September 24, 2021

The magic of red onion skin

In this blog post, I will share with you the shades I made with red onion peel. Such a simple dye plant gives a wide range of colors. Astonishing me will never fail!

The methods I use are my Botanical Color book at your fingertips, which is available as a piece of paper as well as a digital download. Cellulose is an introductory guide to dyeing fabrics and yarns with homemade plant dyes. Onion skins are one of the dye plants I use in the book. Coloring techniques can be adapted to suit any plants at your fingertips. In fact, I recommend experimenting and learning to paint intuitively.

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Well, let’s go back to the onion skin dye …

Because aluminum produces bright colors, but also has the benefit of slightly hardening the metal, I used an ordinary aluminum paintbrush (which helps the dyes stick to the fibers).

After boiling the onion peels for about 30 minutes and leaving them to soak for a few hours, I filtered them to leave a clean dye bath. I added a little tap water so that the fibers were deep enough to move freely inside the paint.

The first paint pot produced as I expected:

– Chartreuse on green colorless bamboo fabric.

– Bamboo sold with dark brown soy milk *

* Detailed information about mordanting with soy milk can be found in my e-book and in my pocket.

Later that day, I decided to put a little thinner fabric in the pot and go green again, but the next morning I was surprised that the fabric was a beautiful shade of pale pink!

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Brown: burgundy bamboo silk with soy milk Chartreuse green (looks more gold in photos): unusual bamboo silk Pink: colorless bamboo silk

Interestingly, the yellowish-green dye particles were used on the previous fabric, so only the pink particles remained. Or was there a gradual change in the pH level of the color bath? Did the soy milk on the other fabric contaminate the protein dye and affect the color in any way? I had to experiment a little more, and this time pay attention to the pH levels.

So I made another red onion skin dye and split it into two different lots. The first lot of liquid was carefully used to paint a small piece of bamboo. This time I wanted to see if I really got a dark green color! On this occasion I decided to check the pH level and found that it was very acidic with pH 1 !! The paint was a deep burgundy, and the fabric quickly turned pink, and within a few hours it turned a very deep burgundy. Not surprisingly, the fabric is dark pink with onion peel 😉

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Silk made from bamboo dyed in a bath painted with thickened onion skin (naturally pH 1)

The second dye was diluted with plenty of water and the pH was 7. I put on a unique piece of bamboo and kept my fingers green, which is exactly what I got! Now I can see that the pH of the dye determines what color is produced. The paint still looked pink, but the fabric was actually painted green. I took a piece of green cloth from the paint pot and put another piece inside for a longer time. Surprisingly, when I looked at the paint pot, this piece of fabric looked more pink as the days went by. The end result was a more golden shade, but in real life there is a slightly pink glow as you can see below.

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Both bamboo pieces. The upper bouts featured two cutaways, for easier access to the higher frets.

I discovered that the pH level affects the color of the onion skin. The same goes for the protein level of the fabric; The cellulose fabric is green, the fabric dyed with soy milk with protein dyes is brown!

Now a little secret for me is why the first day the fabric turned pale pink, because it was the same piece of fabric that had previously been dyed green in the same bowl. The same thing happened on the second day, only this time I took out the fabric when it was more golden. Apparently, ‘time’ is a factor here as well; the longer the fabric is dyed, the more pink it becomes. I have to repeat the same experiment and test the pH level regularly. I didn’t do it the first time because I didn’t understand the importance of pH for these paint products. I generally take a backward approach and then go back to my paint job, but I want to know exactly what happened on that occasion!

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Assortment of shades from red onion peels on bamboo fabric. Also show: tencel yarn and linen fabric on top and hemp cord on the right.

Undoubtedly, red onion peels are an incredible dye and can produce a wide range of shades. And once again, I learned that you can always discover something new about a plant, even if I’ve painted it before. That’s what binds me to plant coloring … It just seems like pure magic to me.

I would like to hear your experience of painting with onion peel in the comments below 🙂

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Samples of fabric from my handmade sketch book from The Eloise Bindery


  • If you want to learn the basics of plant coloring, my book (also available as an e-book) will take you through each stage of the process.
  • You can get different results on animal protein fibers such as silk and wool. I’m vegan and don’t use these fibers, so I can’t predict colors, but it’s worth a try to learn!
  • I got a different result on the canvas: pale pink when I waited for light green! I know cotton behaves like bamboo (as I tried before), but I need more experience on other cellulose fibers.
  • Aluminum pots will affect my colorslike my tap water. Minerals that occur naturally in water can also promote certain colors. I can’t guarantee the colors you will get; The best way to learn is to practice!
  • These dyes have not yet been tested for color fastness properties (although in the past I have seen red onion skin dye stand out well).
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