05 Jun

dyeing wool with onion skins

Dyeing wool with onion skins - a tutorial by La Visch Designs

I read that onion skins, both the red and the yellow variety can be used to dye wool or other protein based fibers pretty well. I’m very curious on the colors this will give and have therefore spent the last couple of months saving onion skins. I want to try out dyeing wool with onion skins!

Gathering yellow onion skins proved to be not that much of a problem. Red ones, on the other hand, were, because we appear not to be that much into eating red onions. Anyway, onion skins were saved and I’m ready to tell and show you what I did!

Materials

Collecting the required materials is obviously an important step. In my experiment, I wanted to use yellow and red onion skins in separate dye baths to see what differences in color that would yield. To make this possible I collected the papery, outer skins of the onions. I stored these in two separate paper bags, one for each color. It’s important to store the skins in a breathing container, otherwise, any moisture still in the skins may cause everything to mold.

Also, mordanting also has an impact on the resulting color, so in each dye bath, I wanted to have 1 mordanted and 1 non-mordanted skein of yarn.

Dyeing wool with onion skins - a tutorial by La Visch Designs

To make this possible I used the following materials:

  • Wool yarn, 4 balls of 50 g each
  • Pieces of waste yarn to tie up the wool into skeins
  • Detergent (without enzymes)
  • 33 g yellow onion skins (for dyeing 100 g of wool)
  • 33 g red onion skins (for dyeing 100 g of wool)
  • A mordant, I used my leftover mordanting solution from my madder dye experiment
  • 2 stainless steel pots
  • A sieve
  • Rubber gloves, stainless steel spoons
  • Water
  • A way to heat the pots, I just used my stove

Dyeing wool with onion skins - a tutorial by La Visch Designs

a. Washing the wool

First as explained in this post I skeined up the yarn and washed it to remove any lanolin, spin oil or other debris still present on the yarn.

Dyeing wool with onion skins - a tutorial by La Visch Designs
b. Mordanting

Mordanting of the wool is usually required with natural dyeing to ensure that the wool fibers are all opened up so that the dye can penetrate into the fiber. With onion skin dyeing this is however not really needed. Mordanting does have an impact on the resulting color though.

This is the reason I mordanted 2 of my 4 skeins of wool with an alum mordant. As written above, I used the leftover mordanting solution from my madder dye experiment. This time though, I didn’t leave it overnight at room temperature, but let it simmer on the stove for an hour.

Dyeing wool with onion skins - a tutorial by La Visch Designs

c. Preparing the dye baths

1. An important step in dyeing wool with onion skins is of course preparing the dye baths. For each of the dye baths, I put 33 g of onion skins in the pot together with 2 L of water. This I let simmer on the stove for an hour.

Dyeing wool with onion skins - a tutorial by La Visch Designs

2. After the full hour had passed, I used the sieve to separate the onion skins from the dye bath. The colored liquid was then returned to the pot, minus the onion skins.

Dyeing wool with onion skins - a tutorial by La Visch Designs

3. Here you see a picture of the resulting dyeing solutions. It’s a tad hard to see because it’s just so dark, but the yellow onion one is a dark orange. The red onion skin dye is a dark red.

Dyeing wool with onion skins - a tutorial by La Visch Designs

d. Dyeing the yarn

4. In the case your yarn has dried before getting to this step, you have to soak it first in water again. In wet wool, dye distributes itself much more uniformly. About half an hour of soaking is usually enough. If the wool is still slightly wet, you can skip to the next step of this tutorial.

5. In each of the dye baths, I have put a skein of mordanted wool as well as a non-mordanted one. I made sure to completely submerge all wool. The picture below shows the yellow onion bath on top and the red onion skin one on the bottom half.

Dyeing wool with onion skins - a tutorial by La Visch Designs

6. I let the wool simmer for about an hour in the dye bath. Next, I let it cool down in the dye bath overnight. The picture below shows how the wool looked next morning. Do you see how dark the red onion skin dye bath and the yarn in it (bottom part of the picture) has become?

Dyeing wool with onion skins - a tutorial by La Visch Designs

7. Rinse the wool off with lukewarm water. Rinse as long as necessary until the water runs clear. Remember to put on rubber gloves, if you do not want to stain your hands! In this picture, only the yellow onion skin dyed yarn is shown.

Dyeing wool with onion skins - a tutorial by La Visch Designs

8. Then you can squeeze the water out of the dyed wool and hang to dry.

Dyeing wool with onion skins - a tutorial by La Visch Designs

And this is my result from dyeing wool with onion skins, after the skeins of yarn have completely dried:

Dyeing wool with onion skins - a tutorial by La Visch Designs

From left to right: red onion skins on non-mordanted wool, red onion skins on mordanted wool, yellow onion skins on non-mordanted wool and on the far right yellow onion skins on mordanted wool.

The mordanted colors are more bright than the non-mordanted ones. It really surprised me though, that red onion skins give green yarn!

