Natural Dyeing with Walnuts

Goodness- I’ve been wanting to dye with walnuts for quite some time. I’ve been reading quite a few blogs and natural dyeing reference books in preparation to dye with those little green gems. Now all I had to do was wait- and wait–and wait until those walnuts made an appearance on the walnut trees we hunted down around our town. I just love all the different shades of brown you can get with dyeing with walnuts. Walnuts produce a very strong dye as well and they contain tannin which acts as a natural mordant. Although you can dye with walnuts without using a mordant, for this dye bath I decided to use alum just to be sure.

There was quite a variety of “recipes” for dyeing with walnuts on the internet and in the natural dye books. Some called for soaking the walnuts for days, some using the green nuts, some only ripened nuts, and on and on. I kind of went on my own and combined a few of those recipes to see what I would get. I don’t have a particular project in mind for this yarn- I just want to experiment so here it goes.

Step 1: Scour the Yarn

The first step was to scour my yarn. I am using a super wash wool for this dye bath. I always use Power Scour which is designed to clean wool, but Dawn dish soap works too. I let it set in the warm soapy water for an hour and rinsed well.

Step 2: Mordant

This step is optional when dyeing with walnut because of the tannin contained in the walnut, however, if you want to ensure you get full color, you’ll want to mordant your yarn. I mordant using a ratio of 10% alum to WOF (weight of fiber- dry). I filled my pot 3/4 full of water and added the alum. I simmered (careful not to boil) the pot for an hour with the yarn in it and then took it off the heat. I let the pot sit over night.

Step 3: Hull your Walnuts

Now it gets messy. Walnuts stain easily. I learned that the hard way. Be sure to wear glove and wear something to cover your clothes. You may even want to double your gloves. One of the fingers of my glove had a small tear and I had a brown thumb for days. What you’ll need to do is separate the walnut hulls from the seed. It’s the hulls that gives you the dye and that’s what you’ll use for your dye bath. Using the flat end of a sledgehammer, I cracked the nuts and then I peeled the hulls away from the pit. Sounds easy? Not so much- especially with the green nuts. It’ll be well worth it though.

Step 4: Soak Overnight

After weighing the hulls (I used 400% WOF- in other words, four times the weight of the yarn I wanted to dye), I put them in a bucket and covered them with boiling water. I put the lid on the bucket and let them sit overnight.

Step 5: Strain the Walnuts from the Water

I placed cheesecloth over another bucket and strained the walnuts from the water bath. I then wrapped the walnuts in the cheesecloth.

I put the the wrapped walnuts in the large pot and poured the water of it. I added some more water (rain water) to the bucket to be sure my yarn would move freely and then added the yarn.

Step 6: Simmer your Dye Vat

I simmered the dye bath for 90 minutes and then removed it from the heat. I let it sit for a few hours before removing the yarn. I rinsed each skein. In a small pot I put in some water from the dye bath and an iron modifier to deepen the color. I kept half the skein with just the walnut dye and the other half the walnut dye treated with iron.

Step 7: Rinse and Dry

Let’s take a look at how they turned out.

It’s so difficult to see the true colors in a photo. The browns are rich and beautiful. Just as expected, using the iron as a modifier greatly darkened the color. Hummm….. now to come up with a project. Maybe a fall themed scarf.

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