Sunday, October 12, 2008

Black Walnut Dye pt. 1

Yet another chapter in my Urban Homesteading files.

Since I spend a lot of time and experimentation dyeing and staining fabric and paper, I thought I'd try my hand on a very old, very brown, and very smelly type of natural dye. The dye of the Black Walnut. It's colorfast and lightfast, and, as anybody who has these things littering their yard knows, the juice from the green nut-husks is extremely potent and dark, and takes a year to wear off of sidewalks. It's been used as a dyestuff for a very long time.

A friend of mine (and fellow soapmaker) was kind enough to send me a big box of walnuts from her yard. They were a bit dried-out and molded by the time I got to them, but they just need to soak in water to soften up for a bit. Once softened, I used a knife to cut chunks off of the nuts.

Nuts and husk-chunks get tossed in a big pot with some water, to be boiled. The boiling walnuts smell really terrible - not a "bad" smell per se, but a permeating, overly-sweet, cooking squash type of smell. I find it really nauseating.

After a few hours boiling, starting to look nice and dark. Here I am about to throw a handful of rusty nails into the pot - Black Walnuts are a "ferrogallic" dye, and the color deepens with the addition of iron.

After another hour or so, I'm going to turn the burner off and let the whole thing rest for a day or so. Then probably some more boiling, and reducing. I will post more pics as I make more progress.


  1. How cool! The last time I made dye was when I was 9, and I picked some green holly berries one summer off of a bush by my grandmother's porch and made green dye. she gave me some torn up sheet rags to dye. This brought back good memories.

    BTW, I have an urban homesteading blog, and I'd love to exchange links with you.

  2. Interesting! I made a wood stain with my black walnut hulls. I didn't add any rusty nails though. Does that really work???

  3. I was told by a textiles and dying expert that if you add alum to your walnut husk stew it will darken the color.


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