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Dye textiles the natural way with the Onion Society

Swatches | November 1, 2019 | By:

Dyeing fabric the natural way with onion skins is a zero-waste process and cuts down on food waste by providing an alternative use for skins of the much beloved onion. Photos: Parsons School of Design.

Onions are great on burgers, in spaghetti sauce and, of course, in French onion soup. But this vegetable possesses qualities beyond being tasty: A group of students at the Parsons School of Design harnessed the power of onions to dye textiles the natural way.

The students worked with New York fashion designer Maria Elena Pombo as part of a master’s education environment practicum in which they worked on real-world projects. Pombo, known for creating natural dyes with avocado seeds, opened her Brooklyn studio, Fragmentario, to the students. Because they came from top-ten-onion producing countries including the United States, India, China and Japan, Pombo directed the students to work with onion skins, giving them the opportunity to create unique textiles and explore the role of onions in their cultures. The project was sponsored in part by the National Onion Association.

Using onions to create dyes is not only eco-friendly, it’s also a traditional craft that dates back to 2600 B.C.  Skins from different onions create unique colors. Red onion skins can be used to dye fabric from pink to burgundy to brown. Yellow skins offer a range of colors from golden to orange. Onion skins can be combined with other natural products like baking soda and vinegar to alter the color. Either way, the by-product is natural enough to go back into the earth for zero waste.

The students, who dubbed their work Onion Society, dyed wools, yarns, cottons, linens and silks with the natural products. Their designs were on display during New York Textile Month in September. For more information, visit

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