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Rug Hooking : Fibre Art and Wool Dyeing with Onion Skins

Rug Hooking Technique: Wool Dyeing with Onion Skins

By Linda Ferretti

Onion skins saved for dyeing.

Onion skins saved for dyeing.

Overview of Onion Skins Visual Dyeing:

The following wool dying technique is made with wool strips and organic onion skins. When completely dried, the dyed wool is ideal for rug hooking projects.


  • Wool Strips
  • Red Onion Skins
  • Liquid Dish Detergent
  • Citrus Acid or White Vinegar
  • Water

Fig #1. Presoaked wool strips

Fig. #1 Presoaked wool strips ready for the pot.

Fig. #1: The wool strips used were made up of natural Dorr wool plus some recycled off-white wools to achieve a variety of colours and textures.

Put your woolen strips in soapy water for at least an hour or more so they will soak up the dye easily. Liquid dish detergent works great for soaking wools. A 3" x 12" strip is an ideal strip but not always possible when using recycled material. Chose your wool colours such as white, off-white, natural, buff or light beige, etc., and you will have a variety of colours in your swatches.

Fig #2. Onion skins heating

Fig. #2 Onion skins heating with water.

Fig. #2: Fill your dye pot with the onion skins; add lots of water to cover generously. Heat until very hot but not boiling. Add approximately 1 tablespoon of citrus acid and stir with a wooden dying spoon. White vinegar can also be used but I find the citrus acid is faster.

Fig #3. Onion skins and wool

Fig. #3 Onion skins and wool in pot with citrus acid.

Fig. # 3: Next add your soapy wool to the pot. Layer them evenly for the first few minutes to start the dying process and then stir them into the onion skins. This stirring creates the molted effects. If you do not prefer this effect and want even colour strips, then do one strip at a time and remove from pot as you achieve the value you want.

Fig. #4 Magic in the dye pot.

Fig. #4 Magic in the dye pot.

Fig. #4: Enjoy the magic of watching the wool soak up the dye to create beautiful colours. When the water is clear that is the sign that the wool has soaked up all the dye. However, if you have achieved the colours you want and there is still dye left, save the dye in the fridge and a few days later try using other light colours of wool colours to make a variety in the values and colours. The weaker values make good highlights or can be used to create distance in pictorials.

Fig. #5 Rinsed and ready for the dryer.

Fig. #5 Rinsed and ready for the dryer.

Fig. #5: As the wool was mixed in with the onions, it is a good ideal to put them through the rinse cycle then in the dryer to fluff up. One can also do this procedure by rinsing by hand and hanging on the line.

Fig. #6 Final result of onion skin dyeing.

Fig. #6 Final result of onion skin dyeing.

Fig. #6: The above colours are ready for hooking. It's that simple. How you use them is up to your imagination. A few suggestions would be in a red fox, cat, squirrel, paths, tiles, dried grasses, fall oak leaves. The list is endless. Use this method for red onion skins. •

© 2005 Linda Ferretti. All rights reserved.

Linda Ferretti's Web site, LinArt Designs features a variety of fibre art patterns, kits, supplies, books, and yarns, English and French hooking instructions, guidance, and instruction to help you get started in exciting world of fiber art.