More Boros: Dying with Oak Galls and Rust

Oak Gall Hammer
I discovered these oak galls under an oak tree. I have always thought they were gorgeous—and that they make a nice dye, too. I’ve given away all my dye chemicals and pots but wanted to see what color they would give. I smashed some of the less-beautiful galls and poured boiling water over them and let them steep with a couple of scraps from my boro project—silks and cotton flannel. I soaked them over night and was not impressed with what I found the next morning. So I went to the internet and of course there were entries about dyeing with oak galls (and more about the galls). 
I discovered I needed to soak the cloth in a solution of rust and vinegar or lemon juice after soaking the cloth overnight in the gall and water solution. You can see what I’ve gotten so far. [click photos to enlarge]
Oak Gall - First Samples
I’m seduced with the subtle colors so far and want to continue experimenting with longer gall-soaks followed by longer rust soaks. So far I’ve just done overnight. The info said I should get black with this recipe but I’m very far from that. Greys and darker shades would be fine. The two darker pieces were light indigo dyed before I did the two oak gall processes. I think they have a lot of possibilities, too.


This before-and-after photo show the silk crepe cloth I wove before and after dyeing. It took the dye much stronger than the other silks. The cotton flannel hardly took any color at all. I think it was darker because the threads were undegummed silk—silk organza is made of this type of silk. I clamped the middle to make the resist that formed the diamond in the center.
Oak Galls and Rust in Glasses
You can see my “dye pots”. Dying in my tiny kitchen(ette) in the retirement place where I live is a challenge. I found a chipped latte glass and glasses from Starbucks and The Oakville Grocery. That way I can keep them separate from the glasses I drink from. I heat water in the microwave and stir with a chop stick. This is perfect for the small scraps I want to use in a new boro piece. On the left is a solution with just the pulverized oak galls and galls. The right glass has just the solution of rust and lemon juice (and some water) and some rust before it was pulverized. Getting the rust was a lucky break for me. I told a friend I needed some and her son chipped off a jarful of it with 2 cups of gorgeous rust. When I pounded the rust into a powder it worked much better giving darker results. Rusty nails or steel wool is supposed to work for the rust. Taking the photos was a challenge. Bob, my photographer and web guru, had me lying on my stomach to shoot me pounding the oak galls.
Oak Gall Peggy

9 thoughts on “More Boros: Dying with Oak Galls and Rust

  1. good fun to hear you playing with oak galls. i am always looking for natural ways to get black. in the end i found the best black is from black alpaca. you are a treasure peggy.

  2. That is totally amazing! I love the experiment and investigation you made on the Oak Galls. How much vinegar did you use? And how many gall balls? 🙂

    • I used lemon juice –1 cup and 2 tablespoons of rust powder (pulverized rust) is what the internet said. I just used the lemon juice left in the bottle and some rust. I think they suggested 15 galls. I have batch of pounded galls in a bag soaking in a pot in my refrigerator. Last night I took a glass that I put in pounded galls and covered with boiling water from the tea kettle. It looks very dark but probably won’t do much until it gets the rust-lemon soak. By the way, one person said silk organza (undegummed silk that is stiff) took the dye stronger–I’ve found that to be very true– amazing. Just playing around so I’m not being scientific. Peggy

  3. What a riot. I hope you had a lot of fun doing this…sure looks like it. I love that you are not scientific, but rather explorative & experimental….more my style..enjoyed your blog post very much…Thank you.

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