Natural Dyeing Experiments: Walnuts – What a Tease!

Remember those wizened walnuts that I spoke about in my Natural Dyeing introductory post? Well, I eventually got around to trying them out… and I’m butting back in at the beginning of this post because between drafting this post and publishing it, I’ve also experimented with walnut leaves, so I’ll talk about that here too.

In sum… Walnuts – What a rollercoaster!

The nuts and husks, wizened or not, were not the real stars of my walnut experiments though, no, the real stars are those wonderful wide veined leaves.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised, they look so amazing as they turn colour in late summer/early autumn, but it never occurred to me that this would translate into the dyepot…

But back to the start – Like the pomegranates of an earlier post, I had collected my now wizened walnuts a while ago, during all the house moving activity, and stored them similarly carelessly. However, unlike the pomegranates and having learnt from them, I was more cautious in my approach with the walnuts. I took more seriously the recommended proportions of dyestuff to fibre and used just three of my stored walnuts.

Walnuts like many tried and tested dyeplants are effective because they have high levels of tannins. This also means the yarn doesn’t need to be mordanted, happily removing one step from the process so that they can still be used when you’ve run out of mordanted yarn…

So I took my 3 dried walnuts- 12g for a 20g mini skein of unmordanted superwash wool – put them in a jar and covered them with boiling water.

The next day I drained the dye and added the yarn which had been soaked overnight, brought it up to a light simmer, simmered it for 30 minutes and then left it to cool and sit overnight.

Meanwhile I topped up the walnut jar with boiling water and left it to sit overnight.

The following day I repeated the process with the second steep dye, again simmering it for 30 minutes and then letting it cool and sit overnight, before rinsing.

The colour is a pale but rich brown….

picture of a small skein of pale beige yarn photographed on  concrete sink

I decided to stick with this colour, not because it was particularly remarkable in itself but because I’ve started planning some colour modification experiments so wanted a range of base colours from different dyeplants with which to start.

You can see why this post shifted to the back of the queue as other experiments yielded somewhat more interesting results… then the weather intervened. Following a bit of a windy storm a few weeks back, I collected up some of the walnut leaves that has been blown off the tree and put them aside for future use.

Having come back from a ‘post all-consuming deadline holiday’ I started to look at all the dye materials I’d amassed but not had time to do anything with before that deadline and thought perhaps I should do something about it. First up were the now dried out walnut leaves sat in a plant tray on the seedling shelves outside.

I consulted ‘wild colour’ by Jenny Dean once again and saw that walnut leaves on alum mordanted yarn ‘should’ produce a more yellowy colour and a pale mushroom almost pink in unmordanted yarn. Since my nut/husk dyeing I had skeined more yarn into 10g minis and mordanted some of them with alum so I was perfectly placed to try leaves on both mordanted and unmordanted yarn.

The leaves I’d initially collected after the storm had dried to 20g in the intervening weeks and I picked up an extra 20g of less dried leaves from the garden to add to them. They all went into the jar and had boiling water poured over them.

The jar was left for a couple of days because thats how things go sometimes and then the liquid was decanted off and the 10g mini of alum mordanted superwash wool and the 10g skein of unmordanted superwash wool were added.

To be honest the dye didn’t look very remarkable and doing this among a bunch of other things going on, I didn’t even take a picture. But when I put it on the heat and came back to check it a little while later I was quite taken aback by what it had done. In theory the alum should produce a brighter more yellow colour, but this was more than I expected.

The difference is quite amazing, to think these 2 skeins came out of the same dyepot….

The alum mordanted skein (bottom) was such a stunning colour I wondered if I’d be able to replicate this on the Corriedale yarn I have.

I mordanted the skein in alum and meanwhile added a further 90g of semi dried leaves into the jar with the leaves that were steeped for the first dyebath. I covered them with boiling water and left them for 2 days as the corriedale skein was soaking, mordanting, drying and soaking.

I then added the dye exhaust from the first experimental skeins, the new dye from the steeped leaves and added the soaked skein to the dyepot and did the usual up to a simmer and held there for an hour.

At this stage it looked very dull so I decided to depart from the orignal method and boil up the walnut leaves to hopefully extract more colour. This produced more colour but I was a bit concerned that this was a deeper, more walnutty colour rather than yellow. Nonetheless, I added it to the dyebath in the spirit of experimentation.

I heated this new solution to a boil and simmered for an hour then left it to cool and sit overnight.

The next morning I wasn’t sure I was any closer to my colour goal so I had one last throw of the dice and wondered if a little more alum would modify and brighten the colour. So, I dissolved 5g of alum to the dye solution added the yarn and repeated the heating process, after which I left it alone to cool and sit overnight.

I don’t think this final step made any great difference and I was unable to replicate that bright lustrous colour of the superwash wool. Therein I think lies at least part of the issue, perhaps less with the dye but with the yarn base. Superwash wool is known to take colour really well. Stripping the yarn of those scales that can lock together and cause the wool to felt, also produces a nice smooth yarn to not only absorb dye but also reflect light nice and evenly, adding to the lustrous appearance of the yarn. My corriedale has none of that slickness, but it more than makes up for it in the additional warmth of non superwash yarns.

This leaves me wondering about alternative bases. I’m not a fan of superwash. I’ve been using this yarn because I had a large cone in my stash from a charity shop purchase that i could use as a consistent base on which to experiment with a range of different plants. As I’m coming to the end of this I think I need to research more whether an alternative single breed might enable me to create brighter colours, for example a Blue Faced Leicester known for both its softness and lustre…

If you have any ideas, advice or recommendations, or similar experiences, please do share below. I fear re-creating that acid yellow/green may become a bit of a holy grail if I’m not careful!

’til next time,
Take care, look after yourself and your loved ones, and wear mask!
Tess xxx

All 4 walnut experiments
Top – leaf on alum mordanted corriedale
Bottom – L-R – nuts and husks on unmordanted superwash wool, leaf on alum mordanted and unmordanted superwash wool

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