So much for the generalities. Now let’s dye wool yarn with onionskins (yellow and red mixed).
Mordant the wool in an enamel pot containing 1–2oz of alum dissolved in 2gal of water. Our actual weight of fiber is 1⁄2lb. Simmer for 1⁄2 hour. Let cool in the liquid, then proceed to dyeing, or let the fiber dry and dye at a later time. You can reuse this water for mordanting more fiber (but not for dyeing).
To prepare the dye pot, place 1⁄2lb onionskins in 2gal of simmering water for 1⁄2–1 hour. Remove the onionskins, if desired, and then add the mordanted wool (wet or dry) and simmer another 1⁄2–1 hour.
Alternatively, place the onionskins and the mordanted wool in 2gal of simmering water, and simmer 1⁄2–1 hour. (Skins can be placed in a net bag if desired.)
NOTE: This same procedure can be used for many protein fibers, including wool, mohair, alpaca, llama, rabbit, and dog, and also for most dyes on cotton and linen.
Try other dyes to achieve different colors, such as madder for red and eucalyptus leaves for brown. Yellows, browns, and reds are easy to get, but blues from indigo and woad are more complicated. Many books will suggest different plants to dye with. We did experiments with 50 plants in a summer; Ida Grae’s book Nature’s Colors lists 250. See the next page for more natural dyeing materials.
TIP: The fibers don’t need to be white; interesting colors come from naturally colored fibers and from overdyeing previously dyed things.
NOTE: If you are a more casual type of “cook,” play my favorite “what if” game, and just throw a bunch of fiber, a bunch of onionskins, and a tablespoon or so of alum together and go with it! Play and see what happens.