Natural Dyeing With Black Walnuts

Last week, on our way through town, I spied a giant pile of freshly fallen walnuts gathered in a street gutter.  I decided people might question my ability to parent, if Luke and I dodged traffic for organic dye stuff, so we went home and headed back out well after dark.  Main Street was deserted and we had the best time collecting handfuls of walnuts under the warm glow of the street lights.

You know you're a fiber artist when, your eight year old doesn't even ask what you're going to do with the bushel of walnuts, he just knows.

I used my Natural Plant Dye Recipe, but made a few changes:

* I smelled lanolin in the yarn, so I washed it first with a little soap.  Lanolin will act as a barrier to the dye.  Obviously, I don't want that to happen.  (The yarn is Quince and Co. Osprey.  They had a sale on irregular bare skeins a while ago, so I bought a few.  It. is. amazing.)

* I skipped the mordant.  Walnuts have a natural tannin, which acts like it's own built in mordant.

* I filled a giant canning pot with walnuts and added water within an inch of the top.  When some of the water cooked down, I added more.  Total simmering time: 2 hours off and on (I had to leave town in between, so I couldn't leave the stove on.)

* The whole slurry sat overnight to cool.

* I poured the dye into my dye pot and added a skein of the pre soaked yarn.

* Yarn and dye simmered for 90 minutes

* When cool, I washed it again.

* Not quite dark enough, so into the dye pot it went, along with another skein.  I thought it would be neat to have different shades of brown.

* Simmered another 90 minutes and washed.

Final notes:

* I didn't use fresh dye stuff.  I actually forgot about it for a week, so the walnuts got moldy.  Rebecca Burgess recommends fermenting the walnuts for three weeks, but I've been there - done that, and it stinks.  I think the rotting walnuts may have actually been sufficient.

* The colors are gorgeous, but I was hoping for a deeper brown, so I'm going to let them sit overnight and check them in the morning.

Have you ever dyed with walnuts?  What was your experience?


  1. I am learning so much from following your experiences. The only dyeing we have done so far is with food coloring, but now as I drive by different trees and plants, I am wondering how it might work in a dye bath. We have hawthorne berries everywhere out here right now and they are a really dark red. I love your basic recipe. Going to experiment soon. Thanks for your post.

    1. I'm really curious to see what colo hawthorne berries turn out like! Good luck with your experiments.

  2. I am rinsing a batch of roving dyed with hickory nuts right now. I also spotted a tree on the side of the road and nearly stopped with the kids to grab them up, but it is a bust street and there is construction so I thought people might not be paying enough attention. Now that you mentioned going back at night though...

  3. My oldest son knows what it means when we see the black walnuts all over the parking lot of the grocery store we frequent. It's hilarious, but he really looks forward to it every year. (:

  4. I love that you dye with natural materials! The browns are beautiful.

  5. Thank you for this post! I have been planning on dyeing a skein with one of my sons but I was wondering if I could use my canner as a dye pot. I only use it for canning as it is enamel and has a few chips. I am guessing that the yarns on your header are naturally dyed as well, they look beautiful!