23 May 2010

With onions

I’ve a very full Sunday planned, and an even busier week ahead, so I thought I’d pop in and share this week’s M3 video with you a little earlier. This one’s from Etsy, and it’s about natural dyeing.

As you know, I have not had much in the way of success with natural dyes. Unless you count flesh colored yarn a success, which I don’t. My last experience with natural dyeing was enough to put me off it for a good long while. After seeing the results of Felix’s gorgeous walnut-dyed sweater a few weeks ago, however, I was inspired to give it another go. Fortunately, I had onion skins on hand, which soon found their way into a simmering pot. After a hour or so on the stove I strained the liquid, poured it into my trusty Burco boiler, added un-mordanted yarn, and crossed my fingers.

I have mordants on hand – alum, as well as some of the more noxious heavy metals – but I read somewhere that dyeing in an aluminum pot works as well as alum. The Burco is lined with aluminum, so I decided to chuck everything in and hope for the best. As you can see, it was a good strategy. Natural colored yarn became soft orange-y yellow yarn. The color in the Crayola box called “bitter-sweet.” I love that color. And I achieved it in under an hour. Well, a year of saving onion skins, and an hour.

As luck would have it, I only had time to simmer the one batch before it started to rain. I had lots of dye stock solution left, so I drained the Burco and brought everything inside. I used my stainless steel jam pan. I know, I know. You’re not supposed to mix dyeing things with food things. Onion skins being non-toxic, I made an exception.

The second batch was a bit of a surprise. I decided to mordant with alum (also non-toxic) as I knew the stainless steel pan would not have the same effect as the trusty aluminum lined Burco. It was getting dark, and the light above the stove isn’t great, so I couldn’t really see how dark the wool was getting, or if it was the same color as the first few skeins, or lighter. I really didn’t know what to expect.

In the cold light of day the following morning, I discovered that I’d created an entirely different color with that second batch. Mordanting resulted in the gold you see at the bottom of these images.

It’s not a bad color, this gold. But I don’t like it as well as I do the color of the first batch. So today I’m heading into the woods with Tonia in search of bracken fiddle heads that, I’m reliably told, are an excellent source of yellowy green. The plan is to over dye the gold I don’t like, and throw some un-dyed yarn into the pot as well, and hopefully maybe get two greens. We’ll see.

As if turfing Tonia out of bed early and making her collect bracken before the day gets too hot isn’t enough joy for a Sunday morning, I’ll be taking my trusty AKG C1000 into the woods, to record the process. Yes, that does mean I’m working on a podcast. I’ll talk you soon.

Posted on May 23, in Blog


  1. What lovely autumnal colours! It will be good to hear a podcast from you again, hope everything is well.

    Posted on 5.23.10 ·
  2. O~ wrote:

    Personally I liked the flesh color yarn and I like the gold but then I like more muted colors.
    The last two sentences brought a tear to my eye and made my heart skip a beat! I’ve missed you podcasting so much and can’t wait to hear from you! *doing happy dance and soundly dangerously like you do about Norah Gaughan and Lily Chin*

    Posted on 5.23.10 ·
  3. Wyn wrote:

    Oh, joy! A new podcast!

    A friend directed me toward you a couple of weeks ago, and I have been listening feverishly. I am permitted to use my MP3 at work while doing data entry, so I have gotten to hear three or four episodes a day. I am up to #82 and was dreading the day that there are no more.

    And it would be sad indeed. You are my long-lost sister. 🙂 Knitting, and Wales, and cooking with fresh pumpkin! (I have a fantastic recipe for pumpkin bread.)

    O frabjous day! A new CastOn soon!

    Posted on 5.23.10 ·
  4. Nina wrote:

    Yay! So glad to hear that a podcast may be imminent! I love your onion skin yarn. I do like the orangey one better than the gold as well. Good luck with the fiddleheads!

    Posted on 5.24.10 ·
  5. I love dying with onion skins, but then I love all the various shades from mustard brown through bitterroot and right into the gold and yellows. Maybe I’m just easy to please. And I dye with onion skins in my kitchen wares all the time because, as you said, they’re non-toxic. I haven’t found the red onion skins to be very useful though, did you notice any difference using them?

    Also, yay for a new podcast! Although I’ve been enjoying your increased blogging as well 🙂

    Posted on 5.24.10 ·
  6. Ruth Temple wrote:

    Aren’t onion skins lovely to dye with? If you keep/add in shallot skins you can get towards a nice blushy peach.
    Looking forward to hearing how the bracken fern goes; a dear pal / neighbor has some great samples – she’s doing the Master Spinner program through Olds College and having herself entirely too much fun (going way beyond the reqs., as one does). It’s downright tempting to see the sample sets growing. This may have to be the year of Sploring natural dyes for mine own self, too.

    Posted on 5.25.10 ·
  7. Leslie wrote:

    Oh great day! Glad to hear a new podcast is in the making. I’ve been listening to the one’s I missed and have been a bit stingy with them lately as I was afraid of running out of them. Glad to hear you are on the podcast trail again. As to the dying – how lovely. I like the golds – both of them although my heart usually hovers somewhere around the teals / greens/ sapphires. The Spinners and Weavers Guild I belong to will be moving from it’s current digs in a converted church basement to a new arts center this fall and we have been provided with a “dying” room – sink and ventilator included. I have avoided this little exercise as we live in a small house in a strata and have no outside facilities to perform the alchemy. Now I can pay a little more attention to the videos and start soaking up all the little bits of information. Have a fantastic week – I know I will!

    Posted on 5.25.10 ·
  8. Sara in WI wrote:

    Hi, Brenda! I personally love both of the colors that you ended up with. They’re sort of autumny and cozy and would make great 2 colored “somethings!” I hope that you end up with some lucious greens, though. It is really HOT here in Wisconsin this week…rather unusual…and uncomfortable…sticky knitting!
    Awaiting your next podcast…

    Posted on 5.25.10 ·
  9. kala wrote:

    I want to try out some more natural dyeing, I’ve done a few experiments with turmeric and cotton that came out pretty cool 🙂

    Posted on 5.25.10 ·
  10. Deborah in NC, USA wrote:

    Yay! I’ve missed you, Brenda. Though I’ve enjoyed hearing about all your non-knitting adventures as well. It’ll be great to hear your voice! Take good care, you.

    Posted on 5.25.10 ·
  11. Lovely colours…and a new podcast!!! I can’t wait!

    Posted on 5.26.10 ·
  12. Camille wrote:

    Looking forward to seeing the results of your next dye experiment. And a new podcast!! SQUEE!!!

    Posted on 5.27.10 ·
  13. Audrey wrote:

    HAPPY HAPPY JOY JOY!!! A new Cast-On episode is on the way! I’ve missed them so 🙂 I like both colours your produced with your onion skins, but I look forward to seeing the green experiment too. Do you have a pattern in mind for this yarn?

    Posted on 5.27.10 ·
  14. Jana wrote:

    Thoroughly enjoyed this episode about natural dyeing of yarn along with all the other things you talk about. Thank you!

    Posted on 8.10.10 ·

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