Monday, 7 October 2013

Studio series: Natural dyeing with black walnuts I

27 pounds of Black walnuts; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2013
It's October and that means that it's black walnut (Juglans nigra) season here in Canada. I've never dyed with black walnuts before, so I'm pretty excited to go through the process of collecting, separating, and dyeing with them. One evening I collected one and a half plastic shopping bags of nuts from the sidewalk and street under a nearby tree. I was sure to wear gloves because I had read that black walnuts stain everything they touch. To my surprise my stash yielded 27 pounds.
Black walnut nuts & hulls separated; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2013
The next day, with gloved hands, I separated the nuts from the hulls. The walnuts were easy to separate since many had been squashed by car tires or feet and most were beginning to rot. I used a garden knife to score the hull and it twisted easily from the nut. Then I broke each hull into small bits with gloved hands. The smell is pleasant. When I weighed the nuts alone, using a portable luggage scale, they were 9 pounds: one third of the total weight. In her book Craft of the DyerKaren Leigh Casselman indicates that the nuts can be used for dyeing, but they yield tan or beige. I'll pass on that for now. She states that the hulls yield the deepest colour (brown) that is always fast and true. Mordants aren't necessary to bind the dye to the cloth.
7 pounds of Black walnut hulls soaking; Photo © Karen Thiessen, 2013
Karen Leigh Casselman suggests soaking the hulls for several days before boiling them to make the dye liquor. I collected rain water from our barrel to soak 7 pounds of hulls that I secured in an old muslin bag. Her instructions are basic and I'm ready for a more comprehensive dye book, so I've ordered J.N. Liles' The Art and Craft of Natural Dyeing. Unfortunately it may be three weeks before it arrives and by then I'll have dyed with this first batch of soaked hulls. I'll share my results in a future post.


Christine said...

I don't even wait, nor do I remove the hulls. Just plop the green balls in to my pot and begin to cook and eco-dye or place fabric directly in the pot. Viola! super dark rich brown. Check out my blog for images.
And I bagged many pounds of these babies and placed them in my freezer to extend my dyeing season this year. I wonder how that'll work?

Karen said...

Hi Christine,
Your technique is more my usual style. I've been wondering about freezing the hulls too, but my freezer is too full right now. I'm curious to learn if freezing makes a difference.