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?