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Natural Dying and Filipino Tourism

Page history last edited by ecop 11 years, 2 months ago


Natural Dyeing and Filipino Tourism

By: Grace Cho





Description and Rationale


For a long time, natural dyeing had been an effective way of coloring clothing and fabrics, until it had given way to the synthetic

dye of the modern industry. However, people are again recognizing the beauty and benefits of natural dyeing. It is environmental-friendly, it reduces skin irritation, and the color has an original beauty. There are many materials used for natural dyeing, most of them plants. Among those, onion skin dyeing is said to be the most accessible. Dry onion skin yields bright yellow color, and the dyeing process does not require a separate catalyst unlike many other dyes. The final product varies in color and texture, depending on how long you soak the fabric into the dye and the ratio of water and onion skin. The color will range from light lemon to deep mustard as you choose. You can also make variety of patterns, simply using rubber bands. You can tie knots on the middle of the fabric, and it will create distinct circular patterns. Onion-dyed clothing is not only good to look at, but also beneficial for human body; it reduces skin irritation that can be easily caused by wearing chemically dyed clothes, helps cure atopy (a skin disease that causes itchiness and skin trouble), and has soothing effect for allergic rhinitis(runny nose).

 How can onion dyeing contribute to the Philippines? My idea is that this can be useful in the tourist business. A large percentage of Philippines national income comes from tourism. Foreigners come and visit the exotic places and admire the beautiful scenery found in Boracay, Bohol, et cetera. The tourist industry brings a lot of money into the Philippines, but that is not all; what the tourists feel and experience in the Philippines builds the country’s reputation. By producing naturally-dyed t-shirts and selling those as souvenirs in exotic places, having fully informed the tourist of the many benefits of natural dyes, would make a good business. On top of that, since the whole process is eco-friendly, it would bring up Philippines’ reputation that has been marred by the smog and pollution. Producing naturally-dyed traditional costume, barong tagalog, can also contribute to the benefits, giving visitors a positive impression of the Philippines by showing how closely the Filipinos interact with nature.

 The initial purpose of this project will be to research the biological structure of onion and the chemical process of natural dyeing, as well as trying the natural dyeing myself at home. Then, I will appoint testers for a day to try on t-shirts I dyed and ask them how the shirts were—and other questions like whether it was comfortable or not, what they thought about the color, etc. Their remarks will prove whether onion dyeing is efficient or not, and based on it, I will decide its value as a product in the actual market.

 It is hoped that through this project, a beneficial item in the tourist business will be discovered and the Filipinos will be more aware of the benefits and beauty of natural dyeing.


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Common Names and Synonyms

Onion, one of the most widely cultivated crops in the world, is also called Allium cepa. Allium cepa is also known as garden onion or bulb onion because of its shape; technically, Allium cepa is not the only kind of onion—onion is any of a type of plants that belong to the genus. For example, tree onion is known as Allium ×proliferum, and leek as A. ampeloprasum. However, most of the onions fall under the species of Allium cepa.




Kingdom:          Plantae

Phylum:            Angiosperms (Gk “angeion” meaning vessel + “sperma” meaning seed; referring flowering plants)

Class:                          Monocots (Gk “mono” meaning one, single + “kotyle” meaning cup, bowl; plants with single seed leaf)

Order:                         Asparagales (Order in which most plants have phytomelan, or a black pigment that creates dark crust on the seed coat)

Genus:             Allium (“garlic” > Ltn)*

Species:            A. cepa (“onion” > Ltn)

 There are variety of types of onions all over the world, mostly named after their color and shape. There are white onions, as well as red, brown and yellow ones, et cetera, most of them easily found in the Philippines. The ones that have been used in this experiment are yellow onions.

 * Onion is a close relative of garlic.



