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Dyeing wool with onions

This is a brilliant way to begin dyeing with plants. It is frugal as you are using a waste food product; it is safe as all the things you are using are non-toxic; it is simple as the tannins in the onions mean that you don’t need a separate mordant. You can keep your dye for another batch of wool – add in more onions if you want the colour to be richer or simply repeat step 2-4 for lighter coloured yarn.

You need:

  • A big pan – big enough to take your wool and swirl it about.
  • A sieve for straining the dye bath.
  • A large bowl or tub.
  • A skein or two of natural undyed wool.
  • As many papery onion skins as you can get your hands on – save them from your cooking, ask friends or the greengrocer. The more onion skins you have, the deeper the colour.


1) Make the dye bath

Put all the onion skins into your pan, cover with water and bring to a simmer. Simmer for half an hour and then leave to cool and let it steep overnight.

Take out the onion skins and put them on the compost heap. Drain the dye through a sieve into your tub.

2) Prepare your wool

While you are preparing the dye bath you can soak your wool 0 untwist the skeins and put them in cold water and leave to absorb the water over 3-4 hours. Gently squeeze the water to make sure it becomes evenly wet.

Drain the water off.

3) Dye your wool

Add the damp skeins to the pan and heat it back up very gently to below simmering point – you don’t want to boil the wool. Stir the wool around regularly to ensure that the coverage is even.

Keep it hot for an hour and then allow it to cool naturally. You can remove the wool from the dye pot at this point or leave it to steep longer for a deeper colour.

4) Wash your wool

Take the wool from the dye pot and rinse it until the water runs clear, then gently wash with a wool detergent and hang it up to dry naturally. Avoid tangling the wool.

I would love to know how you get on with dyeing your wool. Please tag me on Instagram or use the hashtag #snapdragonlife.

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