For anyone interested in natural dyeing with oak leaves, this is a wonderful dye source, to begin with. Oak is the first of the dye sources detailed in The Colourway, as a dye source the leaves are rich in tannin and can provide a surprising range of natural hues. You can naturally dye with the leaves, branches bark & acorns, all producing beautiful earthy tones.
In ancient Ireland, the Oak held special meaning to the Celts. Considered the King of the forest, it was associated with strength, nobility, inspiration & knowledge. The Oak itself has a lineage dating back roughly 85 million years. Historically, the oak was essential to the Irish way of life, providing shelter, fuel, building materials, food & habitats for wildlife.
With over 500 hundred species of Oak, they are known for their longevity & can live for 300-400 hundred years. With deciduous & evergreen varieties they are characterised by their wavey leaf pattern & distinguishable acorn seed.
As a dye plant, the leaves, bark, acorns, twigs & oak galls can all be used to create colour. These parts contain tannin which acts as a natural mordant ensuring beautiful long-lasting colours on plant fibres. The oak galls contain the highest concentration of tannin & these are commonly used to mordant plant fibres such as linen, cotton or hemp. They have also been used throughout history to create dark greys & ink when combined with iron.
If you’re curious about natural dyeing with oak leaves, gather enough to experiment with, 2-4 handfuls for small experiments and more for larger tests. Soak the plant parts in hot water for 2-4 days, then bring to a gentle simmer & simmer for 3-4 hours. When the water changes colour & you have a nice strong liquid, your dye is ready to use. Turn off the heat, let the dye cool completely, then strain out the plant parts & add your fibre. Return to the heat & keep your fibre in the dye until you’re happy with the colour. For initial experiments consider using small swatches of natural fire to learn about the colours & hues of the dye. You can follow the same instructions to work with the other parts of the oak that produce colour (branches, bark & acorns).
To learn more about the colour possibilities of oak & a variety of seasonal dye plants, sign up for our monthly membership The Colourway & start learning today.