My wool dyeing experience

I love natural dyeing. I’ve always been fascinated by how nature has so many beautiful colours we need at the tip of our fingers (and pantries), and how easy it can be to dye something without the use of harsh chemicals.

A few weeks ago, I found out I needed a certain colour of wool roving I didn’t have. It was for a project I really wanted to make (for charity), so after failing to find what I needed from any supplier, I decided to try my luck by making the colour myself.

I started saving up yellow onion skins to make a shade of orange (Better Half was a little puzzled by my ‘food scrap’ hoarding but was kind enough to comply and say nothing). I didn’t have a lot of skins, but I also didn’t need to dye a lot of wool, so I reckoned it might be enough.

The recipe I used came from Folk Fibers. They also talk about other things in their blog if you’re interested.

So. Let’s now go through all the wool-dyeing steps, shall we?

This is the amount of wool I used. It wasn’t much, maybe two fistfuls. Notice the little organic materials still attached to it. I love that, reminds me this actually came from a sheep.

White wool used for this project

Carded white wool!

I placed all the skins I had in an aluminium pot. It should be a big enough pot to allow the wool to move freely. This one has a 4 litre capacity.

Onions inside aluminium pot

Onions ready for action

I used enough water to jut cover the skins. It’s important for the water to be cold (room temperature) when you begin because you want the temperature to change gradually. Also, don’t use too much water – you want a nice, concentrated dye.

Onions inside aluminium pot with water

…add water…

I then let it simmer for about an hour with the lid on, just to make sure all the colour was extracted. Although you can see the deep shade that came out, most of it won’t be absorbed by the wool, as you will see later. Also, it didn’t smell too much of onions, as I thought it would.

Simmered onions

See the pretty colour coming out of the onion skins?

I removed all the skins from the water using my trusted plastic sieve (sorry, didn’t take a picture of that step). I threw the skins in the bin.

Hot water after simmering onions

What the water looked like after the simmer

I put the onion water back in the pot and turned the heat on. Whilst it was warming up again, I soaked my wool in hot water – this soaking helps the colour adhere to the wool in a more uniform fashion. If the onion water didn’t smell too onion-y, trust me, the wool made up for it – my kitchen smelled a little like a barn for a few minutes (not in a bad way, mind you).

Soaked white wool in plastic bowl

Wool soaking in hot water

Then in it went to the pot! I was careful not to add much of the soaking water to the pot because I didn’t want the colour to dilute. Also, if you’re planning on doing this, take care not to move the wool too much, as it might felt. What you must do, though, is make sure all the air bubbles are removed from under the wool as they prevent the colour from going into the wool. I used a cooking plastic spoon for that, trying to be gentle as I went.

Wool simmering in aluminium pot

Simmering. Look at the gorgeous colour.

After it simmered for another hour (with the lid on), I turned the heat off and just let the wool soak in the pot whilst it cooled down. If you compare this photo with the previous image, you’ll notice a lot less water now. I left it in there for quite a few hours (maybe 16-17 hours).
If you look at the photo, you can see there is still quite a strong colour in the water. I am saving this up for another batch of dyeing.

Wool in cold onion water

After a few hours, and cooled down.

This is what my wet wool looked like after I placed it under running water to remove the excess colour and wringing it carefully. It’s still wet, so I couldn’t yet tell the final result. This isn’t the entire amount of wool I dyed.

hand holding moist orange wool


I placed it near a window to dry, but this morning I found out the bottom was still moist. Since I was using my tumble dryer today, I placed the wool on top of my appliance (not inside, that would damage the tumble dryer I think, and also shrink and felt your wool!) to help the process a little. That helped, although not completely.
My wool is not perfectly dry yet, but I will try to choose the bits which are for my project. This final colour still isn’t what I was looking for, but I reckon with some other colours I already have I can make a custom colour mix and get it right. Hopefully. Wish me luck!

Almost dry orange wool on windowsill

Tah-dah! It’s still not completely dry…

If you have any questions regarding my experiment, I’ll be happy to help. Just let me know in the comments section!


4 responses to “My wool dyeing experience

  1. That golden colour is gorgeous! It is not colour fast, so whatever the product is has t (a) be kept dry and (b) kept out of direct sunlight.

    Fixing the colour with urea (concentrated urine) does help 🙂

    • I did run it under the faucet and the water came out clean after a while, so I’d say it’s as colour fast as can be.
      And… no thank you, peeing on my wool is not on the menu (ew) :p

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