Oak leaf dyeing

I’m about a month later than last time, but the leaves are still green, acorns have mostly fallen off or will in the strong wind which is now dominating our days.

Oak leaves are a bit pesky to harvest, they don’t let go if you rip at them, the tiny side twigs however are easily torn off. So you need to grab individual leaves and pull backwards to leave them undamaged, a test in patience. There are already buds at the base of each leaf, the tree surely doesn’t mind that I grab the old ones just weeks before they fall anyway.


One picking ends when I think I have enough to fill a pot and my arms are tired of being lifted, luckily that pretty much coincided. Roughly 700 g in the first batch, that’s a long way from 4:1 if each yarn group is 500 g (x3) – that should be 6 kilos of leaves!!!! Gag… What to do? Checking my bins to see if I have some dried. Nope.

Check old books – ratio is correct. Check newer books – Dean says 1:1 but her chart shows beige/tan. Historically inner bark was used, so I’m not sure why we’re even futzing with the leaves.

Next day I got bored after 5 minutes but persevered and filled my IKEA bag. 1200 g. And now there’s a hole in my biggest pot, which means I can’t use it unless I seal it and my “chemical metal” tube of whatnot is 30 years old (from when I sealed a water heater with the same problem). Closest gas station: 12 km and I have major cramps, guess how delightful a drive sounds right now LOL.

I reduced the volume of leaves a bit by cutting them up with an old bread cutter, rolling handfuls into a wad, then cutting slices. I need to bolt it down next time, it’s too lightweight for the job when you don’t have an extra hand.


Initial conclusion: Do not bother dyeing with leaves after August. This is the second disappointing result this year and instead of wasting my usual 25 g we’ve gone all in with huge bundles. All I got was TAN. (sorry no photo)

But then I had a brilliant idea: Check my yarn sample book! And guess what, my alum mordanted samples are TAN. The one that is red in tone was the copper mordanted skein. And the darker, chocolaty tones were alum mordanted, with iron AND oak galls in the bath. Lesson: don’t rely on photos of your yarn, taken in whatever available sunlight, when you plan new dye jobs. And especially don’t rely on your memory either.

Anyway, while I was ok with the greenish tone on the grey skeins, I immediately thought I had nothing to lose by adding some copper to my oak bath and put the white/tan yarn in. And then for good measure when that just darkened the tan a bit, some iron.

So now I can weave army blankets! I know my safer bet would have been walnut husks, but I haven’t found a source, I need at least a kilo, and I’m on a shopping ban until either G finds a job or I myself think of someting I can sell – I’m not very good at guessing what the people like/want.


Let me tell you a little secret: Sometimes I’m sorely tempted to just make up acid dye recipes for all the plant dye shades and be done with it! Saves mordanting, harvesting, storage space, no calendar limits… And it frees up a week of painting and weaving time at least which I have now spent mostly in vain as you can see. Thank goodness I didn’t pick 6 kilos. I could certainly try to concoct some mixture of boiled madder with walnut husks on copper mordanted yarn and see if I got the shade in the eye of my mind, but really? Also artificial colours are possibly less toxic to me and the land than copper sulphate.

Next up: Madder (no, not me I hope)

16 thoughts on “Oak leaf dyeing

  1. I keep meaning to go out and collect goldenrod for dyeing when I see it in bloom along the side of the road or in empty lots, but I always have something else that requires my time and attention. Every year I say “Next year I’ll make the time!” One of these years I actually will!

  2. Endnu engang ønsker jeg at kunne putte ting i en “matter-transmitter” via computeren. Vores genbo har et enormt valnøddetræ, og tænk, jeg må samle alle de grønne skalle jeg orker. Men jeg tør ikke betro dem til posten, med de langsomme omdelingstider ville du modtage en MEGEt ulækker pakke sort spladder, hvis da ikke den ville blive konfiskeret undervejs.

  3. First – never thought that you need so much “raw material”, i.e. 6 kilos of leaves must make a heck of a big pile! Second – love your old bread cutter. Third – I have a walnut tree in my garden. So… I asume that by husks you mean the green stuff every nut is covered in while it’s still on the tree? We have loads of nuts that still have that stuff on them, it’s just that it has turned dark brown by now, but I think this wouldn’t matter. What do you think? I’ll be scraping it off some time this/next week (as these nuts have to be dried before you can eat them), so I could try to accumulate some for you. Not sure there would be a kilo though, but probably enough for an experiment.

    1. Probably too heavy to ship or they’d rot on the way, but thanks! Yes, it’s the green outer husks that are used for dyeing. You can also make ink!

        1. Yes, people do that – some say the dye is not as strong, but I don’t know from experience. Some store them in the freezer. You can actually buy them dried, but I’m in a no cash situation, which means postage too! 🙁

    1. Ja, det är skönt, särskild som september var så vacker. Just nu regnar det varje dag och är verkligen kallt också, så det passar bra att kunna leka med garn inne nu. 🙂

  4. Nydelige farger, det blir sikkert kjempefine pledd! Og ja, det er umulig å vite hva folk vil kjøpe, med mindre man klarer å hive seg på en trend – men de varer som kjent aldri lenge. Det beste er å lage noe man liker selv 🙂

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