Thursday, August 25, 2011

dyeing with black walnuts

During my trip last week I gathered up a sack full of black walnuts and brought them home.  Though these can be tasty morsels should you be able to pry them from their shells, I had plans to use the outer skin of the nuts to use for dyeing.  My husband, who was helping me unpack, wondered why I brought back a sack of moldy limes...

The walnut is encased in an aromatic leathery skin which turns from green to black as it ages.  In order to strip the skin from the nuts, I did as any good primate does, and whacked them repeatedly with rocks.

I stuffed the crushed skins in quart jars, jamming them down with a stick, (primate style) and piled the remaining nuts up to offer to the squirrels.

Even though I wore thick work gloves my index fingers still took on a rather "oompaloompa" hue from handling the skins.  A word of caution to those of you that decide to gather these, wear gloves!  I've seen some pretty hilarious photos of people who didn't heed the warning and found themselves orange-palmed for weeks.

To create the dye, I simply poured water to fill the quart jars stuffed with skins and placed them in my small outdoor greenhouse to percolate in the heat.


After a few days the dye water had turned a very dark brown and I figured it was ready to try.  Using my walnut-spattered t-shirt as evidence I deduced that I wouldn't have to mordant my cotton in order to achieve a decent dye but I wasn't sure about the wool.  Wool can be a little tricky sometimes.

I needn't have worried because the results on wool, silk, and cotton were all beautiful.  I did "scour" my silk and wool first, that is simmer them for a bit to remove any oils or residue, but I didn't use any additional mordant.   I just poured the liquid from the quart jars into a bowl with the scoured fiber and let it sit for a few hours. 

You can see that the silk took on a great nut brown color, the wool is a gorgeous mix of fawn and chestnut, and the cotton floss is a lovely shade of mocha.

I love the tones it gave the natural grey locks.

I'm really thrilled with how this turned out and since I use a lot of brown in my work, this dyestuff is especially handy.  Over the years I've acquired some shades of wool that I don't really use often and it will be fun to overdye some of that with this color and get some use out of it.

The skins have a lot more life in them so I've re-filled the jars with water and left them to steep a bit longer and I expect to get a few more batches of dye from them, which is pretty exciting.  I may try it on wood and I'm also hoping to do a little tie-dyeing ala Sonia too

All from moldy limes.  Who knew?


Ceaberrys Haberdashery said...

Quick question: Was the water you poured into the jars at first hot, cold or warm? Thanks and everything came out so beautifully!!

Margie Oomen said...

my sister and her two girls were hanging out in the backyard whilst i went to work yesterday and when i came home they told me the squirrels were attacking them by bombing with black walnuts. We gathered them up and now we have a pot full of them.

Lisa at lil fish studios said...

Hi Purple Photokitty - the water I poured into the jars with the skins was cold from the tap but warmed up over the course of a few days as it sat in the sun. The dye itself was lukewarm when I added to the fiber. This dye didn't seem to require much, if any, heat to produce. If you try it, I hope you'll share your results, I'd love to see!

Margie - thanks for the near spit-take. :D

A Deegan said...

great read, reminded me of a friend who used a walnut-based fake tan about 20years ago:)
i really like the result on the cotton.

Sonia / COZY MEMORIES said...

oh my word, the result is so so beautiful ! you're making me long for having a (big) garden (or wood nearby) of my own ... waaaah
that rich brown is oh so yummy ! oh yes yes, you should try tie-dyeing teeshirts or tops !
I love the way the locks look ... so realistic, you could say you cut someone's curly hair !

Wear Your Wild said...

Tip from a Southern Girl:
Spread the walnuts out in your driveway. Roll over with car/truck tires. When nuts are crushed to desired crushness, collect. Job done.
Our driveway is gravel and or dirt. I wouldn't do this on a paved one.

Wear The Canvas said...

This is brilliant! I love natural dyes.

Unknown said...

You lucky fish, to have these dye-worthy naturals near at hand! Beautiful results!

ZenCrafter said...

I am in love with those soulful browns! I was inspired by Quince and Quire to use black walnuts to make a brown ink. It turned out great.

AnaH said...

Maravilha de Blog! Como muitas inspirações.
Já estou seguindo o Blog.
Trabalho com feltragem artesanal, lã merina e seda.
sua visita será um prazer.
att. Ana

k said...

very cool! i don't know of any black walnuts around here, so i suspect i won't get to try this one, but love your earthy results. do you know if i can dye with other nuts - i can gather acorns and horse chestnuts around here.

Mona said...

Considering mordating, I've tried both with and without; you get the darkest, most rich browns without mordating. Mordating with alum makes the colours more yellow-brown.I've achieved very dark, wonderful browns when putting the nuts and the fibres/fabrics in the same pot. No good on wool fibres, though, because the dregs from the nuts.(Wool fabric works better).

Earnest Efforts said...

As always...loved this post! Haven't done any dyeing for a lot of years, but used to do a lot of mushrooming dyeing. I only ever used allum for my mordant and loved the walnut with it's own built in mordant. Thanks for posting this! Beautiful!!!

Anonymous said...

I used black walnuts to dye some fiber last year and loved it - though I like the way yours turned out better! :) I just used turmeric, as well, and the color is great! Can't wait to try more of your ideas!

Your EcoEtsy teammate,


Lisa at lil fish studios said...

A Deegan - walnut self-tanner eh? I'm trying to picture that without giggling. :D

Sonia - thanks! I really love the color it gave. We don't have the walnuts here but my dad promises to gather more for me when I need them, and mail them to me. What a guy.

BlackStar - you're cracking me up with that image.

Pat - I've been wanting to try some of these dyes on watercolor paper. I think I'm going to have to now.

Ana - thank you so much!

k - I just read about using acorns in conjunction with the black walnuts on a native arts site but I don't know about using them exclusively. That's definitely worth investigating though since I have gazillions of acorns around here...

Mona - thanks so much for the insight! That is really helpful.

Heather - I have some mushroom dye brewing right now, how fun that you used to do it too! Thanks for stopping in!

Yancy - ooh, turmeric has such a beautiful color! I use that on my easter eggs and love it. It wasn't photo-stable on the fiber I tried but the initial result was just gorgeous.

Tara said...

Beautiful brown tones. You are a genius little primate, Lisa.

Nichole E. Hall said...

Wonderful article and such luscious brown hues! If you put the walnuts in a bucket and let them sit in a cool dark place (for about 6 months - if you're patient enough) you'll get the most rich ink for drawing or painting too! Gotta love dying with naturals!

Nikki @MagpieTree


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