Natural Dyeing Adventures- Black Walnut Scarf part 1: Dyeing

When we visited the Landis Valley Museum I foraged some black walnuts that were dropping (and rotting) all over the place. I figured of all places not to mind some low key foraging it would be a living history museum!

I picked up about 8 green pods and double wrapped them in some plastic bags we had in the car. I let them sit, bagged, on our enclosed porch until today.

They were starting to get soft so I just stepped on the bag and cracked them open a bit.

I added them to the large steamer pot that I ordered from Amazon. My idea had been to thrift a pot but I really didn’t think I had the time to do that and still have time to complete my project before the walnuts really rotted.

At our guild zoom meeting on Monday I volunteered to present a dye project in December (dyeing yarn and then making something with it is the guild project from now until May) so I wanted to get on this project while I could still do some foraging in case it didn’t work out.

I had the idea for using a steamer pot with a deep insert because the insert acted like a sieve and I didn’t need a strainer or to use a mesh bag. It also has a shallow strainer basket that would be good for steaming yarn.

As soon as I added water to the pot it turned dark brown. I think this is because the husk/pod is where most of the dye comes from, not the actual shell or nut.

I brought it to a low boil and boiled it for about an hour. I know other sources say to boil it for many hours but this water was already very dark and if I’m honest, I don’t really like brown and didn’t want to make the yarn too dark. My plan is to weave up the yarn and then do some eco printing on the finished product using flowers and leaves from my yard so I need a lighter shade.

I strained out the walnuts. I soaked the yarn (to make this easy on me, I used white super wash sock yarn) in warm water about the same temperature as the dye. That seems to be important? I didn’t actually want to soak the yarn so I used stainless steel tongs to dip the yarn in the dye about three times. It really soaked up the dye!

I then put the yarn in a basin and rinsed it in our bathtub until the water ran clear.

Then I hung it on my new collapsible drying rack. I was excited about this one because it folds into a pole and not only has arms but the arms have holes I could hang hooks from for more yarn.

I only dyed two skeins—one for the warp and one for the weft. I’m going to make the scarf on my 15 inch Cricket rigid heddle so the sock yarn isn’t under too much tension and there will be a lot less loom waste. I don’t want to invest too much into an experiment! I don’t have the yarn stash so many weavers have.

I picked black walnuts because they are easy to find, don’t need a mordant and are color fast. I like the idea of natural dyes but so many fade so quickly! Some recipes tell you to redye your project yearly depending on the materials used. Who has time for that? I like to complete a project and move on.

The directions I found online were mostly on these blogs clogged with ads that are written in that robotic, repetitive SEO way that I find boring and difficult to follow. Some had you heating and cooling the yarn and heating and cooling the dye and then heating it together. Others had you heat the yarn and put it in hot dye. Some had you dip and some had you soak for anywhere from 15 minutes to literal months. It was really all over the place. Many directions had you using the dried shells which might explain some of it. I was using the very dye rich whole pod.

I just did what made sense to me and I have brown yarn now so I think it must be good enough. I had more than enough dye to dye many, many more skeins of yarn.

Harvesting Color, which I checked out of the library, had you fermenting the walnuts (in the husks) for three weeks. She does not explain why you are to do that. Then she has you boil it an hour, strain and then soak your yarn for 60-90 minutes. She also points out that you could add the husks back into the dye to darken it again as desired. I don’t find that a lot of books and blogs give you a lot of the “why” I am looking for. Why does she have you ferment when others don’t at all or like in Wild Color, only have you soak overnight? She talks about getting the same dye from the husk or the shell but other books imply there is some difference in color and state that the husk is where the majority of the “dye” is found. It’s all a little confusing. I guess the longer you soak or boil the walnuts the more concentrated the dye is so you can use it for more batches?

One thought on “Natural Dyeing Adventures- Black Walnut Scarf part 1: Dyeing

  1. Pingback: Natural Dyeing Adventures- Black Walnut Scarf part 5: The End? | Rya Knot

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