The rich yellows, browns, and greens of harvest season in Alberta mark the arrival of fall; warm days, cold nights, and busy fields full of farmers hard at work. It's also the time of year when we are hard at work capturing the summer's bounty in skeins of wool - using marigolds and hollyhocks, golden rod, hops and onion skins to dye yarn for our naturally dyed Northern Harvest Toque and Kit.
Red and yellow onion skins are perhaps the easiest natural dye stuff to work with; they are easy and inexpensive to collect, they are great for vat dyeing as well as eco-printing, and you are almost guaranteed to get some sort of colour. They can even be used without a mordant to produce golden and rusty yellows and browns, though using alum or an aluminum pot helps with colour fastness (if you are not familiar with natural dyeing and what a mordant is, you can learn the very basics in our blog Back to Natural Dyeing).
We start by collecting dried onion skins. We generally aim to have about a 4:1 ratio of dried onion skins to weight of wool we will be dyeing.
Using an aluminum pot, we cover the onion skins with water, bring them to a boil, and simmer for 1 to 1 1/2 hours to release the colour from the skins.
After the dye vat seems to have a nice, rich colour, we strain the onion skins out (returning the liquor to the aluminum pot), add prepared and pre-wetted skeins of wool, and simmer for another hour or so.
Once the hour is up, if you are in a hurry, you can take the skeins out right away, rinse them, and hang them to dry. However, it is best to let them stay in the pot until the liquor has cooled completely before you rinse and dry them.
Beautiful harvest colours for a fall day.