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Dyeing socks with acorns
Dyeing wool socks is one of the easiest plant dye experiments you can do. The wool is a protein fibre so the dye sticks to it more easily than it would a cellulose plant fibre, the socks are a manageable size, you don't need a massive pan and they don't get tangled up like skeins of wool.
I dye alpaca socks - soft and fluffy house socks - because I love the way that the soft colours of plant dyes look on the slightly fluffy wool. They are also the cosiest socks I know. You can buy the natural alpaca UK made socks here, but if you have any natural coloured 100% wool socks they will work fine.
- Pair of 100% wool socks (a little bit of elastane in the cuffs won't matter)
- Alum sulphate mordant - 10% of the weight of the dry socks
- Plant material (I'm using acorns here) - as much as you can get your hands on that will fit in the pan, the more you have the stronger your colour will be.
- Large stainless steel pan.
Wash your socks in eco detergent - preferably by hand, but a low temperature wool wash in a machine is fine - rinse well.
Boil a kettle and dissolve your alum sulphate in a cup full of boiling water, then add to a bowl of tepid water.
Add the socks to the bowl and leave to soak overnight.
Meanwhile make your dye pot. To make an acorn dye I hammered the acorns to split them and then simmered them for an hour in a stainless steel pan. I left them to steep overnight which is when the colour seems to come out. The water in the pan should be dark and full of pigment - ideally so full of pigment that you can't see a spoon under the water. You can leave the acorns steeping for a few days and the colour will darken and grey slightly.
Strain the dye into another pan and put the plant matter on the compost heap.
Add the wet socks to the pan and gently and slowly bring it to a point just before simmering. You don't want the socks to get a temperature shock or they can felt up.
With dyes made from collected plants the colour goes into the wool gradually. You might have seen dye pots on Instagram or Pinterest where the colour change is immediate, this is because the dyeing is being done with bought dye extracts, still plants but ones which have been made into a concentrated form which can be added straight to the pan just before you add your wool, very much like a conventional dye. So don't be worried when that doesn't happen - instead take it as slowly as possible and you will see the colour gradually develop.
Hold the dye pot at a point less than a simmer for an hour and then let it cool naturally. For browns and olively greens I let the socks stay in the pan overnight as I like the dulled colours that creates, if I want a pale yellow from gorse I would let the pan cool and then take the socks out immediately.
Rinse the socks until the water is clear and then dry.
Ideally leave the socks somewhere dark for a few weeks for the colour to firmly attach to the fibres - I have mine in a cardboard box - before washing with an eco detergent.