Black walnut dyeing

I collected black walnuts last fall from a park in Danbury, Connecticut. I stored them in a plastic shopping bag and did not make any progress in processing them. Recently I was reorganizing my dye materials and opened the bag to a moist, rotting, buggy mess — ugh!

I poured the nuts into a tote and stored it outside in the freezing weather for a few days. A squirrel got interested but only chewed on a few nuts. I eventually dumped most of them onto the ground in a barren patch behind the shop to avoid shocking any plants with juglone. Not wanting to miss out on the dyeing opportunity completely, I reserved about 10 of the nuts that were only minorly deteriorated.

I put the nuts whole into a pot (reserved for dyeing!), covered with water, and set on the woodstove. Over a few days, I took the pot on and off the stove, not really monitoring any boiling or simmering activity. I strained out the liquid and took the nuts out to the dumping area. The liquid was deep dark brown.

Prepared five fabrics chosen from my stash: white and ivory cottons, a linen napkin, and a white and a peach duppioni silk. I scoured them first with hot water, washing soda, and a little dish detergent. I bundled some of the fabrics using shibori techniques with rubber bands and clothespins. Some fabric went in loose. The fabrics stayed in the pot on the woodstove for several hours and off the stove overnight.

Results of fabric dyeing:

Before ironing

After ironing

A few days later, I chose some papers from my stash, bundled them between tiles and can lids, and lowered them into the walnut bath. Also threw in some threads wound onto spools. These also stayed in the hot bath for several hours and the cooling bath overnight.

Results of paper dyeing:

The whole group

Two signatures

Four accordion strips

Assortment of small single sheet scraps

I really like the walnut brown color and the clouds and marks from the dyeing bundles. The darker edges on the papers look great. I’m not sure how I’ll use these materials, but for now I’m just enjoying them. And happy to get the walnut mess out of the house. Next time, I’ll dye with them fresh like you’re supposed to!

Next up: dyeing with my collected acorns, which thankfully are in better shape than the walnuts.

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