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Morphology and Physical Description



Onion has round shape and tapering ends. It has many layers, varying in number depending on its size. Each of the layers protects the one beneath it. Beneath all the layers, at the center of the bulb, a pre-formed bud of next year’s flower can be found. Above the ground, single shoot grow vertically, and the bulb, which is used for energy storage, forms underground—this is the part of the onion that is usually edible. Bulb is actually a structure of modified leaves and consists of fleshy scales. Formed from stem and leaves, its function is to store and provide plants for the next growing season. It is classified as a geophyte, or an underground storage organ. There are other kinds of geophytes that are often confused with bulb, one of which is tuber. Tuber is another kind of underground storage organ found in plants such as cassava, yam and potato. Unlike bulbs, they do not consist of scales, but they are a cluster of identical cells around starch, a large energy store.


 Among the many kinds of onion, yellow onion, which has been used as natural dyeing ingredient, has a yellow-brown color and are grown in different parts of the world. It has a rich onion flavor, and it contains more sulfur than white onions, which gives it stronger and more complex flavor.

Internally, onions have relatively large cells compared to other plants, which is the main reason why they are used in science education. One notable fact about the internal structure of onion is that certain compounds in its cells cause eye irritation that most people may have experienced when cutting onions. When onions are cut, its cells are broken down and enzymes called alliinases start breaking down amino acid suphoxide and generate sulphenic acids. One particular acid of those, 1-propenesulfenic acid, are rapidly arranged by another enzyme called the lachrymatory factor synthase(LFS), releasing a volatile gas also known as onion lachrymatory factor (LF). This gas travels through the air and reaches the human tear glands, making human eyes irritated.




Getting Food

 Like most plants, Allium cepa produces energy by photosynthesis. It is easy to be cultivated hot, dry climates that have cold seasons, because cold weather promotes its dormancy, causing the bulb to grow bigger. It is known that onions are grown in cultivation, and that no species are found in the wild, although wild plants similar to it have been found in the past. There are methods of cultivation, which sets up a favorable environment for Allium cepa to grow well.

“To grow them, separate bulbs, and plant in the fall 1-inch below surface and 12-inches apart. Bulbs will multiply into clumps and can be harvested throughout the cooler months. Tops will die back in the heat of summer and may return with monsoon rains; bulbs can remain in the ground or be harvested and stored in a cool dry place for planting in the fall. The plants rarely flower; propagation is by division.”                 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Onion#Cultivated_onions)

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Since Allium cepa is a flowering plant, or an angiosperm, it reproduces by sexual reproduction with the help of pollinators such as bees. It can either self-pollinate or cross-pollinate. Its white flower blooms in September and has a round shape. It has 2 to 3 sepals and 6 petals, like many other monocot plants. There are six anthers, and one pistil. Interestingly, if the onion goes through a normal reproduction process and bear seeds, its life as a crop is considered to be over. Onion is a biennial plant, meaning it takes two years for it to mature and bear seed. Once the seed stalk and flower forms from the center of the onion bulb, the plant focuses its energy on producing seed; therefore, the bulb does not grow any bigger, even if the flower stalk is cut out. So, in cultivation, onions rarely flower but store up its energy in the bulb. The common method of propagating onion is from sowing the seed thickly, getting small-bulbed onions, and setting them out again the next year.



Environmental Factors

Allium cepa can be a disease carrier. Growing onion from sets, not crops, increases the risk of getting an infected onion. If the onion from the previous year is used as a set next year, there is a possibility that it may be a carrier of parasitic nematodes and other diseases. If an onion set with a disease is planted, the soil into which it is planted may also be contaminated.

There are various diseases to which Allium cep can be infected. Some of them are:                                                                    

a) damping-off: seedlings can die because of breakdown of plant tissues by fungi such as Pythium, Rhizoctonia or Fusarium in a cold, wet soil.  

b) onion smut: symptoms are black streaks and blisters in the leaves and small bulbs later in the growing season. Some are killed from this disease. It is caused by the soil-borne fungus Urocystis cepulae

c) bacterial diseases: symptoms such as slippery skin, sour skin and soft rot can be caused by certain bacterias such as Pseudomonas and Erwinia. These diseases cause onion leaves to break down as well as symptoms stated above.  

