A couple of weeks ago I set about fulfilling a task I had set myself a long time ago - natural dyeing with onion skins. Improving my dyeing is one of my ambitions for 2011 and this seemed like a sensible way to continue following the washing machine dylon dyeing. If anything, this was easier!
Much of what I've read online about natural dyeing has stressed the importance of using a mordant for colour fastness, however, the suggested chemicals are rather difficult to come by, and after discussions with the lovely ladies at the Handweaver's Studio (I love this place so much!), I decided not to use one. Whether my results are colourfast or not is so far unclear, although they have been thoroughly rinsed with no loss of colour so far. To be on the safe side I decided to use a cobweb weight yarn so that I knew would be a rare visitor to the wash pile (because really, how often do you wash shawls?).
The method is very simple, the most challenging part is collecting enough onion skins! All in all it took a couple of months of saving onion skins in our kitchen to get enough, but there are only 2 of us and we eat out a lot, so it may take you less time. I used a large cooking pan (big enough for stew for about a dozen people), and, leaving the onion skins in quite large chunks, it was about half full.
I filled the pan with water so that the skins were covered, brought the pan to the boil and simmered for 45 minutes.
Take the pan off the heat and leave to cool for about 45 minutes. Meanwhile soak your yarn in cold water. I used Lush Lace from bluefaced.com that I bought at Knit Nation last year. 1200m in 100g of 80% Extra Fine Merino and 20% Silk, for the princely sum of I think £7.95! You are highly recommended to put in about a million figure 8 ties to hold the skein in shape, although don't tie them too tight unless you want tie-dyed yarn!
After 45 minutes when the dye bath is cool drain the onions (not into the sink!!!!),
Add the soaking wet dye to the dyebath. Both yarn and dye should be the same temperature at this point. If the dye is still hot wait longer otherwise you'll felt your yarn (this is very bad!). Slowly raise the temperature of the yarn/dye mix and simmer until you get the desired colour into your yarn. Bear in mind, that the dry yarn will be a lighter colour than when wet.
Upon first adding the yarn,
Hang the skein up to dry,
Wind (I wound using a nostepinne, partly because I enjoy it, partly because I wanted to check the whole 1200 metres over before I started knitting it), knit, then feel rather smug :)