Dyeing with Walnut leaves and husks

Black Walnut (Juglans Nigra)

As I write the walnut season is at its peak. I have been waiting for those beautiful green gems to start falling out of the trees since August, but now he constant rain is keeping me indoors. I found the joy of walnut dyeing last year and then discovered my neighbourhood filled with black walnut (Juglans nigra) trees as well as the odd English walnut (Juglans regia). This year I have been reading more about walnuts and found out they have an alternate bearing cycle. The crops can be quite irregular and trees which produced a large amount of nuts a year before might not bring out a single one this year. The places I have been foraging have been fairly bare compared to last year when I carried home more nuts I could dye with. I dried a bunch so I have an emergency stash at home, for nut dyeing emergencies.

Walnut dyeing is the one of the most eco friendly dyes out there. The trees are grown for the fruit and the wood. The husks, where the dye comes from are discarded. The whole tree is full of tannins, which means no mordant is required for the dye process.

This year is my first year dyeing with leaves of a walnut tree. I collected 300 grams of black walnut leaves to dye 40 g of merino/nylon, a sample of shetland roving as well as cotton and silk fabric. The silk fabric was premordanted with alum. I simmered the leaves for an hour, strained the dye liquid and added my fibres. They were simmered for an hour and then left to cool. The dye liquid was a strong brown colour and this caught on the fibres quite quickly. All, but the alum mordanted silk took on shades of brown when the silk turned a golden yellow.

Walnut leaf dye bath
L-R: cotton, silk (+A), shetland roving, merino/nylon, merino/nylon (+Al) silk/ramie/wool (+A) all dyed with walnut leaves

I tried dyeing with leaves for the second time. I doubled my quantity of leaves and mordanted 300 g of silk/merino and ramie as well as 20g of merino/nylon with aluminium beforehand. I know the tannins in the leaves are a mordant on their own, but I assume the yellow shades cam with the addition of alum.

Silk/ramie/wool and merino/nylon pre mordanted with alum
Un mordanted merino/nylon vs Alum mordanted merino/nylon

I could talk about the amazingness of walnut husk dyes for days. The rich browns they yield are gorgeous on their own and even more beautiful when used as a base for dyeing with other plant dyes. As well as my dried husk stash, I also have a bucket of water, husks and vinegar that has been sitting in my flat for a year now, fermenting but luckily not going mouldy. I am saving that for a special smelly dye bath.

As soon as the husks are opened, the tannins start turning the skin dark brown

To dye with the fruit I break the husks from the nut. I take the nuts out for squirrels to enjoy. Some may think this is silly, but I have an aversion for eating them. I ever really weigh the husks. I use around 20-30 per an 8 litte dye bath. I soak them for a day (at least) and then simmer for at least an hour. I leave them for another day in the dye bath and then strain the dye liquid. The husks could be left in the dye bath with fibres, but I have noticed they easily discolour the yarn/fabric when in direct contact. Fibres are simmered for an hour and left to cool. The dye liquid can be used again and again for lighter shades of brown.

BFL x 2, merino/nylon dyed with walnut husks
Cotton and silk (+A) dyed with Walnut husks

2 thoughts on “Dyeing with Walnut leaves and husks

  1. I looooove the mustard color you got! Do you think that is from the alum? Or from making a dye bath with the leaves? My friend gave me tons of walnuts and I would love to get that mustard color, but I don’t have any of the leaves.

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    1. I think it must be the alum. I’ve been dyeing with the leaves again this week and made a stronger dye bath, this time the colour was a lot more brown than yellow. I am definitely trying again as a I love the mustard too!

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