It is interesting to think that the first synthetic dyes were only discovered in the mid-19th century, meaning that all colors used before then, for both clothing and painting, were made by things found in nature.
Doing this project it was interesting to learn how many different items, particularly common house hold things used for cooking can also used for dying and art making.
For this project of working with onionskins as a natural dye I visited my local grocery store here in Brooklyn. I spoke to the person who was in charge of the produce department and I asked if he could save the skins of the onions for me to make a project with natural dyes. He didn’t really understand what I was talking about but after the third time of approaching different people at the grocery store the manager said he would set aside the onionskins for me to pick up in a few days. He set aside skins of three different types of onions; the white onion, the yellow onion and the red onion.
Though I did not think the white onion would produce too much of a color, I decided to try it out anyway. I was nervous to get started on this project and I am not exactly sure why. Possible I felt intimidated by the process because I felt it was more scientific after reading the articles about the chemical compounds that are found in different plants, but once I started the process, I found it to be very accessible and fun!
With this processes I asked my friend Dylan whom I was visiting in Florida to be my assistant for this project. It was fun to figure out the process together. After watching the videos and doing the readings, I decided to just get to it. I ended up taking a more intuitive approach rather than scientific to the process so I did not weigh the onionskins, nor did I take measurement of the heat of the water that I used. I also simply didn’t have a light weight scale or thermometer. I used water from the skin in Tampa, Florida that I do not know the PH of. And for the amount of onion skins, I suppose they were the amount of about a full soup bowl give or take.
With each of the different colored onionskins, I separated them in to three bowls and bathed them in cool water. I noticed that the coloring began coming off right away as we massaged the skins in the water. Because I saw the color coming off right away, particularly with the red onions, I decided to just use the cool water with the onionskins to be heat on the stove. I heated them until the water boiled a little bit and then let them sit in the hot water for maybe 15 - 20 minutes. After that, I strained the skins from the water and I could see that the water had dramatically changed in color and held a very particular color dependent on the tone of the skins.
The white onion gave off a pale yellowish color, the yellow onions gave off an orange, and the red onions gave off a red-ish purple.
In this experiment we used two different types of mordants to raise the PH of the water, lemon juice and vinegar. Using a mordant allows the fibers of the material that is being dying to capture and retain the dye color so that the color will not be washed out upon use or cleaning. The dye becomes atomically linked with the fiber when using a mordant.
After watching the demo video again, I realized I kind of did this process out of order but it seemed to work anyway. After I heated and drained the skins from the water, I separated my colored liquid into to three different parts. I added vinegar to one, lemon juice to another and did not put any mordant in the third to act as my control to see how much of a difference the mordant would work. I measured about two teaspoons of each mordant to each of the mixtures, however the amount of the dyes were not the same in liquid volume.
After that Dylan and I placed small cotton yarn balls in each of the dying baths and let them sit over night.
We also placed a cotton wash cloth in the red onion bath with the lemon mordant. With the wash cloth we tied it with string to try to create a tie-dyed effect
Dylan chose to leave his cotton wash cloth in the red onion bath over night and I chose to take mine out after 30 mins or so.
After 30 minutes, the red onion dye had turned my wash cloth a light pinky magenta that faded into a light pink because of the way I tied it and its exposure to the dye bath. Dylan’s washcloth that he left in over night had a wide rage of deep red-ish purples to pink that created a nice pattern and variation of colors.
Over the nights night we saw that the color of the dyed yarn became more deep and rich as more time went on. A very interesting change was that the bath of red onion with the lemon juice nearly turned black by morning, where as the bath with the red onion and vinegar remained more red-ish with the same amount of time. Also to my surprise the white onion produced a very pale yellowish color on the yarn soaked in both mordents. It was a very pale difference that is only really noticeable when placed in contrasted to the non-dyed white yarn.
All of the yarn without mordents did not retain the color dye very well if at all after they were washed out. The lemon juice mordant seemed to produce the brightest or darkest color with the red onion dye however the vinegar seemed to react slightly better with the yellow onionskins, making the yarn retain slightly more of the orange color from the dye using the vinegar mordant.
Overall I felt that the process was pretty easy, forgiving, and fun. When I mixed up the step about putting the mordant in after the dye was heated, or if I first washed the onion skins in cool water before heating them, these mistakes did not take away from the effectiveness of the dying process.
I feel that this would be a great process to do with kids, particularly tie-dying. It makes the process more interesting and gets them to think more about where the dye comes from rather than a color in a bottle.
Another thing I would like to explore more in this dying process in the folding of fabric to get different patterns from dying.
I feel that this was a successful experience and I learned a lot. For the next step, I would like to try to make dyes out of blueberries and turmeric as well. I am also curious to explore more with using copper to create different color variations.
I still feel a little intimidated by this process just because every part needs to be thoughtful with using particular metal pots, water PH and organic materials but I am sure with more experience it will become more intuitive each time.
oI decided to do this paper making workshop at the Westminster Library located in Southern Vermont. My father volunteers at this library and since I was coming to visit him for the week I thought it would be a good opportunity for both myself and the library community to share this art work shop. When I mentioned the idea to my Dad he was excited and said that Lise, the head librarian, has been looking for more artistic and educational offerings for the library. I contacted Lise over email to arrange a date and time for the workshop. She put together a notification in their news letter and posted a sign about the upcoming workshop.
