Kitchen Scraps for Dyeing Fabric

My most recent adventure in using my scraps and making the most of what I already have was a kind of kitchen magic that won’t disappear into hungry mouths. My first attempt at dyeing fabric with plant materials was an exciting transformation that makes me want to try more.

I have been saving onion skins for months. Peeling off the translucent outer layers of yellow onions and tucking them into bags in the cupboard before dicing the bulb and tossing it in the pot for dinner. For months I was also looking for a pot that could be solely dedicated to dyeing. Despite many visits to thrift stores, I still haven’t found one, but I decided it would be safe to use one of our big cooking pots for dying with something more or less edible.


After all those months of saving, the skins didn’t amount to much, but I simmered them for an hour while they turned the water to a rich reddish brown. I scooped out the skins and added two pieces of cotton fabric. Whenever I can find them, I buy plain white cotton sheets from goodwill, another way make something unwanted into something new. I soaked the fabric in hot water and added it to the pot of onion skin dye, simmering the fabric for another hour. I stirred it occasionally and then left the pot of dye and fabric to cool and sit for a couple of days. I used these instructions as a guideline for my dyeing process.

The result was a not unpleasant but not at all dazzling color. The fabric did not take the dye evenly, or perhaps I didn’t stir it the way I should have. But, I am dazzled by the possibilities of transformation that can come from a pile of kitchen scraps. I am eager to do more experiments with the bits and pieces that I already have on hand.




  1. Xan

    March 3, 2016 at 11:35 pm

    I actually really love the colour the onion skins gave. It's similar to an undyed hemp, only a bit darker. I'm only just beginning my dyeing journey with plant materials and I totally agree, the possibilities are so fun and absolutely dazzling!

  2. Anna

    March 4, 2016 at 12:06 am

    Yes, I have so much to learn. I'd love to hear more about what you are doing with plant dyes!

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