Sunday, September 30, 2012

'Tis the Season for Walnut Dyeing

Time to harvest these

To achieve this

As with pretty much all my friends in the Northeast, it seems, right now I have a walnut tree nearby dropping nuts all over the place. For tree huggers like me who want to know more: the Black Walnut Tree is also called "Stinkweed" when it's small, because it grows fast and just about anywhere, refusing to yield to weeding -- and when you do manage to pull it up, it stinks.

These trees are wonderful, however, because they produce a great hard wood. Also, you can make dye from the hulls of the fruit. You can even eat the nuts, although I found it hard to get much food out of them. You can stain wood with the hulls, as my Dad did with a salad bowl I bought years ago.

The walnuts are high in tannins, which serve as a mordant and make for a very potent dye. Just look at my gloves:

I recommend you wear gloves

Here's a brief pictorial essay on making dye from black walnuts. I did mordant my fabric, by the way, with about a teaspoon of alum in maybe two gallons of water.

First, you harvest about 20 green to green/brown walnuts per gallon of water. Crush the daylights out of them, removing the nuts themselves. Here, I used a big stone tool. A friend of mine insists that you get better results when you put them in a bag and drive over them. I tried that, too. Either way, you're going to have to work to chop them up into maybe one-inch-wide pieces.

Throw all the crushed hulls, minus the nuts, into a vat of boiling water and then simmer them for about an hour. To me, the dye solution has a wonderful, nutmeg-like smell! Let the whole mixture cool overnight.

You're ready for dyeing. While some sites will tell you to add maybe one cup of dye solution to a gallon of water to dye your fabric, I found that this gave me very pale colors. So now I simpy immerse my fabric directly into this solution, without diluting it at all. The results are a warm golden brown, as I showed you in the photo at the top of the page. Here it is again:

The fabric, by the way, is three yards of 100% wool gauze, originally in off-white, purchased at the famed and wonderful fabric shop, Delectable Mountain, in Brattleboro, Vermont. (The name comes from the book Pilgrim's Progress, although e.e. cummings also refers to "Delectable Mountains" in his book, The Enormous Room.) The website, which I highly recommend:

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