When I got to Vermont I realized I had to make the paper frames. I was a bit intimidated because I had only really used the preset paper making kit in the past to make paper. I stormed my father’s house that contains many trinkets and things no longer in use looking for materials. What I found were cookie sheets that I used for trays, an old blender that still worked that he never uses, an old rubber door mat that I was able to cut into two and make into spacers between the screens and the water, an old plastic storage bin for the bigger basin of water, an old car battery case for the smaller basin of water within the other, an old hair dryer, blankets, and towels to protect the table and for the drying station.
Honestly, I wanted to pick up a ready made paper making kit just incase I screwed something up with my own but no stores sold any so I was left to my own devices anyway. After watching the videos provided I felt more confident with making the screen frames. I found some wood in Dad’s house but it was pretty splintery and we did not have a saw or too many handy tools. Instead, I decided to use the stretcher bars of small canvas and purchased the strong wire in a hardware store. I had window screen left over from another art project and used that as well to build my paper making screens. To obtain the paper, I asked the office that I work at if I could take their threaded files which they were happy to give me. I also used old colored coupon flyers my Dad had from the week before. Because I am in the country side here in VT it was easy to find natural materials such as flowers, dried grass and fallen leaves for this project as well.
The night before the workshop I did my test run. It went well but I was still nervous about the teaching / facilitating since this is another part of myself I am currently developing. I was worried the process of paper making was going to be too easy and that the people attending the workshop might be bored. So, while doing my test the night before I also tested making the paper into a 3D structure by forming it around a cup to see if it would hold shape. I figured if people were bored of the flat, that they could take it to the next level by going into the 3D world. I did not plan out a lesson plan very much. I decided to keep it simple and walk them through the process that I knew.
I need to mention here that my Dad was a super big help through out this process. I went through a few screen prototypes before watching the videos that failed and my Dad supportive and encouraging with helping me to gather materials and figure things out. We actually watched the videos together. He seemed to enjoy this active adventure and task. He said it reminded him of running around before art shows with my mother when she was still alive, helping her to set up to her own creative endeavors.
Saturday: The Day of the Workshop.
I woke up early on Saturday before the workshop to make sure I had everything in order. My Dad and I set up an hour before at the library. The space the library provided me with had access to a sink, electricity, and a nice table to work on.
My Dad brought some of my mother’s paper artwork to the library as well to show as examples of fine art with this paper making process. Bringing my mother’s artwork enriched the experience because students would ask about the artwork and I could explain how the paper making process can be used in different ways. It was also really lovely to have my mother’s artwork around and my Dad helping me with this process because it felt that we were doing this together as a family in a certain beautiful way.
When the clock struck 10am people started arriving. Apparently there is a regular library crew of kids who frequent the library and most of them seemed to know one another. I began the workshop by going around with people stating their names and asked if they had experience with paper making before. One girl had which was great. I made a point to the head librarian that this workshop is for children and adults, so I was pleased when an adult showed up for the workshop as well. In total there were about 12 students who attended the workshop. Majority girls ages 8-10 with one younger girl being around the age of 4 or 5. The oldest person who attended the workshop was a woman probably in her late 60s. I am realizing that I enjoy having art workshops with blended age groups. I feel learning can take place across all ages and there is a more human community feel to its structure.
We got started right away and they loved it. I started doing the first demonstration for everyone and then helped each person along until they we able to do it on their own. People experimented with the natural materials of leaves and flowers I had collected, and the different recycled paper. The project took more water than I expected, particularly in the blender but we tried to reuse it as much as we could. We probably could have gotten away with using less water when thinking about sustainability but we did what we did to have it function smoothly and with ease.
The other part that was not organic was that one of kids wanted to put food coloring into the pulp to make different colors and I allowed it. It was really fun to have the kids come up with their own ideas and run with it. I think part of the point of art making is for kids to explore and come up with their own ideas, however I think I could have been more strongly worded when talking about sustainability. I think in the future it could be great to have some pre-made oragnic dyes for coloring the different pulp to achieve the same two tone paper effect.
What was really excellent was that after I went through the process with them, they picked up the techniques really well and were able to do it on their own. Some of the kids would teach the other children who came a little bit later to the workshop and many of them came up with their own ideas of designing their papers with the natural materials in a really creative way. Many of them loved the process so much and made up to 3 or 4 pieces of paper.
Over all after the 2 hour workshop I felt complete. The librarian was very happy and the students were happy. I feel that I did a good job facilitating the workshop and used certain class room management skills for some of the children who had more energy by designating tasks such as helping to dry the papers with the hair drier while other students had a change to work through the paper making process.
I plan on doing this workshop again with different demographic of people next Wednesday and perhaps I will prepare the natural dyes then. Color seems to be a highlight to work into this project.
Ps. Blog tech: Im having trouble putting the photos in where I want them... any suggestions?