Allium cepa has very few leaves, which does not trap much light. So, if there is a competitor—mostly weeds—growing beside an Allium cepa, it is possible for the competitor to outgrow and shade it, hindering it from getting any light.

Onions are known to be toxic to most of the animals. During the digestion of dogs, cats and other animals the compounds in onions can cause poisoning. Even onion powder can be toxic to dogs.



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Origin and Distribution

 It is assumed that Allium cepa originated from West Asia or from the Mediterranean; however, it cannot be certain since wild species is not yet discovered. The history of cultivation is very old, dating back to 3000 B.C. in Egypt. On a wall painting of one of the pyramids, it is recorded that garlic and onion were given to the pyramid construction workers. There is also a record that Greece started cultivating onions from 7 to 8 B.C.

Allium cepa is widely distributed in all of the continents. However, most favorable condition is found in the temperate zone, since humidity and very high temperature does not play a big part in growing onions. Instead, as mentioned before, an environment of fertile soil and cool season that provokes the dormancy of onion is needed for the bulb to get bigger. It is not known when onions got to the Philippines, but they are now widely cultivated on the Philippine Island, especially in cool, windy regions such as Davao in Mindanao and Nueva Ecija up north in Luzon.


Importance to People

For a long time, onion has been cultivated all over the world and remains one important crop in the food industry. Allium cepa is used as a basic ingredient for many kinds of food in both East and West. Yellow onion, in particular, is used most frequently for cooking because it is considered apt for anything—not too sweet, not too tangy. Powdered onion is a spice that adds flavor to dishes. There is variety of methods to cook onion—pickling, frying, grinding etc.

Recent researches have shown the health effects of onion bulb. The chemicals in the bulb that gives it a pungent smell is known to accelerate the production of stomach acid. Also, onion bulb contains many kinds of vitamins, calcium, dietary fiber, protein as well as phosphoric acid, which helps get rid of harmful substances in the blood. The shoot, too, is beneficial to human body; 100g of the shoot contains 5,000IU of vitamin A, 45mg of vitamin C, 24mg of magnesium—a vital element of human diet; magnesium deficiency cause illnesses like asthma and diabetes—and 220mg of potassium, which prevents hypertension and heart disease.

The outer skin strengthens the blood vessels, preventing hypertension and other vascular diseases. Dry onion skin is known to have tranquilizing effect and to ease insomnia (sleeplessness). It contains quercetin, which is effective for scurvy (a disease caused by the deficiency of vitamin C; the symptoms are anemia, weakness and gum bleeding) and hemorrhage. Although not many researches are done concerning the effect of onion-dyed clothes, it is possible that some of these benefits can be gained when wearing onion-dyed clothing. Some of the beneficial chemicals in onion skin may dissolve into the water during the dyeing process, since onion is water-soluble.


Survivability and Endangered Status

Onions can grow in most climates, ranging from dry to temperate and are frost resistant. They can grow in a variety of soil, from sandy loams to heavy clay, as long as the soil is firm, although a slightly acidic soil is preferable. Because of its wide range of tolerance, it has a high chance to survive in most parts of the world. However, due to its sparse leaves, it does not trap much light. Thus, it needs some space to grow well—the main reason why onions are sown or planted certain inches apart; if there is a competitor growing too near, onion may not survive because of nutrient and water loss. However, since onions are found only in cultivation, the chance for them to become extinct is very thin.



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Potential Solutions


Is onion skin dyeing effective enough to be commercialized? There had been some effort to apply natural dyeing to Filipino market. However, the technology is still at a developmental stage and it has not reached the level in which mass production of natural dyed fabrics is possible. Onion has been proven healthy, containing many nutrients that are necessary for human body to function. Onion skin, as well, has many benefits such as tranquilizing effect and is a potential cure for some major diseases. However, further research must be done in order to find out if the benefits can be also gained from wearing onion-dyed clothes. If it is proven so, it will be a potential business item in Filipino tourism. Below are 3 possibilities with an analysis of the advantages and disadvantages for each



There was an article which said the Philippine Textile Research Institute has been working to develop technologies for extracting and applying natural dyes. It seems like PTRI is greatly interested in natural dyes. The article also said that it has been not long since PTRI found out that onion can be used for natural dyeing. Therefore, PTRI

members may be interested in onion dye. I can learn more about the mechanics of mass production of natural dyed fabrics and suggest my idea of applying it to Filip

ino tourism.



