At the Burrow DyeTable # Five: Red Onion Revisited
After seeing the awesome green that my class got from the red onion skin dyebath the other day, I didn’t have the heart to chuck out the exhaust. I knew that most likely my results from the same bath, which had been sitting on the back porch for 3 days, would be quite different, but I had yarn already mordanted practically screaming at me to go play. So, play I did. Husband kept me company, which made the whole thing infinitely more enjoyable, and I really like dyeing, so this was pretty damn good.
And, in the middle of it all, we heard a loud noise, looked up in the sky, and saw this behemoth flying low, low, low overhead. Unexpected, right? It had propellers.
Alright. Back to work.
Dyestuff: Red onions
Parts used: The papery outer skins
Source: The restaurant where I work, my kitchen, and grocery store onion bins
Ratio of dyestuff to yarn: The original dyebath was roughly a .75:1 ratio of skins to yarn. If I were to go strictly by weight for this exhaust bath, it would be about 200g onion skins to roughly 36g yarn, which is a just about a 5.6:1 ratio. However, since this is an exhaust bath, and I have no idea how one would even begin to calculate how much dye has already been removed from the skins, the weight of said skins is very nearly meaningless. I wish there was some way to figure it out, but it is beyond my arithmetical skillz, of which there are few.
Yarn: Lion Brand Fisherman’s Wool mordanted with 8% aluminum potassium sulfate and 7% cream of tartar.
Dyebath: Added just a little glug of white distilled vinegar before heating, thinking that lowering the pH might help me get the pinks that red onion are supposed to give in a more acidic bath. The pH at room temp. was 3.6. Once the bath came up to temperature (195F), I remeasured the pH to be 3.4. Initially, when the yarn was added (at room temp.), it seemed to take in the claret colour. But as soon as the bath started heating up, it became clear that it was going to turn toward yellow. Eeeeeenteresting…. Held the dyebath between 175F-195F for 1 hour and then let the yarn cool in the pot for several hours.
The results? A weird burnished golden green. Here it is straight from the dyebath:
And here is the skein after being rinsed and dried. That is NOT pink.
It’s hard to describe just what this colour is. The picture doesn’t capture just how much of a strange, otherworldly green cast it has. The best way to describe it would be to call it… tarnished. I rather like it. But it is not what I was expecting.
Then later the same day another little hank of premordanted yarn called to me, and I decided to bump up the pH dyebath and try it one more time. It still seemed to have so much colour in it. So I added enough washing soda to get the pH up to 9.4 at temperature. The colour of the bath immediately went from red to green.
In the original dyebath, after we got the pH over 9, we saw the same colour shift of the bath, but then it turned acidic (and red) again pretty quickly. I assumed this was because I’d left the bag of onion skins in the bath and that they were still influencing the pH. So this time, I took the bag out before bumping up the pH. I did, however, add a few fresh red onion skins I’d snagged from the restaurant this week. No more than a couple grams.
But it didn’t make any difference. Even though the bath stayed green for the hour that I heated it (in the same 175-195F window). after it was left to cool overnight, the next morning it was claret red again.
The results? Not green. Or pink.
So what was going on here? I must begin with the disclaimer that I have no idea. But if I were to guess, it would be that there are a couple different components to whatever compounds are in red onion skins that make them red, and that the uptake of those components occur at different times. It is my understanding that if you take red onion skins and make a fresh dyebath with them, and leave the bath acidic, you can get pinks on your fiber. If you take that same fresh dyebath and make it basic instead, you will get greens on your yarn—even though the bath looks red. And that is exactly what happened with the original bath. The kids got green yarn. Very green. Clearly, in the first exhaust bath, the green dye was all but gone. In the second bath there was none left—even though the bath was alkaline. So, I would venture to say that making the bath alkaline is what extracts the component that dyes green, and that it is taken up before the other components that dye either pink or yellow. I would like to try red onion again and get pink from it, because I think this would help clarify what is happening chemically in this bath. I’m really just guessing about all of it at this point.
Any of you have experience dyeing with red onion skins? What do you think?
Live happy, dye happy!