Oak Leaves (the day I fell in love with natural dyes)

The Hearts a Burstin experiment was fun. I fully enjoy the process of dyeing, even if it’s just a test. But, the Oak leaf bath has sold me on natural dyes. First a bit about the process and then I’ll show you the results.

I weighed my leaves and used and equal weight of leaves to fibers. Here are the leaves in the pot.

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Next I added boiling water, stirred, and let it sit overnight (about 19 hours total).

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I then attempted to simmer the leaves and ended up boiling them. Oops. All in all they were heated for about 1 hour. I let them steep for 3 hours before straining out the leaves.

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Here’s what the dye liquid looked like at this point. I was getting pretty excited. I never could have dreamed there was so much color in oak leaves!

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Meanwhile my fibers were soaking in cool water where they remained for about I used an aluminum pan and I can’t say for sure if that had any effect. There was never any heat applied and the whole thing was sitting outside in the cold garage so it’s hard for me to believe the aluminum would have done anything; However, more recently I left some wet, not fully rinsed fabric from a tannin bath in the pan and there was definitely a reaction between the tannin and the aluminum.

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I ended up leaving the initial fabric in the dye bath for around 48 hours. Here are the fibers after coming out of the bath, but pre-rinse. I included this to show how dark some of them look while still wet and to point out that the do get significantly lighter once dry.

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And now for the results. The white in these photos is the same fabric un-dyed to show the difference. After the initial fabric sat overnight I saw that the mordanted fabric really was taking on more color so I threw in a silk/wool scarf that had been treated with alum. I couldn’t have been more please when it came out this rich ochre. This was my favorite piece from this dye bath.

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The rest of the fabrics were more brown, with the mordanted pieces taking on the most yellow. Here you can see all of the silks that I put in. Some had been mordanted with alum beforehand and some were modified with iron after the oak bath. The piece on the far right was from the exhaust bath. It was obvious that there was still dye in the pot so I just kept throwing things in until I stopped getting good results. I didn’t actually photo everything from that point on, but this shows that I was still getting color, just not as deep.

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Here are the vegetable fibers. I was particularly amazed with how well the cheapo Walmart cotton did.

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The iron modifier was easy and so fun. If you are looking for instant gratification this is how you get it. My husband already had a nice iron liquor going for wood working so all I had to do was dilute it and dunk in some fabric. The results are immediate. I ended up using this modifier on the entire linen piece. That is what you see as the background here. I couldn’t believe how dark the silk noil got. These are the same pieces you see in the silk and vegetable photos I just couldn’t help do a separate photo of all these rich grays.

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And here is one final shots of some of the larger chunks of fabric from this bath. Top to bottom this is linen, silk/wool, and noil.

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Here’s my take away from this dye bath:

1- I love oak leaves! I’ve already gathered more to save.

2- Mordanting really is worth the time. I’ve already done a tannin bath, the first step in mordanting vegetable fibers.

3- Throwing in some un-mordanted fabric is also just fine. I love getting several shades from one bath and having a mix of mordanted and un-mordanted fibers is one way to get this.

4- I hate rinsing fabric. Maybe one day when I have a better setup (ie- not the bathroom sink) I will like it better, but I seem to recall this being one of the less fun parts of the process.

Next up I’ll be doing an acorn bath as soon as I finish mordanting my vegetable fibers, so maybe by the end of the week.

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