! Thanks so much! I’m collecting onion skins to try dyeing some wool yarn…excited to see how it turns out.

      On October 18, 2013

    • Claire says...

      No, you cannot dye polyester with any kind of dye. Even acid dyes don’t work on polyester. You can, however, dye nylon and any natural fibers.

      On October 17, 2013

    • Bernie says...

      I’m with Ann – wondering if I can dye white lace to an ivory color using yellow onion skins. I have several yards of white lace trim for my daughter’s wedding dress. It’s polyester – I’m aware that it is more difficult to dye synthetic fibers. However, I have had better luck finding white lace the width I need in long lengths than ivory so I thought I would try to dye it.

      On August 27, 2013

    • ann says...

      Could I dye a white
      lace wedding veil ivory with this process

      On July 30, 2013

    • Balanda says...

      Just go and help yourself to loose skins at the supermarket, no one will care. Try the purple ones too.

      They fade for me fast with alum, try copper albeit with less brilliant results.

      On July 20, 2013

    • Emma says...

      How much water do you need? Also, can you dye fabric that is already a dark color and see yellow? Say, purple?

      On June 06, 2013

    • Natashalh says...

      I love the yellows onions can make! I really enjoy natural dyes and it’s great to see someone else still does, too! I’m happy I found your page through Sulia! I’m about to go check out the pomegranate post because I’ve never intentionally dyed anything with pomegranates.

      On April 29, 2013

    • Cee Jay says...

      Hello, I wanted to know is the onion dyes permanent or do it come out when you wash something. Thanks

      On December 24, 2012

    • Maddie says...

      I’m going to try this in the next few days. I hit the motherlode of onion skins by going to the local produce stand and asking if I could collect the onion skins that had fallen off to use for a natural dye project. They seemed pretty into it. :)

      On October 19, 2012

    • Marcia says...

      have you used a mordant with any of the onion dyes?

      On October 13, 2012

    • Maura says...

      The fabric does not end up smelling like onions, infact after the first wash there is no trace of an odor at all.

      On October 07, 2012

    • anna says...

      Does it make the things you dye smell of onions? Or even a hint of the smell?

      On October 05, 2012

    • Theresa says...

      Love these colors! Collecting yellow onion skins is proving slow going, however, I can see that it is worth the wait, this time I want a pot full of color.

      On October 02, 2012

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