Summer Knit with Onion Skins

dsc05979It was the quiet tick in the early morning that woke me from a restless sleep. A gentle reminder from my hot plate that it was still plugged in.

I often wake untethered. As I come to consciousness I pull myself back to the earth time cycle by asking: what month is it? What day is it? This morning that question became: what was I dyeing?

I rubbed my eyes, listened for another tick… onion skins. I was soaking a pot of onion skins.

My plan was to knit the Scotchbroom Crop that required two skeins of fingering weight wool. This pattern uses a broomstick stitch adapted for knitting. It’s a stitch that requires loose yarnovers with a relaxed attitude. This is not easy for a tight knitter such as myself, who was also knitting during a pandemic. I needed a calm color. My mind kept envisioning my go-to favorite: yellow. Breezy, bright, warm, sunny.

Yellow natural dye is one of the most common colors to create, especially in California’s warm and dry summer season. This project was an impromptu decision leaving me no time to gather or collect. I dug through my dye supplies and settled on my dried collection of onion skins. These are a good dye staple to have on hand for just these situations.

pot of dried onion skins

I repurposed the alum water from my premordant and added my entire collection of dried skins. Measuring amounts and taking dye notes, in general, are important parts of the dye process. But sometimes I just want to dye without a scale or notepad. This was one of those dyes. The thinner skins quickly turned a florescent yellow.

They marinated on a low heat for a few hours before I turned off the hot plate (but did not unplug) and nestled on the couch for the last season of Broadchurch and later, family s’mores around our gas fire pit. The quintessential summer event in our family.

It was that early morning ticking that called me to complete the process. Legs thrown over the side the bed, sweats pulled on, and a few steps out my bedroom door to my outside dye area to turn the hot plate on. Back inside to start my beloved morning ritual: that first cup of coffee.

Caffeine fueled, I added two skeins of alum mordanted wool to the hot bath, pulling my shirt up over my nose as protection from the fumes. (They now give me a nasty headache, thanks to dyeing with them too many times unprotected.)

onion skins in dye pot

Several swirls from the dye spoon and once again, forgotten for an hour or two. This envisioned top was in a mellow shade, not my usual most intense shade. Instead of letting the yarn soak in the dye overnight, I pulled the skeins once they reached yellow, rinsed, and let dry.

It was not the the bright and clear yellow I envisioned. More like a setting sun yellow. I was tempted to throw it back in the pot, worried it wasn’t the perfect shade. That it could be better with an extra soak.

“No,” a friend said, “let it be. It’s fine as it is.”

So I did. I relaxed. I let it be.



  1. Lovely color and pattern.

    I am in the very early natural dye exploration phase. I prefer eating white onions. Do you know whether I can use white onions skins for dyeing?

    1. I would stick to yellow or red. If you don’t prefer to eat them, another method of gathering skins is to collect the loose ones from the onion bin at the grocery store. Good luck!

  2. I’m a new natural dyer, may I ask your advice? I got a beautiful yellow/orange from turmeric on cotton/linen yarn that I had scoured and mordanted with alum acetate. Started knitting and accidentally left one cake of yarn in a sunny spot, color almost gone! Is it useless to use turmeric for knitting for the sad reason that its not light fast? Any suggestions would be most appreciated. Your results are just beautiful! Thank you.

    1. Beth- oh no! That is such a bummer when it happens. I’ve never dyed with turmeric but I’ve read that the tumeric yellow fades faster than other dye sources. Leaving it in the sun likely speed up that process. When knitting with yarn that I know will fade, I use it with another color that holds it’s color longer. My hope is that they’ll mellow together in a new pleasing color combination.
      I hope it works out for you!

      1. That’s a good idea, thanks for answering! When I recover from the disappointment I’ll think about what to do. I may just overdye all the yarn with a procion dye. I lost my mojo for the project when I saw how fleeting the color would be! I love your postings and IG acct!

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