1. PTRI is a government institute, which means that it is far more influential than a single foreign student. They have access to more information, and they have been working with other agencies to find plants that can be used for natural dyes and making them into powders. That means I can influence more people since PTRI can reach further than a single person can. If they find the idea of applying it to tourism, it will have a great impact on the Philippines.  

2. PTRI is working on mass production of natural dyes, which is necessary if marketing was to happen. Contacting the Institute may open door to other fabric manufacturers or tourism corporation.



1. The article that I had found was posted in 2004. This is outdated information, and it uncertain that PTRI is still continuing its research on natural dyes, or have moved on to some other project.

2. The article said that the technology for mass production is yet unavailable. The Institute itself is relying on other agencies to develop the technology for extracting natural dyes. The technology for mass production may still not be developed to a degree that is actually applicable to business.

3. I have sent the Institute an email, but have not received any answer yet. In case they do not answer me in time, I cannot rely just on them. Also, if they are not willing to share the information, or consider my suggestion because I am not a Filipino or because I am just a high school student, I have to have another plan.



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I can make more samples of onion dyed t-shirt, handkerchiefs, etc. Then, I can go to tourist spots near Faith Academy—e.g. Antipolo tourist attractions—and test-market it, presenting them the samples and trying to sell them. I will make an answering sheet or briefly interview the tourists and ask them how they think about naturally dyed materials and how much they know about them.



1. Since this project is on onion dyeing as potential marketing item in the tourism business, most direct way to test the value of onion dyed fabrics is to test-market it at tourist spots.



1. There are not many tourist attractions around here that has an organized gift shops. If I really wanted to find out whether this is attractive to foreign tourists, I should go to places with greater tourist concentration such as Boracay, Bohol or Batangas, which are all very far away and therefore not possible right now.

2. It takes too much time and material to make sample products enough for sale, since I cannot just go with a couple of t-shirts and test-market them. However, since I am time-driven and out of onion skin for now, this is less likely to happen.


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Big malls are another spot where there are many people around, from which I can get many people’s opinion. I can create flyers advertising the benefits of naturally dyed clothes and hand it out to people passing by. If they show further interest, I can show them the actual t-shirt and handkerchief that has been dyed.



1. Most of them may not know much about natural dyeing, and how it affected the Filipino culture. To teach them the benefits about natural dyeing is first step towards actual marketing, since if people are ignorant of a product they seldom by it. If they learn more about natural dyeing, they might be more interested. To widely make it known is the best thing I can do since I am not prepared for actual marketing.

2. It might inspire other people to be interested in the future of natural dyeing in the Philippines. To encourage people to buy naturally dyed materials is good, but to encourage them to continue study and support natural dyeing is better in the long run.

3. In John 6:12, Jesus had said, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” Jesus himself set an example by practicing recycling himself. Thus, humans should follow his example and take good care of the earth. Although onion skin seems useless, we can reuse it. Since God values all creation, as it is said, "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of God," (Matthew 10:29), no matter how little it is, we should value them to, be it tiny onion. And as God instructed us to share what is good—mainly referring to the Gospel, but can be applied to general ideas—I can share what is beneficial so that others might know about it and gain from it.



1. The people that I hand out flyers to might not be interested in natural dyeing at all and simply throw them away without reading about it. There is a possibility many of them, even after reading, might not be impressed at all.


Action Step


First, I tried dyeing using onion skin. I dyed a white t-shirt and a white handkerchief to yellow, which turned out to be fairly successful. The steps are as following:

  1. Separate onion skin from onions. Wash it carefully.

  2. Put water into the pot in which you have put onion skin--it should be 7:8 ratio, water being 8.
  3. Put the pot over fire. When it starts boiling, turn the fire to low and continue for 20 more minutes. Stir occasionally.
  4. Filter the dyestuff after boiling, separating the dye liquid from the onion skin.
  5. Repeat step 2-4 with the same onion skin, and mix the two liquids together.
  6. Soak the material you want to dye into the dyestuff for 20 minutes at a temperature about 50-60˚C (122-140˚F).
  7. Dry the material in a cool, shadowy place.