04 Jan

dyeing with natural dyes: part 2 – mordanting

Dyeing with natural dyes - mordanting, a tutorial by La Visch Designs

This post about mordanting your fiber is part 2 in a series in which I tell you all about what is involved in dyeing wool with natural dyes. I guide you through the various steps and take you along with a natural dye experiment.

The steps to go through are as follows:

a. Washing the wool
b. Mordanting
c. Preparing the dye
d. Dyeing your wool

Today we are going to mordant the wool we washed in the previous step.

b. Mordanting

Mordanting of the wool is usually required with natural dyeing to ensure that the wool fibers are all opened up so that the dye can penetrate into the fiber. Without mordanting the dye adheres less well and the resulting color is less bright and colorfast.
There are several possible mordants: alum (potassium aluminum sulfate), chrome (potassium dichromate), copper sulfate, iron (ferrous sulfate), and tin (stannous chloride).

Each mordant has a different effect on the outcome of the dyeing process. Iron for example will “sadden” or darken colors, bringing out the green shades. Because alum is, when compared to the others, much less polluting and releases no harmful vapors during processing, I use it in this step-by-step guide.

1. The amount of mordanting agent to use depends on the quantity of wool that you want to dye. Typically, alum is used between 8% and 20% of the weight of the wool (dry weight!). I start at 15% and have 200 g of wool, therefore I use 30 g alum. (I know that the photograph shows 31 g, have corrected the weight after making the picture!)

Dyeing with natural dyes - mordanting, a tutorial by La Visch Designs

Tartaric acid (“cream of tartar”) is sometimes used as an additive when mordanting with alum. As I understand it, it can brighten the colors. Use at approx. 7% of the weight of fiber together with 8% alum. In this example, I however do not use it.

2. Dissolve the alum (and, possibly, tartaric acid) in a glass jar or stainless steel pan of boiling water. Use enough water to fully submerge your amount of wool.

Dyeing with natural dyes - mordanting, a tutorial by La Visch Designs

3. Add the wet wool to the pot. This may be immediately after washing. If your wool has dried between washing and mordanting, let it soak in water for about half an hour first. Adding dry wool to a mordanting or dye bath may cause streaks in your fiber.

Dyeing with natural dyes - mordanting, a tutorial by La Visch Designs

Many instructions for dyeing wool indicate to keep it all warm at the simmering point for more than an hour. That may indeed be the case, but you can also get good results if you let it cool completely and then allow to stand overnight. This cold mordanting takes more time, but much less energy and therefore has my preference.

4. After mordanting, the wool must be rinsed.

mordanting_4

5. Next you can directly proceed to dyeing the wool, or (if the timing is not quite right) hang your wool to dry. Once mordanted and dried, simply store the wool until you are ready to dye.

Dyeing with natural dyes - mordanting, a tutorial by La Visch Designs

Now it is time to proceed to the next step: preparing your dye bath. More on this in my next post!

21 Dec

dyeing with natural dyes: part 1 – washing the wool

Dyeing with natural dyes part 1: washing the wool - a tutorial by La Visch Designs

Dyeing wool with food coloring like Easter egg dyes is of course a lot of fun and very easy to do. Lately, however, the possibilities of natural dyes intrigue me. Think of onion skins, indigo, madder, annatto and logwood.

In order to get good results with natural dyes, more steps are required, than with food coloring. In this series of posts I will guide you through the various steps and take you along with a natural dye experiment. Before I proceed I must tell you that I am by no means an expert in this area. I’m only sharing what I have learned in my own experiments!

The steps to go through are as follows:

  1. Washing the wool
  2. Mordanting
  3. Preparing the dye bath
  4. Dyeing your wool

Today we are going to discuss the preparations with respect to washing the wool. Of course, it is also useful to know what materials are needed!

Materials

Collecting the required materials is obviously an important step. However, this step I haven’t included in the above overview, because what will be required depends very much on the choices made with respect to your natural dyes of choice.

Things you will however (almost) always need are:

  • Protein (animal-based) fibers, such as wool or silk or cellulose (plant-based) fibers, such as cotton, linen, or hemp. Man-made fibers like acrylics can’t be dyed this way!
  • Pieces of waste yarn to tie up your yarn into skeins.
  • Detergent (without enzymes).
  • The natural dyes or dye material.
  • A mordant like alum. This is used to help the dye adhere to the fiber and helps in achieving bright colours.
  • For warm dyeing: A stainless steel or enamelled pan which will not be used for cooking anymore.
  • For cold dyeing: Glass jars in the number or volume big enough for the amount of wool that you want to dye.
  • Old nylons or other material to make a “tea bag” for your dye material.
  • Rubber gloves, stainless steel spoons.

a. Washing the wool

If you buy wool yarn, you may be inclined to dye without washing it. There is however a chance that there is a reasonable amount of lanolin, spin oil or other debris still present on the yarn. This makes it difficult for the dye to penetrate well into the fiber. This in turn results in your wool having less vivid colors and being a less colorfast.
For best results, wash first is the motto.

