How To Dye Wool with Acorns

How To Dye Wool with Acorns

Emily Smith
Feb 11, 2011

On my way to the hardware store the other day, I got a bit distracted by this pile of acorns that had fallen. I decided to skip out on the hardware store and grabbed about 50 acorns and headed home in anticipation of starting a dye pot! The results were so rewarding!

In order to start natural dyeing, there are a few key concepts to be aware of. The first thing to be aware of is safety. Even if you're dyeing with natural, non-toxic materials, it's always best to dye in a pot that is only used for dyeing. Do NOT cook food in a pot that has contained dye of any sort.

A second key concept is mordanting. The main purpose of a mordant is to ensure that the dye fixes to the garment. Depending on the type of material you are working with, you can use different types of mordants. To avoid using any harmful chemicals, I opted for vinegar, but mordants range from tannic acid, alum, chrome, sodium chloride, chromium, copper, iron, the list goes on. Another option that will change the colour a bit, is to make rust by putting some steel wool in vinegar and letting it sit over night. Scroll to the bottom of this page for a list of mordants.

What You Need

50 Acorns
2-3 cups of water
Undyed wool (if using another material, see below)
A bowl or bucket (not used for eating)
A Dye pot


1. Gather about 50 acorns
2. Bring them home and give them a good rinse. You can soak them if you have the time as well. This makes them softer when grinding.
3. & 4. Grind acorns with mortar & pestle. Alternatively, you can use a coffee grinder just as well.
5. Boil about 2-3 cups of water or more (depending on how much dye you would like to make). Add chopped acorns to the mix!
6. Your dye bath will take atleast 2 hours. The longer the better. If you need to add water, do so. While the dye bath is simmering, prepare your mordant. When dyeing with wool you can either pre-mordant or put the mordant in with the dye bath. I chose to pre-mordant and let the vinegar solution with with the dye while the dye bath was simmering.
7. Once the dye bath is starting to have a nice rich colour, add your wool.
8. If you are dyeing wool, try not to stir too much, as it will felt. Don't let the dye pot boil too vigorously. Just a simmer will do fine.
9. If you need to prod your wool at all, be sure to use a separate wooden spoon, it will dye everything! (watch your clothes!)
10. After about an hour or so of being in the dye pot, rinse off your wool. I usually dump my mixture outside, and rinse my wool with a garden hose. Once the water running off of your wool is no longer coloured, it's all done! Hang to dry.

If you choose to dye something other than wool, here are some general guidelines:

Cotton: Best to pre-mordant. Cotton doesn't absorb dye the same way that wool does. It's important to first treat cotton with oil or tannic acid.

Wool: Unlike cotton, wool is highly receptive toward mordants. Due to its amphoteric nature wool can absorb acids and bases equally effectively.

Like wool, silk is can absorb both acids as well as bases.

Google will help with the rest!

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(Images: Emily Smith)

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