Curated by Fragmentario (María Elena Pombo).
4 different views on creating original textile work using onion skins collected from local supermarkets.
Inspired by the universality of onions throughout human-kind's history.
María Elena Pombo
In the summer of 2014 I had my first experience dyeing fabric with plants. By using onion skins collected from a local Wegman's supermarket. Since this first test, I was completely mesmerized by the variety of colors you could achieve from food waste that is so readily available.
Most people associate my work with pink hues obtained with avocado seeds. While there is a very intimate and personal relationship I have been exploring with this fruit, there is a very different, yet still special relationship I have been able to develop with onions.
While my affinity with dyeing fabric with avocados comes from my personal connection with them as a person who grew up in the tropics in an area in which avocados are ubiquitous, the relationship with the onions came through my work with natural dyes. Specifically the community based aspect of the work I have developed with this plant.
It was onion skins that I used for the first natural dyes workshop I ever taught. In the summer of 2016 I found myself at La Guarimba Film Festival in the south of Italy, teaching local people from all walks of life and international filmmakers how to extract color from onion skins. I was intrigued by the locals, repeating one after the other, that they had come because they were fans of the cippolla rossa, the onion that grows in this area. This moment was instrumental in my understanding of the power of natural dyes, not as a source of color, but as a source of connection with our surroundings and our history.
Many plants can be used for color, but the beauty of using onion skins is that they are virtually free: you can collect them by cleaning the onion box in your local supermarket. They also grow in many places around the world, thus carrying many years of human-kind's history.
For the past months, a group of MFA Textile students at Parsons have been apprenticing at Fragmentario, learning about natural dyes, but more importantly learning how we can use this practice to explore modern life. By accident, we discovered that they each came from a country that was in the top-10 onion-producing countries of the world. This started many questions amongst each other: what role do onions play in each of their culture? in their past? their present? their future? how could they explore this through textiles?
At the moment (April) this continues to be a work in progress. We are in the process of looking for partners to present this work in New York in September during New York Textile Month, where we will have an exhibition of their work, alongside textile workshops carried by the students and a tasting menu of innovative recipes using onions.
Yinyun-氤氲 (Layers of the onion)
Yinyun(氤氲) in Chinese is used to describe feeling of being enshrouding, like how onion skins cover each other layer by layer. Derive from it, Luo developed a set of onion-skin-dyed layered garments, creating pleats, and making ornaments on them by applying onions cells-like (inspired on her high school science class) laser-cutting pieces. Pieces of clothing with all green, pinky and yellow colors are solely from onion skins dye, using different mordant. Some of the works are learnt from the shape of Chinese traditional layered costume, and imitating the beautiful process of how people slowly put them on, aiming to finally present and dress them in Luo's own ritual and Yinyun way.
Cotton fabric dyed with red onion skins. Red color obtained using also vinegar. Green color obtained using also iron. Designed, dyed, pleated, embroidered and sewn by Luo.
ONION - GENDER - CLOTH
Onions have a strong reaction to our sense of sight and touch. I wanted the cloth to bring the same interaction through simple ways of color and fabric manipulation. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and in this instance, the cache is olive color derived from onion skins. Alongside waste material, by using cloth, I approach the equation I have with water and waste through ice dying and reusing of old dye baths.
Since the most active association with onion is home and culture, I've dyed 5 yards of cotton fabric that was pleated and draped unconventionally from its traditional Indian style. The Dhoti (for men) or Sari (for women) is a single piece of cloth that is styled and worn through methods of pleating.The intention of using a man’s garment is to bring a dialogue in association with gender and cloth. Ultimately, the fabric is the same dimension of a sari, so why hold gender norms with something as simple as textile?
Cotton dyed with red onion skins and iron. Designer, dyed, pleated and sewn by Easwaran.
Onion room - Zanzou
Onion room - Zanzou is a project in which I seek an afterimage of onions. In Japanese, “Zanzou (残像)” means a visual sensation that persists after the stimulus. I am incorporating “ itajime”, a Japanese pressure resist dyeing technique, to create Furoshiki (a traditional Japanese wrapping cloth). The fabric is tightly sandwiched between wood pieces before dyeing, and the compressed part remains undyed. This undyed portion on the fabric is “Zanzou” of the onions. Works will culminate in an installation “Onion room” memorializing onion skins used for the project.
From left to right: Wool fiber dyed with yellow onion skins, woven into a tapestry by Saito. Silk fabric dyed with yellow onion skins in a traditional folding way to create the circle panel. Silk fabric dyed with red onion skins in a traditional folding way to create the circle panel.
Onions + Color + Cloth
I see cloth making as a type of conversation between materials, between fibers and in this case, between fibers and an unexpected dye stuff. Onions skins happen to yield a vast array of color: ranging from deep greens, bright yellows to earthy pinks. With my woven panels, I wanted to explore new kinds of conversations between color and cloth by using only onion skin-dyed warp and weft yarns. Onions have one of the richest histories in oral and written language, often appearing in folklore, myths and legends from every corner of the world. Can salvaging every part of them enrichen our dialogue with these ancient vegetables? I think so, and I hope to challenge the viewer by asking them to participate in touching the cloth, thinking differently about its usage, and by interacting with an onion in a more playfully interactive way that deepens our relationship past one of just consumption.
Wool fiber dyed using yellow onion skins. Designed, dyed and woven by Murdoch.