Science, Art, and Sustainability: How To Tie-Dye Cotton With Acorns and Rust

Tie-Dyeing Cotton Fabric With Acorn and Rust

Tie-dyeing cotton fabric with acorn and rust solutions turns it brown, orange, blue, and black. Credit: Adapted from Journal of Chemical Education 2022, DOI: 10.1021/acs.jchemed.2c00086

Tie-dyeing is a fun activity that can spice up clothing, such as t-shirts, with colorful patterns. Although tie-dye kits are available to buy in stores, nature provides dyes that can be extracted from items that may be found in one’s own backyard — for example, acorns and rust.

In the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Chemical Education, researchers present a “green” process for tie-dyeing cotton with renewable resources and wastes that undergraduate students can easily do under minimal supervision. The activity links together science, art, and sustainability.

For thousands of years, materials found in nature have been used as dyes and mordants, which are substances that help affix compounds to fibers. And brown-colored tannins from acorns can bind to orange-colored iron mordant, generating a dark blue, or almost black, color on fabrics.

So, Julian Silverman and colleagues wanted to show how these natural dyes can be used in tie-dyeing to produce unique designs of white, brown, orange, and bluish-black colors on cotton napkins. The resulting patterns depended on how the napkins were wrapped in rubber bands and the order in which they were soaked in an acorn dye bath and dipped in a rust and vinegar solution.

Even though all of the dyeing solutions are safe to dump down the drain, the researchers say that gloves, lab coats, and goggles will keep the dyes from staining skin or other clothing.

Reference: “Tie-Dyeing with Foraged Acorns and Rust: A Workshop Connecting Green Chemistry and Environmental Science” by Christian Machado, Anton O. Oliynyk and Julian R. Silverman, 12 May 2022, Journal of Chemical Education.
DOI: 10.1021/acs.jchemed.2c00086

The authors acknowledge funding from the Manhattan College School of Science.


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