Onion Skin Dye


As you might have seen I just released my latest pattern Ginnel, a pair of chunky fingerless mittens! It’s the perfect gift knitting project; fast, stylish and best of all free! With this pattern I wanted to design something simple that can you can put your own spin on, a blank canvas you can use to create a gift as individual and special as the person you are giving it to!  If you would like to make your own pair of Ginnel’s, head to my Ravelry store to download your own free copy!

For the release I wanted make a few pairs to show some different things you could do to make them your own! One pair of my Ginnel’s were shouting out for a little natural dyeing and I thought onion skin dyeing would be the perfect project! If you’ve always fancied a go at dyeing this is a great beginner project, but before I get into all the details here a few things to bear in mind:

  • always use separate equipment to dye with, never what you use when preparing food

  • wear gloves at all times, even though the ingredients are natural

  • always be careful not to over-heat or agitate the wool or you will end up with felt, wool hates sudden changes in temperature

Before I start, I wanted to talk quickly about mordants. A mordant is something you treat the wool  with before dyeing to help the colour ‘stick’ and to help with fading. Onion skin dye is famous for wanting to fade over time and particularly in sunlight and treating your wool with a mordant can help with this. For this project I used alum and cream of tartar, both are available at the supermarket or online and are non toxic. So with that said, let’s get into it!


The first step is scouring, or cleaning your wool! This is to get rid of any dirt or oils that might prevent the yarn from taking in as much dye as it should. I soaked my mittens in a bowl of warm water with a little natural washing soap for about an hour. I then rinsed it in a bowl of clean water and gently squeezed out the excess.


In a small bowl I dissolved 4g alum powder and 3g cream of tartar in hot water. I then added it to a pan of cold tap water. I submerged the mittens in the pan and gently heated them over an hour to just below simmering. I then kept them at that temperature for another hour being careful never to let them boil. I then turned off the heat and left them to cool completely before gently rinsing them in clean cool water.

Making the dye:

As you probably have guessed, the more dye stuff you use the darker and more concentrated the dye bath. Onion skins are fantastic because they’re so easy to get. Whether you save them up as you cook or ask your local grocers (that’s what I did!) they’re always available! I filled my dye pan with onion skins because I wanted to achieve a really deep colour that hopefully would fade to a light yellow. I filled the pan half way with cold tap water and put it on a medium heat. Over an hour I gently brought it to a simmer. The hotter the water got the more colour started to appear, first a pale orange to a deeper liquid. After an hour I tested the dye bath with a piece of kitchen towel and saw that it was a pale orange. I decided to pay around with the ph to see what would happen if I made it more alkaline, so I added some baking soda dissolved in hot water. The dye deepened and shifted to a lovely golden yellow! I simmered it for a further 30 mins and then left it to cool over night to let the colour develop further.


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Dyeing the mittens:

Now for the fun bit! As I mentioned before, wool hates too much heat and drastic changes in temperature, so I always start dyeing with cold wet wool and a cold dye bath. That way everything is heating together. I wanted to create a dip dyed effect so I started by dipping the ends of my mittens into the dye to just below where I wanted the dye to end. Remember the mittens are wet, and wet wool will wick the dye up further. I did this a couple of times before securing the mittens to a straight knitting needle with clothes pegs and supporting over the dye bath with some kitchen bowl (super fancy equipment!). I submerged the first half of the section I dipped into the dye into the dye bath and started to gently heat everything. Over the next hour I brought the temperature to just below simmering, every now and again dipping it in and out a little to make sure it didn’t dye a block at the bottom. I kept it at that temperature for another hour, always being careful not to let it get too hot and start boiling. I then turned off the heat and let it cool completely before taking the mittens out and rinsing them in cool, clean water until the water was clear. I laid them flat and let them dry.


Voila! Dip dyed mittens! I hope you enjoyed this little break down! If you give it a try I'd love to see your projects! There's a natural dyeing thread in my Ravelry group where you can share your dyeing adventures!

Claire Walls