Dyeing silk with oak bark

In this episode of getting your kitchen dirty with plant dyes we are going to look into what can be achieved with simple oak bark. A pack of it had been given to me a couple of years ago as a hair treatment (it is said to have some anti-bacterial and refreshing qualities and you can actually drink it too). Oak bark is a wonderful supply for making brown dyes. I used it to colour a spool of silk thread and a stripe of silk I wanted to use as a trim for my Viking coat (in the end I didn’t, it is still waiting for its moment). Both the thread and the fabric were originally in warm glossy white.

The colouring process was one of the easiest I have ever done. Oak bark is both a dye and a mordant so no extra colour fixative such as alum is needed.

  • First, I added pieces of bark into a large pot with cool water and brought to a simmer for about 30 minutes.
  • Next I let the bath cool down a bit and then added the silk thread and fabric.
  • Again I let it simmer for about 45 minutes. Unfortunately I made the mistake of not putting the bark into a small linen bag and only then to the bath. I had pieces of it all over the material but luckily and to my great surprise, it was very easily to remove them thanks to the smooth, slippery texture of silk. Don’t try this with wool!

Once the material dried out I could see the result. And I loved it! The brown I got was light and glossy. The silk absorbed the pigment very evenly, you can’t really notice it was hand dyed. Both the thread and the stripe of silk have now a light gold lustrous sheen. It looks slightly more noble and expensive… not matching the 10th century middle class Viking woman I reenact 🙂

I aimed at light golden brown. To obtain darker shades of brown simply let the material stay in the dye bath for longer or even for the night.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *