You really never know what you’re going to get! There are so many wonderful surprises hidden away in natural dyeing. Sometimes gorgeous bright flowers yield no dye bath color at all, while the common and plentiful acorn gives us tremendous, rich hues.
While we were out picking acorn caps the other day, we decided to keep a small bag of actual acorns, wondering what they would give us in natural color.
Once they had been soaked for a day or two, I broke open the shells to allow the “meat” to offer up the dye color held inside. This was far easier and less time-consuming than peeling off the hard outer shells.
After another day of slow cooking, we got a rich brown dye bath from the acorns.
And while we finished off the acorn dye bath, we soaked some cotton strips in alum (slowly heating the cotton in alum crystals and water, then letting them soak for about 20 minutes – you can always do longer but this isn’t necessary for acorns, as you will see).
Then we added just a little bit of iron mordant into our alum water (from the rusty old iron nails jar we had sitting outside for the last few months).
Once we carefully moved the cotton strips over into the acorn dye bath, it immediately turned a rich shade of dark purple! The iron mordant worked beautifully, in combination with the alum mordant, and our cotton turned out beautifully. I later dyed a playsilk with the leftover acorn dye bath (now a gorgeous shade of metallic purple-gray thanks to the iron modant) and will be putting it up in the shop with a few others as part of a special, one of a kind set representing the 5 Chinese elements – metal, wood, fire, earth and water.