top of page

Natural Fabric Dyeing in Autumn/Winter - Acorns & Pine Cones

Updated: Dec 13, 2023

This week, over on our Instagram, I shared our guide on 'natural dyeing and getting started'. It's time to use what you've learnt and start experimenting! In case you missed them, you'll find the original stories in our Instagram highlights under 'natural dyeing'.


What will you need?

  • Fabric and/or trimmings for dyeing - they need to be made from natural fibres otherwise they won't take the dye well at all.

***We used natural white bamboo silk, super soft bamboo/cotton jersey, linen and natural

trimmings, which dye really well due to their natural fibre content***

Basically, just avoid anything that is already coloured and if you're using materials you already have, avoid anything synthetic.

  • Acorns, acorn cupules or pine cones We used: 240g Acorn cupules and started with 4 pints of water 400g Acorns and started with 2 pints of water 400g Pine cones and started with 3 pints of water

*** Please note that water volume can depend on the size of your pan. The pan we used for the acorns was smaller than the rest so we didn't need as much water to cover them - just make sure there's enough water to cover what you've got in the pan to start with***

  • 1 x large saucepan/ glass or ceramic container

  • 1 x large dyeing pot

  • 1 x stainless steel or wooden spoon

  • 1 x sieve

TIP: Make sure you have separate pans for natural dyeing and cooking. You can often find some great aluminium pans in charity shops and at your local tabletop sale.


The Method

Preparing your acorns, acorn cupules or pine cones and materials

Choose what you're going to natural dye with. Rinse your acorns/acorn cupules/pine cones in water washing away any mud and grass etc.

TIP: Use the leftover water to water your plants!

Iron or steam your fabric/s and ribbons/trimmings so that the dye won't sit in any creases when they're naturally dyed.

Making the dye

Before you start dyeing your materials the dye needs to be made. I recommend starting this in the morning so can you carry out the process throughout the day.

Normally, for any dyeing process, a mordant (fixing agent) is required, but acorns and pine cones contain tannin which acts as a natural fixing agent so you don't need one for this process.

  1. Put all of your acorns, acorn cupules or pine cones into a large saucepan and add the water

  2. Bring the pan just to the boil and then turn it down to simmer. Be careful not to fully boil your dye when bringing it up to temperature.

  3. Simmer it for 1 hour or more depending on how deep you want the colour, and then turn the heat off and leave it to sit for an hour or so with the lid on. During our experiment, the acorn cupules were the easiest and quickest to extract a stronger dye from.

  4. You can always return your pan to the heat to simmer again to coax the natural dyes out of your chosen dyestuff. I enjoy experimenting with different heating and cooling periods to see what colours I get. We found that the acorns and pinecones needed extra heating time to produce a stronger dye.

  5. In the meantime place the fabrics/trimmings that you're dyeing in another pan/ glass dish/ container of lukewarm water making sure to move them around a bit so the water can soak into every crease easily. Leave the materials to sit in the water until the dye is ready.

To prevent too much liquid from evaporating from the dye, try to have the lid on as much as possible. If you find too much water is boiling off then just top up the water again so you'll have enough to cover all of your materials when dyeing them.

TIP: The darker the dye bath, the stronger the dye will be on your materials. Dip a little bit of tissue into the dye, or we also like to put a small scrap of fabric or trim in, to test the colour of the dye as it develops.


Dyeing your materials

  1. Strain your dye into your dye pot using a clean sieve (you won't be heating your dye pot up so it doesn't need to be a saucepan. During this experiment we found that a glass or ceramic container worked best for a more even dye on the fabric).  Re-sieve the dye If any bits are left in it as they can create little marks on the fabrics. TIP: If you have a scrap piece of cotton muslin then place this in the sieve which will help catch any smaller pieces that may escape through the sieve.

  2. *** Skip to no.3 if you don't want to add iron water to your dye bath to change the colour*** We used iron water to change the colour of our acorn cupule dye and ended up with the beautiful purply grey colour as you can see in the image below. Pour your iron water in slowly, as it reacts fast, until you get a colour that you're happy with. You can check the colour using a piece of tissue or a scrap of your natural fabric. The more you add the more the dye changes colour and the deeper it becomes. I then strained the dye bath one last time.

How to make iron water What will you need? - 2 x glass jars or a jar and a jug - some rusty metal pieces such as nails, screws & bolts. - distilled vinegar Method Step 1 - Put 2 parts water and 1 part vinegar in your jar (or jug if you prefer) and stir Step 2 - Put your rusty metal pieces (the rustier the better) into your other jar Step 3 - Pour your water and vinegar solution into the jar of rusty nails, seal with a lid and shake. Step 4 - Leave until all the water is brown - we left ours overnight and it worked great (we used plenty of metal pieces that were extra rusty). You may need to leave it for a few days and occasionally shake as the iron water can settle to the bottom - have a play around and let us know how you get on!

3. Wring out any excess water from your fabric/trimmings.

4. Add your materials into the dye and then mix them around gently to make sure the dye can get to

every part of your material.

5. Weigh down your material with clean stones, something glass or cup/saucer. Don't use anything

metal as the dye can react with it altering the colour.

6. Leave everything to dye overnight.

TIP: Natural dyes are often unpredictable but are great to experiment with. Factors such as the soil where you've foraged or water where you live can make a difference to the colour of your dye - so please note that if you don't achieve these exact colours it isn't because you're doing it wrong!


The finishing touches

  1. Take out your materials from your dye pot and wring out the dye as much as possible. *** Save your dye to make your very own botanical inks ***

  2. Rinse your materials to get any excess dye out from them and if you would like to you can gently wash them at this point.

  3. Hang your fabric to dry from the edge of the fabric if possible and hang your trimmings/notions up from the ends. If you fold your fabric/trimmings over the line then a mark might be left (I learnt this the hard way).

  4. Leave everything to dry out of direct sunlight.

  5. Steam/iron your fabric/trimmings ready for use.

TIP: When ironing your fabric, if you get drops of water on the dyed fabric from your iron and iron over this it can leave watermarks on your fabric


Here's a couple of books that we used to help us on our natural dyeing journey that you might be interested in too. Click on the images to learn more about each book.

(Please note that I have not been paid to write this review, I just wanted to share our resources and provide you with a genuine review. We do however make a small amount of commission with any affiliate links you may use ) If you decide to try natural dyeing this Autumn/Winter, we'd love to see how you get on! Tag us on Instagram using @thesewingretreat or comment below.

Happy experimenting,



P.S. It's time to put your lovely naturally dyed fabric and trimmings to use! We've shared 5 ethical Christmas sewing makes for you to try. Click here to discover more.



bottom of page