Natural Dyeing Using the Sun - The Magic Onions

Natural Dyeing Using the Sun

Today, Emma Riley shares  a tutorial on dying wool using natural dyes and the sun. It’s a super summer craft to enjoy with the kids… they’ll be amazed at the beautiful colors they can create using nature.

Emma designs beautiful ceramic art. I discovered her work a few months ago and am literally smitten. I love how she bring natural elements into her pieces. I’ll showpiece a few of my current favorites at the end of the tutorial.


Dyeing Wool with Natural Dyes and the Sun


Natural Dye using the Sun - Red Cabbage -


When the sun is stronger in the sky and the grey of winter is far behind us my thoughts always turn to colour. Dyeing textiles often has the reputation of being either difficult or hazardous but using the power of the sun and natural dyes you can get range of colours without getting complicated. This is an easy way to dye with children over a season…


You will need :

·     A wide necked glass jar
·     Equal amounts of fleece and dyestuff.
·     Gloves (unless you want dyed hands!)
(If you want to make the colour more lightfast / stronger you can mordant with 8% alum and 7% cream of tartar but read up on this* and only adults should do it. Don’t use items you cook with for dyeing and wear proper protection.)

Natural Dye using the Sun - Red Cabbage -

Cut up your dyestuff into small pieces  (wear gloves) and alternate between dyestuff and fleece in the jar. Fill up to the top. Add water, seal and put on a sunny windowsill or in greenhouse for the next few months. Watch as the colours change gradually and when the summer is over wash out gently (wear gloves) and be warned it will be smelly (possibly very smelly!) However you will have created beautiful colours using the power of the sun. The colours may not be strong in some cases but they will be natural.

Natural Dye using the Sun -  Red Cabbage -


Easy Natural Dyes

Onions skins – yellow onions will give reds and burnt oranges,
red onions will produce yellow and orange shades
Red Cabbage – blues and purples
Coffee grounds – soft browns
Elderberries / Blackberries – soft purples, lavender greys.

Natural Dye using the Sun - Onion Skins -

Note. In the photos Portland refers to a type of rare breed sheep we have in the UK.

Natural Dye using the Sun - Onion Skin and Red Cabbage -


Inspiring books / articles on natural dyeing

Wild Colour by Jenny Dean
The Handbook of Natural Plant Dyes by Sasha Duerr
All You Need is Time – Solar Dyeing with Natural Dyes by Helen Melvin, Online and Abergele Guilds


Thank you for this fun tutorial, Emma… we’ll be adding it to our Summer To-Do list for sure.

Here’s a link to see Emma’s beautiful ceramic art. And here’s a link to Emma’s on her blog.

As promised, here are a couple of my favorite pieces…

Emma Riley Ceramics

Emma Riley Ceramics

Blessings and magic,


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Donni Webber is the mom behind the popular natural living Waldorf website and blog, The Magic Onions - where the magic of nature and the wonder of childhood collide to make each moment a precious gift. She is a photographer, writer, crafter, wife and mother of two inspiring young children. Her work has been featured in many popular publications, including HGTV, Better Homes and Gardens, Disney and Apartment Therapy.

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  1. Great article! I love dyeing with brown onions because you don’t need to mess around with a mordant (the natural tannins do the job for you). Would love to see how your fleece turned out! :)

    • I also tend to move away from dyes that use mordant. When I dye silks for the kids, we don’t use any at all and the colors have stayed for years.
      xo Donni

  2. I like this. I want to try it with cotton muslin (prepared for dyeing by me. I have dyed with tunas (prickly pears) and that came out beautiful.

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