Acorns Are the New Brown

As promised: A tutorial!

Disclaimer: This is a sloppy tutorial. I only measure when I absolutely have to. In this case, I wasn’t expecting any particular results, so I neither took notes nor made actual measurements. It seems, however, that acorns are a wonderful and forgiving dyestuff. Enjoy!

Step One: Mordant your fabric/fiber. I chose raw silk for this experiment and simmered it in vinegar for an hour…next time I’ll try something else, but I didn’t have any alum or rusty nails on hand. The piece of fabric I used was about 12″ x 24″.

Step Two: Gather acorns! This, of course, is the fun part. Especially if you have a small friend and a pretty basket. We had plenty in our own backyard, and there are tons and tons of them around the neighborhood and at the local playground/park. I would say I used about thirty acorns, not enough to cover the bottom of the pan…basically a couple, maybe three handfuls.

Step Three: Add a goodly amount of water and soak the acorns overnight.

Step Four: Bring the pot to a boil and leave it there for about an hour. Let it cool before adding fiber or fabric.

Step Five: Add your fiber or fabric to be dyed and bring the pot to a simmer for about an hour. I did not strain out the acorns for this, but I suppose you could if you want to. Turn off the heat and let the fabric/fiber sit in the pot overnight. I waited almost two days to take it out, rinse it and lay flat to dry.

Step Six: Toss soggy acorns into the chicken coop.

Right now I have a small piece of the fabric out on the picnic table in the backyard with a brick covering half of it. I’m going to check it every few days to see how colorfast it is.

I plan to dye about 8 oz of fiber with acorns later this week and will probably triple or quadruple the amount of acorns in the pot.

That’s all I’ve got today.



3 thoughts on “Acorns Are the New Brown

  1. just rushed in from the yarn museum and didn’t have a further look around yet. your acorn colours are very beautiful, very japanese. I like that.

    the acorn hulls contain oxalic acid, which basically makes the dye. since it already is an acid, you don’t have to mordant the silk beforehand. the acorn interior (whatever it is called) is high on protein, which makes it interesting for dyeing cellulose fibres also. you could mash the acorns after soaking (or before, depending on the amount of energy you want to invest) and dye cotton or better hemp with it. or even use the whole acorn as mordant for cellulose fibre. the oxalic acid and the protein should be enough to prepare the cellulose fibre for other plant dyes.

    as i said, i didn’t have a further look around yet, so i don’t know if you know india flint’s book ‘eco colours’ she experiments with many other plants.

    have fun

  2. Wonderful…thank you for the information! So, no vinegar/mordant required…that makes it even easier. I still have a ton of acorns and will be experimenting with wool this week. I noticed that the sample piece I have outside is growing darker with exposure to sunlight. Do you know why that would happen? I was worried about fading, but it seems the opposite is happening!

  3. i’m looking forward to your experiment with wool. since the oxalic acid in the acorn hulls is the same as in the green hulls around walnuts, i guess, you can just let the wool sit in the acorn dye pot for some time, though you won’t get an even dye with it. more mottled (what i like best, but that’s a matter of taste, i guess). when i dye with walnut hulls, i have the same maturation process. the colour changes over time.

    i don’t know the chemical reason for that, sorry. but it happens with indigo, too. some years ago, i’ve dyed nettle fabric with indigo (a slow fermentation vat, 15 dips at least over a year) and it got darker and darker over the years it just lay in the cupboard. it now seems to have stopped aging and getting darker, and i love the result very much. in japan dyers will sometimes let the dyed fabric sit for a year or longer in a dark cupboard to mature the colour.

    one word about raw silk: it is possible that there is still sericin, the glue from the silk moth, in the fabric, so it might not take dye as well without boiling it first. but as india flint says, you can use that to your advantage and experiment with it.

    just have fun, that’s what dyeing with plant dyes is for ;o)

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