When I dyed the t-shirt and the handkerchief, I tried a mini-experiment. I left the handkerchief in the dyestuff 10 minutes longer than I did with the t-shirt, to see if doing so would make the handkerchief a darker shade of yellow. The result was not very impressing; it turned out that the time did not affect the color of the handkerchief at all. If I want to create a lighter or darker shade of yellow, I should regulate the water-onion ratio; to make the material lighter I should add more water to the dyestuff, and if want it darker, I should reduce the amount of water.

Then I asked a question: How can I reach people with this skill? To find a possible answer to this question, I sent a letter to PTRI to learn more about natural dyeing.





Dear Sir/Ma'am,

I am a Korean student currently going to Faith Academy. I have a biology project, and it is intended to reach out to Filipinos and to work for the betterment of the Philippines ecosystem. Thus, I decided to do a research about natural dyes and found certain facts about onion skin dyeing. My desire is to apply natural dyeing to Filipino tourism, as a new marketing item for foreign tourists. However, there are not many available resources about natural dyeing in the Philippines to which I have access, such as dyeing history and names of major dyes. Hence, Sir/Ma’am, I would like to inquire about the following:
 a) the development of natural dyeing in the Philippines-how far it has developed
 b) the industrial value of natural dyeing, and how far it has been worked out.
 c) If you are kind enough to give me addresses of certain places near Metromanila that I can visit and learn more about natural dyeing I would be most grateful.
 Thank you for reading this message. I hope to hear from you soon.

Yours Faithfully,
Grace Cho

Dear Ms. Cho:

Thank you for your email of May 4, 2011 regarding your interest on natural dyes.

We are pleased to inform you that we have publications on natural dyes that you could refer to for your research work.  Our two-volume books called Gampol document the PTRI developed natural dyeing technologies while the coffee table book titled Bahaghari  showcases the various textile materials dyed with natural dyes and their conversion to apparels.

 These books are available for purchase in our office or you could read them and other reference materials   in our library which is open to the public from 8:00 am to 4:30 pm on weekdays.

 For details and other related concerns, please contact our Engr. Gloria Javier, in charge of PTRI’s library at telephone numbers 837-2071 loc 2363.

Very truly yours,


Director IV, CESO II


Since I got a reply on Saturday night, May 14th, there was not much I could do about this. I did not have time or transportation to visit PTRI, which is in Taguig city, Metro Manila. Therefore, I concluded Possible Solution # 1 was rather unrealistic. So, I decided to choose Possible Solution #3. I made flyers briefly explaining the history of natural dyeing in the Philippines, its benefits—how natural dyeing is eco-friendly, healthy and beautiful all together—as well as the steps of DYI onion skin dyeing stated above.


 On Friday, May 13th, I went out to Sta. Lucia to hand out flyers to Filipino people at the different places in the mall—KFC, Starbucks, a cell phone store, etc. I gave them flyers and got their signatures (to prove that I am not blowing smoke!). I told them it was about natural dyeing and suggested that they read about it. Most of them seemed interested (although one man mistook the flyer as a religious handout at first) and they willingly signed their name for me.


If I were to repeat this project, I would make more flyers and try to reach out to more people. Although I believe handing out flyers was fairly efficient to inform people, the number of copies that I made was not enough to inform a whole lot of people. Also, I would try to reach out to people actually involved in tourism and marketing—I did not have enough time or money to go to a tourist spot and do this, but this would be most efficient since it is an actual way for natural dyeing to be applied in tourism.


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"Onion." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 11 Apr. 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Onion>.


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"Yellow Onion." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. 10 Oct. 2010. Web. 16 Apr. 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yellow_onion>.



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