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Dyeing with Yellow Onion Skins Worksheet
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Dyeing and Un-dyeing Workshop

Sydney Anne Smith

Activity 1| Dyeing Cellulose Fibers with Yellow Onion Skins  

There are many ways to utilize natural and recycled materials from our surroundings to embellish the textiles which adorn our bodies and environments. Today we will learn how to dye cellulose fabric with yellow onion skins, a form of food waste which most of you already generate in your kitchen.

Important Vocab


A polysaccharide, (C6H10O5)n, that is composed of glucose monomers and is the main constituent of the cell walls of plants. It is used in the manufacture of numerous products, including paper, textiles, pharmaceuticals, and insulation.

Cellulose Fibers

Fibers derived from the bark, leaves, stalks, and wood of plants

(Examples: Cotton, Hemp, Flax, Ramie)

Cellulose Fabric

Cloth that has been woven or knit from cellulose based fibers

(Examples: Cotton, Hemp, Linen, Ramie)

Synthetic Fibers

 Fibers made by humans through chemical synthesis

(Examples: Polyester, Acetate, Acrylic)

Protein Fibers

A fiber composed of a protein, typically sourced from animals

        (Examples: Wool, Mohair, Silk)


A substance, typically an inorganic oxide, which bonds with a dye to fix it to the material. A mordant is necessary for most natural dyes to make the color lightfast (resistant to fading with sunlight & washing)


The Japanese word for the variety of ways to bind fabric in order to create patterns. There are several types of shibori including, kanoko shibori and Itajime shibori-- which are the two shibori techniques I will introduce you to today.

Recipe| Dye Extraction from Yellow Onion Skins

  1. Fill a large kitchen pot with onion skins. The more onion skins you add, the more pigmented the dye bath will turn out.

  1. Add water until the onion skins are entirely covered.

  1. Bring the water to a boil then allow the dye to simmer for approx. 1 hour.

  1. Remove onion skins with a colander or strainer and place pre-soaked fibers into the dye bath. (Optional: mordant fiber in alum solution for increased lightfastness)

  1. Stir the fibers in the dye pot over low heat for approx. 1 hour. Avoid overcrowding for even results in coloration.

  1. Remove fibers from the dye bath and rinse with cold water until the water runs clear. (Optional: Allow fibers to cool in the dye bath overnight for brighter coloration)

  1. Hang or iron to dry.

Creating Patterns| Introduction to Two Shibori Techniques

Kanoko shibori  commonly called “tie dye” in the West, involves binding certain sections of the cloth to achieve a desired pattern. Traditionally this method is done with thread, but the patterns can also be achieved with the use of rubber bands. shibori requires the use of thread for binding. The pattern achieved depends on the spacing and tightness of the binding.

Itajime shibori is a shaped-resist technique. Traditionally, the cloth is folded and sandwiched between two pieces of wood, which are held in place with string. More modern techniques include using shapes cut from acrylic or plexiglass and holding the shapes with C-clamps or clothespins to create intricate geometric patterns. The shapes prevent the dye from penetrating the fabric they cover, creating a resist in the form of a pattern or image.

Activity 2| Un-Dyeing Garments with Thiox Decolorant

Decolorant is a reducing agent for removing color from natural fibers-- without damaging the material like chlorine bleach. Most dyes can be removed to some degree, but results may vary based on the type of dye, the type of fabric, and the amount of decolorant used. It is thick enough to block print, brush on, screen print, and stencil. decolorant can be used for creating negative image effects and tie-dying pre-existing fabric. We will be using pre-prepared decolorant paste, but I will also provide a recipe to make your own.

Instructions| Direct Application of Decolorant Paste

*Always use gloves and make sure you are in a space with good ventilation when using decolorant products

  1. Apply the paste to your fabric using desired method and allow it to dry completely. For this workshop, I brought paintbrushes for direct application of the thiox decolorant paste.

  1.  Steam the fabric with a steam iron for 10 minutes or so, until the dye stops discharging from your material. Be sure to use a steaming cloth to prevent any damage to the iron.

  1. Wash your fabric in a detergent such as synthrapol. Hang to dry.

Recipe| Immersion Dyeing with Thiox

(Source: Dharma Trading Co.)

Thiourea Dioxide is usually used as a full immersion bath for removing the color from a whole piece of fabric. It is therefore sometimes very handy for correcting dyeing "mistakes", or lightening a fabric for over-dyeing. A dyed fabric can be tied into a pattern or design as in Tie Dye or Shibori, then put in the discharge bath for interesting effects.

A typical recipe for 1 lb of fabric:

A non-reactive pan, like stainless steel or enamel (NOT aluminum, iron, etc)

2 Gallons of water

1 TBS Soda Ash

1/2 tsp Synthrapol or liquid dish soap

1 TBS Color Remover to start

Add damp fabric to the above bath and heat to a simmer. While simmering, add 1/4 additional teaspoon Color Remover every 15 min for a total of 1 hour (so an additional 1 tsp Color Remover, total). Simmer for an additional 15 minutes. Frequent gentle stirring throughout the process gives more even results, just as with dyeing. You can add more color remover if necessary with no harmful effects. Remove, rinse, and then wash your fabric in a good detergent like Synthrapol. You can also use Milsoft in the final rinse to restore (and then some!) the softness and drape of the fabric.

Recipe| Make your own Decolorant Paste with Thiox

(Source: Dharma Trading Co.)

1 tsp Color Remover

1 tsp Soda Ash (dissolved in a little hot water 1st)

1 cup water

2 tsp Sodium Alginate (HV)

Combine the water and Alginate in a blender, or add the Alginate to the water while stirring rapidly. Then stir in the Color Remover and the dissolved Soda Ash. Let the mixture sit for at least 10-15 minutes to thicken. Paint or print onto the fabric. Before it is quite dry, it needs to be steamed 10-20 minutes, or it can be ironed with the steam on until the desired results are achieved. Protect the iron and ironing board with paper towels. Wash and rinse thoroughly as above.

Activity 3| A Youtube Experiment

        For our final project, while everything else finishes simmering and drying, we will learn how to marble fabric with shaving cream. Now that we have gotten comfortable working with each other over the course of this workshop, we will test out this funky  method together with Youtube as our teacher. I’ve never tried this before today, so here goes nothing!

How to Dye Fabric: Marble Dyeing with Shaving Cream