Local Mordant

November 28, 2009

With acorns raining on the rooftops–I felt inspired to see how I could put this abundant resource to use in the dye process.  Tan oak bark and shavings have long been known for their role in tanning hides, they were harvested almost to the point of complete decimation in our area.  My intention was to use the renewable part of the tree–the acorn, and make the most of the acorn meat in the process.  Tannin is a non-metallic mordant- and the only mordant that I have found locally available.  It can also be used as a dye–creating shades of light brown when used on its own.

After pounding the acorns with a rock and peeling them, I added them to a food processor to blend them into smaller chunks.  The chunks were placed in a cloth bag.   I let the faucet water drain through them.  I squeezed the bag occasionally to see thick brown water leaching from the acorn meal.  The tannic acid comes out of the acorn in the form of a thick starchy like substance.  At one point after several hours of leaching, the acorns were done- and the water ran clear.  I dehydrated the meal- and saved that for a future batch of acorn cookies.

I had also experimented some time ago with making a mordant from rusty objects– by soaking them in water and vinegar.  Tannins and iron produce lovely shades of gray.

Paige Green Photography

After creating the tannin and rust waters, I put a strip of hemp/cotton fabric into the tannins for a day. I then rolled up the wet tannin mordanted fabric with several maple leaves and put it into the rust water, after a day and a half I unravelled it.

The finished fabric is gray/blue color, and the maple leaf prints turned a very light green.  The joy of making a mordant out of a wild food by-product was such a wonderful revelation.  I will continue with acorn tannin experiments to see the effects on wool with native plant dye colors.  I’ll keep you posted!

18 Responses to “Local Mordant”

  1. ahhh, that looks familiar! very very lovely!

    • ecologicalartist Says:

      Oh yes- didn’t you go to an India Flint workshop? How was it?
      I love this Australian connection so much!

  2. Anike Says:

    I really love the idea of wrapping the leaves with the fabric. I’ve gotten some excellent results with laying fabric on rusty surfaces, during rainy weather.

    • ecologicalartist Says:

      That sounds lovely- I would really like to try that next time we get some rain. I love the imprints that occur with haphazard mordanting practices

  3. kel Says:

    yes, the India worksop was really really wonderful. I posted about it on my blog with pics, take a look. I thanked jen for the indigo seeds but not you, so now I shall. Thansk! Some are rsting in their soil beds, some, well lots, there was a few!, are inthe fridge. Thanks so much. Its a small small world. i have another blog friend ‘kale for sale’ whom i met online, who subsequently ran into jen..small small world. check her blog out. shes lovely.

  4. ecologicalartist Says:

    Your post is inspiring- I love the silk and the felt you all made. Kale for Sale is and example of this small world- I just saw that she went to Tara Firma Farm on Saturday- I love that farm.

    looking forward to reading about your Indigo- I have to wait some months before planting time

  5. velma Says:

    very nifty printing/dyeing. has it held up to washing? and i wanted to invite you over to my blog, some work with dyes and fibers there.

    • ecologicalartist Says:

      Hi there!

      Love your blog and I relate to your daily practice of soup and tea very much. Yes, these iron and tannin prints hold up very well to washing- I wash in cold.

  6. Sweetpea Says:

    I just HAD to leave a comment on your blog…. I came here by doing a Google blog search on the words “dye plants” and it’s like I’ve been dropped into nirvana – your blog is WONDERFUL! I have only recently become interested in natural dyeing so I’m reading everything I can find on the process. As a keen gardener, I feel it would be fabulous to grow my own plants for dyeing (and also to use native plants from our property). Anyways, just leaving you a note to say, “Thank You!” for your excellent posts – you are a wealth of knowledge and I appreciate that you’re sharing it here!

  7. ecologicalartist Says:


    I am so glad you found the blog. Gardening and dyeing have inextricable connections- the raising of dye plants is such an inspiring process. We become connected to our natural surroundings in even deeper ways when we harvest plants for color. With your enthusiasm it sounds like you are on your way to a new world of experimentation! Thank you so much for commenting.. Looking forward to hearing from you again.

  8. Ladka Says:

    Thank you for describing the process of natural mordanting/ plant printing and also for the pictures. I love to see other people’s works cause I also do it myself – you can see the results on my blog under Plant printing (although I haven’t posted prints on felt).

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