Sunday, 19 February 2012


I've been having fun over the last few weeks learning to dye yarn using Kool-Aid, which is great fun, but the, they can lack subtlety! So today, I experimented with dyeing using onion-skins, which we have quite a lot of at the moment. Here's what happened, and the result.

I peeled the outer skin off the onions (the papery part)  and ended up with about this much;

I used my largest pan to boil them in about 4 pints of tap water - they were at a high rolling boil for just over half-an-hour, and the water turned a lovely - and misleading! - shade of red;

Dye ready to use

I let the pan simmer and then cool a little for another 15 minutes. I then divided the dye into two pans, to one of which I added about 1/4 of a cup of vinegar. Vinegar - or any acid - in the dyebath is supposed to move the possible colour towards red, which sounded interesting.

My yarn was unmordanted 2-ply sport weight merino, which I'd soaked for about 40 minutes and then squeezed most of the water out - it was damp, but not dripping.

I added one skein to the big pan, the unmordanted mixture, first, then a second skein to the mordanted mix. I left then for ten minutes at a brisk simmer, then added another skein to the big pan. Surprisingly, after fifteen minutes the mortanted dye had completely exhausted! I drained and rinsed the skein in water, and hung it in the bathroom.

Vinegar mordanted yarn after only 15 minutes!

After another twenty minutes bubbling away, I took out the two unmordanted skeins from the big plan. Surprise again; this dyebath had not exhausted! So I drained and rinsed the skeins, and added another skein to the big unmordanted bath to see if I could exhaust it. It's been simmering for 30 minutes now, and although the yarn is now golden, the dyebath is still not clear!

Anyway, here are the results - the colours are very soft and rather gently varied, because of the variable heat in different parts of the pan, I assume.

From left to right; skein one, in the bath the longest; skein two, same bath, five minutes later; skein three, vinegar in the bath.

The colours IRL are a soft golden-yellow, much nicer than the picture, fading to a fawn and a dark golden brown in places. The vinegar mordant has had little effect, just a slight cast to peach, although I'm sure it will be more detectable in daylight.It's also hard to show the variation in each skein in false light like this, but it's really nice. Going to be awesome to knit with!

The fourth skein isn't show here because it's still rinsing out - it's a butter-colour, quite like the middle skein.

After that little experiment, I've ordered myself a paperback copy of Jenny Dean's 'Wild Colour' to see what else is possible.

And you know what the very best thing is?  My kitchen doesn't smell of Kool-Aid.

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