There is something magical in the alchemy of using discarded kitchen scraps to turn fabric into beautiful hues. With relative ease and a therapeutic process you can breathe new life into tired clothes or sentimental fabric scraps. White onions create rich tones from saffron orange to rusty reds, avocado stones give surprising peony pinks and beautiful blush shades. Take time to collect enough skins and stones to make rich hues, you'll revel at the colours and hopefully keep coming back for more.
Your fabric, type of onions/avocados/water acidity/quantity will all play into your colour charts, so take notes along the way, as its nice to go back to it again and try something different.
This blog post is going to assume you'd like the easiest route possible to dye fabrics, and so steps to mordant the fabric have been left out (pre-treating fabric so it takes dye better).
Firstly I'd suggest finding pans you don't use everyday for cooking with, as they are likely to get stained. If you can find second hand stainless steel pans to use just for dyeing. You'll need one deep enough to carry the type of item you are dyeing, plus extra room so the fabric is not too crowded.
If it's your first time dyeing, I would also suggest finding a range of fabrics to dye, cut strips off old clothes/muslins, find some cotton or wool yarns, dry grasses, old t-shirts, and you can also buy silk squares or cushion covers to dye here.
The two dyes i'm using here have high tannin content, so fix well to fabrics and so mordanting is not as important. If you are making something that you want it more colourfast, use mordanting tips here. You'll notice in my images I tried fabric with mordant and without, but that was just to demonstrate that the results can be brighter with a mordant.
Wooden Spoon (one you dont mind getting stained)
White Onion Skins (i had about 20 onions worth)
Avocado Stones (washed and dried- i used 7 in a small pan)
Large bowl or bucket
Fabric - any pure natural fibres
Pre wash any new fabrics to remove any industrial chemicals or dirt. This is a really important step so try to pre-plan and do this before. Then soak the clean fabrics in water overnight, or as long as possible in a bowl or bucket.
Place your onion skins or avocado stones into a pan (or two separate pans if doing both) and fill with water to cover. Add as much water as you need depending on how much fabric will be going in.
Bring water to the boil, and then simmer for 30 mins - 1 hour. Keep the avocado stones slightly below boiling to avoid dye going too brown.
Turn your dye off, and leave for a couple of hours or overnight.
Strain the stones/ onion skins out using a colander, and keep the dye liquid.
Put the dye back into the clean pan (clean it to get rid of debris), and add your soaked fabric. Bring this back to just below boiling and simmer for 30mins - 1 hour. Be careful with wool not to heat too high as the fabric will felt. Stir, and keep prodding fabric to be under the water if necessary. Turn off and keep fabric in the dye for at least a couple of hours or overnight.
Rinse with cold water, and dry.
You can reuse your dye bath for a couple of days if you would like to try more.
You can also experiment with altering the dye colours, by dropping acidic or alkaline liquids on top of the dye before rinsing the fabric at the end. This will alter the shades and tones. Try lemon juice, vinegar, soda crystals etc.
This is a wonderful activity for adult and kids alike, especially during lockdown. Collect leaves, petals and flowers from the garden, or from a walk, and place on top of a cotton/silk fabric. You can either tape them down to the fabric with masking tape completely, or just fold fabric over the top to cover (this will give you a double print).
Use a strong Hammer, or rolling pin to beat the colours out. You'll see that dye from the flora seep into the fabric. Using thicker fabrics will print in a more defined way, thinner silks etc will show a more 'watercolour' effect.
You'll notice that some flowers and leaves seep unexpected colours, some are very watery, and others don't seep at all.
You can then experiment with different fabrics/flowers/hammering techniques to create patterns.
Nice ones to try are geraniums, camelias, lavender, nasturtium, passion flower, wisteria, sage, lemon-balm .