Dyeing with Food Scraps

In today’s ecologically conscious world, we’re constantly looking for new ways to reduce our impact on the environment. Whether it is through recycling and proper waste management, finding renewable sources of energy, or eating locally grown produce, our collective awareness of our carbon footprint and how we manage it has grown exponentially over the past few decades. We are also becoming more aware of the holistic nature of a sustainable lifestyle, that all of these seemingly separate aspects are actually interconnected—food, shelter, clothing, art, environment.

courtesy of rebekka scale

Yarn dyed with avocado pits, picture c/o Rebecca Seale.

It is on this note that I’d like to introduce a new project Sewing Seeds has been working on this season—the “food scraps” project. It focuses on promoting knowledge of and resources for natural dyes from food waste, some examples of which are: avocado skins and pits, carrot tops, yellow and red onion skins, pomegranate rinds and mixed herbs. By allying ourselves with the sustainable/slow food movement, we hope to reach out and spread awareness of our own sustainable textile movement and the toxicity of synthetic dyes. We are very excited about presenting this project, and hope that this little preview has whetted your appetite for dyeing with food scraps. On that note, we’ll leave you with a little recipe for dyeing with onion skins.

swatches dyed with onion skins

Swatches dyed with onion skins, picture c/o Folk Fibers

Onion Skin Dye Bath

You’ll need:
- Something to dye with (yarn, fabric, roving etc.), pre-wetted in tepid water
- Onion skins, about 50% – 100% the weight of what you’re dyeing
- Alum (potassium aluminum sulfate), about 10% the weight of what you’re dyeing, for mordanting (optional)
- A large pot to use exclusively for dyeing (once you dye in it, make sure not to use it for food)
- Wooden utensils, also to use exclusively for dyeing
- Rubber gloves and an apron

** If you’re dyeing in your kitchen, make sure all foodstuff is out of the way and clean very, very well after you’re done.

Extracting the dye: You have two options. Either you can put the onion skins in a large vessel/jar, fill it with boiling water, cover it and leave it to extract overnight, or you can bring them to a boil in a pot and let them simmer for about an hour. Strain out the skins only once you’re ready to dye, and set the dye water aside.

Pre-mordanting your fabric/fibers (optional– improves fastness): Fill your pot with enough lukewarm water that your yarn/fabric/etc. can move around freely. Measure out your alum and dissolve it in some hot water, and then add it to your pot. Add your pre-wetted fabric/fibers to the pot, cover it (to avoid fumes) and bring it to a simmer. Let it simmer for an hour, then turn off the heat and let it cool. Rinse the fabric/fibers to remove any excess mordant, and clean out your pot.

Dyeing: Pour the extracted dye water into your clean pot and add the damp, mordanted fabric. If the dye bath doesn’t fully cover what you’re dying, add more water until it does. Bring the bath to a simmer for an hour and let it cool. You can leave the fabric/fibers in the bath overnight to achieve stronger results, or you can take them out of the bath immediately. Rinse the your fabric/fibers of any excess dye and hang to dry.

** You can save the mordant bath and dye bath for future use.

PLEASE NOTE: If you are working with wool, it is important note that if you drastically change its temperature, you will shock the fibers and they will felt. Always make sure to add the fibers to the mordant/dye bath before heating it, and rinse them with water at a similar temperature as the bath you are extracting it from. Also, do not agitate the fibers too much while you are mordanting/dyeing them, as this will also cause them to felt.

Stay tuned for more!

Feature image courtesy of liesl made.


  1. Thanks for sharing these instructions and this cool project! I look forward to seeing how to use more food scraps as dye. I’ve always felt sort of guilty about “wasting” food to use for dye, so this is a really great idea.

  2. joan reeves

    I am looking for instructions to dye yarn using avocado pits/skins.
    admired your photo result of avocado dyeing !!!
    Would appreciate help with instructions.

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