Dyeing with natural dyes part 1: washing the wool - a tutorial by La Visch Designs

1. In this experiment I used Lettlopi, it is sold in the lovely put-up shown. However, when washing like this, the yarn will tangle beyond hope. Therefore it is wise to rewind first into skeins. I use my niddy noddy, but the yarn can of course also, for example, be wound around the back of a chair.

Dyeing with natural dyes part 1: washing the wool - a tutorial by La Visch Designs

And yes, I know that my niddy noddy isn’t used “correctly” in this picture. I prefer using it this way because I like the length of the skein it gives. Fortunately, there is no such thing as wool-police!

2. To ensure that the skeined yarn does not tangle, tie it together with some waste yarn in several places. Do not tie it too tight, this may prevent the dye from fully penetrating the wool in those spots. I do this as follows four places:

Dyeing with natural dyes part 1: washing the wool - a tutorial by La Visch Designs

The entire skein then looks like this:

Dyeing with natural dyes part 1: washing the wool - a tutorial by La Visch Designs

3. Now we go on to the washing! Use water of at least 60 C or 140 F for best results. I use water as hot as it comes out of the tap. If this is not very hot in your case, add a splash of boiling water from the kettle or stove. Add a dash of detergent and then the wool. Use detergent without enzymes, since these would damage the wool. Strongly agitating the wet could felt it, but gentle stirring should not be a problem.

Allow the wool to stand for about 15 to 20 minutes, but don’t let it cool down completely. Any lanolin dissolved in the water could then precipitate again on the wool.

Dyeing with natural dyes part 1: washing the wool - a tutorial by La Visch Designs

4. Now it’s time to rinse the wool with warm water. Do not rinse with cold water, a big difference in temperature from hot to cold can felt your wool!

Dyeing with natural dyes part 1: washing the wool - a tutorial by La Visch Designs

After rinsing it is time to proceed to the next step: mordanting the wool. More on this in my next post!

Dyeing with natural dyes part 1: washing the wool - a tutorial by La Visch Designs

26 Apr

tutorial: dyeing wool

Dyeing wool

Being a spinner, I not only have lots of lovely top and roving in my fiber stash, but also quite a few whole fleeces. A whole sheep worth of wool can get a bit boring color-wise. So, now with Easter all done, it is time to put that leftover Easter egg dye to good use and start dyeing wool!

Easter egg dye and other food coloring are perfectly suited to dye protein-based fibers and yarns. Wool, alpaca, and silk are lovely to dye yourself. These dyes, however, can’t be used to permanently dye acrylics and plant-based fibers like cotton.

Supplies needed

  • Wool or yarn: I’m using some lovely Lleyn wool, that I already scoured last year. If dyeing or over-dyeing yarn, make sure to skein the yarn if you have it in a ball put-up. Remember to tie the skein with some pieces of cotton or acrylic to make sure your wool won’t tangle beyond rescue.
  • Easter egg dye or other food colorings
  • Vinegar to change pH value and improve the dye take up by the wool
  • Non-aluminum pot and spoon

Let’s get started!

1. Fill the pot with hot water from the tap, add some glugs of vinegar (I know, very scientific this way) and put in the wool to pre-soak. Leave it like that for 10 to 15 minutes.

Dyeing wool - a tutorial by La Visch Designs

2. While waiting I made myself a cappuccino and pondered what colors to use. I decided to use red and blue to hopefully end up with purple.

Dyeing wool

3. Added the dye to the pot and put it on the stove until the water had reached a slow simmer. Then I put the fire out and let it be. Do not let it come to a rolling boil and don’t stir a lot or vigorously, we don’t want to felt our wool!

Dyeing wool

4. Checking the progress, you can see that the red dye has disappeared completely from the water. There is however still a lot of blue in the water and not in the wool.

Dyeing wool

5. A couple of hours later I’m satisfied with how much dye has been taken up by the wool. Other colors may need less time. Now it is time for a rinse. I have filled the sink with hot water and gently swooshed the wool around int it, to rinse out any leftover dye. Only use cold water, if your wool is also completely cooled down. Rapid cool-down can also cause felting. Therefore I always use hot water for rinsing, just to be sure I don’t accidentally felt my wool.

Dyeing wool

6. Then it is time to remove all the excess water from the wool. After a gentle squeeze, I use my dedicated salad spinner for this. You can, of course, also use a stand-alone spin dryer. When using the one in your washing machine, make sure it does not automatically involve rinsing as well, because that may again cause felting.

Dyeing wool

And there you have it: a nice crate full of purple wool! Dyeing wool is pretty fun, isn’t it? When completely dry I had even more fun carding the wool into batts for spinning, read all about it here.

Dyeing wool