Learn how to make a Natural Dye made from Acorns for Cotton Fabric
In the past year or so, I shared my natural dyeing experiments with black walnuts, dandelions and black beans. Continuing this series, I wanted to show you how to dye cotton fabric towels using Acorns.
Last Fall, my hubby and I spent our anniversary weekend camping and hiking at a beautiful state park in Indiana. While tackling a 7 mile hike one day, I found myself in the middle of a bunch of huge oak trees.
They must have just dropped their acorns because the ground was literally covered. So, of course, my first thought is … why not try dyeing with them?
My favorite material to dye (other than yarn) is cotton flour sack towels. These are seriously the absolute best kitchen towels I’ve ever used. They are super absorbant and they take the natural dye beautifully.
Since I don’t want to just dye brown kitchen towels (boring), I decided to dye these towels with two different shibori fabric dyeing techniques: Itajime and Suji or Triangle and Accordion Folding.
I also decided to use an iron modifier to see if there would be a shift in the final dye color. This part is totally optional. If you don’t have any iron liquid made, just skip that part.
If you’re interested, you can find out how to make an iron modifier and a copper modifier in my Eco Printing on Paper post.
Once you know how to make dye from acorns, you can apply the same techniques to other plant sources such as black walnuts or dandelion roots.
Dyeing Supplies Needed:
** Safety Note! Do not use your regular pots and pans for dyeing projects. They may no longer be safe for food preparation. If you do a lot of yarn or fabric dyeing, head to your local thrift shop and pick up some cheap pots and pans. The only exception to this is food dyes such as kool-aid or food coloring. In that case, your normal pans can be safely used.
What is a Mordant?
Basically, a mordant is a substance you use to make a natural dye bond to the fabric. It ‘sets’ the color. Most natural dyes require a mordant to set dye but there are a few exceptions such as black walnuts which are colorfast by themselves.
Mordant the Cotton Fabric
For this acorn dye, I used an alum mordant.
*** Safety Note! Always wear a dust mask when handling mordants or dye powders. Furthermore, it’s a good idea for you to also mix your dye powders outside, not in a food prep area like your kitchen.
For 2 cotton towels, I used about 2 tablespoons of alum powder. Dissolve the alum in a cup of hot water. Put 3 or 4 inches of warm water in a cook pot and add the pre-dissolved alum. Place the towels in the water and stir well.
Next, bring the water to a light boil, then simmer for about 45 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow the fabric to cool to room temp. At this point, you can either let the towels dry for later use or immediately move to the dyeing phase.
How to Make Dye using Acorns
Now it’s time to make the natural dye stock. Take the acorns and lightly smash them with a hammer. You don’t want to pulverize the acorns, just open them up a bit to release more of their natural dye.
Place the acorns in your dye pot and fill it with water. Bring this to a boil and then simmer for at least an hour or two. The longer the stock simmers, the deeper your natural dye will be.
Once the acorns have finished simmering, strain out the acorns so all you’re left with is the natural dye liquid.
While your dye is simmering, you can go ahead and fold your towels.
Folding the Cotton Towels
You can use whichever tie dye or shibori folding technique you’d like. For instance, some popular tie dye folding techniques include the traditional spiral fold.
One of my towels was dyed using an accordion fold (suji shibori) and the other with a triangle fold method (itajime shibori).
Accordion Folding the Towel
Begin by placing one of your mordanted cotton towels flat on the table and folding it in half. At one of the short ends, fold over about 2 inches of towel. Then, holding onto the first fold, fold under another two inches so that the pleats are on top of each other.
Continue folding or pleating your towel back and forth like an accordion until the entire towel is folded. Finally, secure the towel with the string.
Triangle Folding the Towel
Take the second towel and fold it corner to corner into a triangle.
Repeat folding the corners together until the towel is in a small triangle package. Secure it with your string.
Natural Dye the Cotton Fabric
Place your shibori folded towels into the dye bath. I also put a skein of white, wool yarn in there just for fun. Then, bring it to a light boil and then simmer for about 45 minutes.
Using your tongs, carefully remove the towels from the dye stock and let the excess dye drain. My towels were now a pretty, warm medium brown color.
At this point, I dipped the corners of each towel into my iron mordant or modifier. This instantly deepened and darkened the original acorn brown to a more black walnut color.
Let your towels sit over night. You can cover them with a plastic grocery bag to keep them from drying out.
Unfold the Dyed Cotton Towels
Finally, you get to open your dyed towels! Opening and unfolding my dyed treasures is always the best part. It’s almost like Christmas… I can’t wait to see what magic the dyeing process made.
With this project, I was really surprised by how much darker the parts of the towel that were dipped in the iron turned out.
All that’s left now is to rinse your towels thoroughly and wash by themselves to remove any left over dye. That’s it! You can use your acorn dyed towels in the kitchen or sew them into something else. I made pillow covers out of mine.
Now that you know how to make dye from acorns, I hope you give this method a try.
And remember, you’re not limited to kitchen towels either. You can dye bedsheets, t shirts or make a tapestry or wallhanging with your dyed fabric. Let me know how your project turns out!
What is Shibori Dyeing?
Shibori is a collection of Japanese fabric resist dyeing techniques. The various patterns are achieved by twisting, sewing, binding, folding and compressing layers of fabric. Here is a wonderful article on the various shibori fabric dyeing techniques.
Related Fabric Dyeing Tutorials
Shibori Dyeing Tea Towels with Rit Dye
Exploring Shibori: Kumo Fabric Dyeing
Reverse Tie Dyeing with Bleach
Marble Dyeing Silk Scarves
How to Tie Dye a Heart Shape
Printing on Fabric with Silk Ties
Eco Printing on Fabric