3.11.2014

Dyeing With Onion Skins Makes Me Squeal



That's right--squeal! I can confidently say I am smitten with natural dyes. The allure of the ever-changing color outcome combined with the promise that if I keep experimenting I'll get better at predicting the results and then combined with the constant need to harvest plants, flowers, leaves, and otherwise use compost scraps to make beautiful colors has absolutely found its way into my heart. I might have to start raising sheep just to keep up my habit. (I'm only half kidding here, Mom.)


I've been collecting onion skins for weeks and finally had enough of a small heap to try my luck with a dye vat. I also had very skilled and committed help in the form of one very curious toddler complete with a green robot t-shirt so how could I resist? He loves peeling onions and he loves peeling garlic. He's my star assistant when it comes to making soup. I mixed yellow and red onion skins for this dye vat and I love the mottled, variegated results.


My mother gave me this white wool sweater years ago and while I loved the felt-like texture and those sweet floppy buttons I could not bring myself to wear white dry-clean-only anything. I spend 1/2 my week working from my home studio and 1/2 my week tending to my very active 2 year-old and somehow playing in the sandbox, climbing the slide at the playground, and drawing with chalk on the sidewalk are not dry-clean-only activities. When I'm in my studio I'm certainly not wearing white either.



So somehow this pretty wool sweater found its way into the box of mittens and hats that wait patiently for cold weather in the corner of my closet. (If you are reading this from my native New York please do not hold my California winters against me. I too have a soft spot for snowflakes and fireplaces and really heavy winter coats. Trust me.) But I knew this sweater had potential to be a regular contributor to my everyday wardrobe I just wasn't sure when. Well, it turns out the "when" was when it was combined with hot water and onion skins. Yes, ma'am.



So I followed the onion skin recipe in my dear friend Sasha Duerr's wonderful book, Handbook of Natural Plant Dyes. This book is really my go-to for natural dyes though India Flint is a close second. I pre-soaked the white sweater for about an hour, boiled my onion skins, removed my onion skins from the dye, and let the sweater soak in the dye vat for several hours. I was so thrilled when I removed the sweater and saw the deep amber, coral, and orange hues all mottled about. Working with 100% wool was so much more satisfying than working with 100% cotton. Especially as I'm still resisting mordants in my home kitchen for now. Just for now.


I rinsed the sweater and hung it to dry on my tiny clothesline (Admittedly, it's about 3 feet of twine strung across the top of our back steps, but it's as close as I can get to a clothesline in this current apartment so I'll take it). I also think it really helped to just rinse and air dry instead of using the rinse cycle on my washing machine. I'm so pleased with this sweater that I could just squeal. Okay, I did just squeal but it's quite difficult to translate a squeal across the Internet so you just have to trust me on the squealing. I love it!

 
I also took the scissors to the sleeves because they were too belled for my liking--I tapered them down a bit and now I've been wearing this sweater every chance I get. Amazing what some onion skins and a tiny bit of thread can do to revitalize a garment. Now, I'm collecting thrifted silk and wool garments at every turn. I think I need to work with animal fibers for awhile and see if I'm happier with the natural dye results than working with plant fibers like cotton and flax.



For now, I'm squealing with this onion skin dyed wool and scheming up my next natural dye concoction. I think maybe eucalyptus leaves, sour grass flowers, avocado skins, or another round of coffee grounds are in my future. Truth be told, I can hardly wait! As for the sheep? Well, they certainly wouldn't fit into our 1.5 bedroom apartment so they will have to wait too. Just for now.

xoxo,
k

6 comments:

  1. Onion skins are magical, I have some socks partially made from a hank I dyed with onion skins. The beautiful warm yellow stripes with an acid dyed purple. The sweater is just lovely! That's what it's all about, making our clothes functional AND enjoyable. Also, I have to say - I can't take my eyes off those buttons!

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    1. They are totally magical! And I'm realizing that silk and wool are totally magically too. Yes. You're right. Function and fashion! xoxo

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  2. I love everything about this sweater. You did a fantastic job. Thanks for giving me food for thought!

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    1. Thank you for the kind words. There is endless dye potential in our kitchen scraps and gardens. I feel like I'm just scratching the surface of a very long list of potential projects.

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  3. This looks like so much fun to investigate dyeing, Cheers to you! I love watching the projects roll onto the blog!

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    1. Thank you, Beth. It means SO much to have your kind eyes and thoughtful worlds along my journey over here. THANKYOUMUCH. Mwah.

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Thank you for your comments, friends. I like to think we are creating a dialogue in this space--building a virtual community.