Black Walnut Dye
(As featured in the October 2008 issue of Practically Seeking)
Now is the time to head out and collect those wonderful green spheres from underneath Black Walnut trees!
But not for what you might think. While these nuts are both nutritious and delicious, the shells are unbelievably hard and the meat is very difficult to extract. So we'll leave that problem to the squirrels and use them instead for a much easier and more interesting project: Natural Dye!
Black Walnut hulls produce a dye that is color-fast,
wash-fast. Plus, this wonderful earth-tone brown is a fantastic
base for natural camouflage on clothing.
You must keep in mind, however, that these unassuming green hulls make
an extremely strong dye! While in many ways this makes
it easier to work with when using cellulose-based fibers (i.e., cotton,
basket materials, cordage) than many other natural dyestuffs, the down-side
is that you must be very
making the dye, as it can be somewhat caustic and IT WILL STAIN!
(And here's the proof!)
Want to learn more about making dyes from all natural materials?
Sign up for our
workshop this December!
ALWAYS wear protective gloves whenever you handle the hulls
or the dye!
(If you choose not wear gloves, be very sure to wash your hands FREQUENTLY throughout the process!)
Tips & Tricks for Black Walnut Dye
- Remove the hulls as soon as possible after collection. If you leave them for even a couple of days they will begin to rot and leak and will be much less appetizing to handle.
- If you must store them, us a bucket or a paper bag, not plastic.
- DO NOT ATTEMPT TO STORE UN-HUSKED NUTS! THEY WILL ROT, LEAK, AND DYE EVERYTHING THEY TOUCH!!!
- Don't leave your unhusked nuts where the squirrels can get to them, even for a single night, or you'll be following the trail of crumbled husks with a broom and dustpan! (If only they could be trained...)
- The husks of other tree nuts such as hickory and pecan can be used in the same way and will produce different shades of brown.
Step-by-step Instructions for making Black Walnut Dye:
- Collect about 10-15 Black Walnuts. This is enough for about one gallon of dye.
- While wearing protective gloves, remove the husks. This can be easily done with just your fingers, though with green hulls, my preferred method is to place the walnut on a stump or other "anvil" and pound the walnut with a rock to break open the hull.
- The husks can be used right away or dried for later use. (While they are drying, make sure they get plenty of air circulation or they will mold.) As the opened hulls are exposed to air they will quickly begin to oxidize and turn a dark brown. This is the color that it stains, so wear gloves, wash frequently or be prepared to have brown fingers for several weeks!! (See the proof in pictures!)
- While still wearing your protective gloves, crush or crumble the hulls into pea-sized bits.
- Using either a stainless steel or enamelware pot, heat one gallon of water to a full boil, add the crushed hulls and stir. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for about an hour. While the dye is simmering, scour the material you plan to dye. (This step is especially important for cellulose-based fibers!)
- To Scour: Using an enamelware or stainless steel pot, add 1 TBSP of washing soda and 1/2 tsp of detergent per 1 gallon of water and stir to dissolve.
- Bring to a boil, then add the material you plan to dye and stir it into the water until it is fully saturated. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for an hour or two.
- Rinse your materials thoroughly to remove all the soap. The water will have turned a mucky brown color from all the oils etc. that have been scoured out of the fibers.
- Wring out the excess water and add the damp, scoured material to the simmering dye bath.
- Continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until the material is at least one shade darker than your desired color.
- Remove the material and rinse thoroughly, until the rinse water runs clear. Not rinsing out all the excess dye at this stage it may cause it to come off on your skin when you are working with or wearing the materials. (If, after a thorough rinsing, you decide the material is not dark enough, return it to the dye bath and continue to simmer.)
- Once the dye bath has cooled, pour the excess dye into a glass container and store it until next time. Allow your materials to dry completely before using — the color will change somewhat as they dry, and the dye oxidizes.
NOTE: Dyed clothing should be washed seperately the first time in case you did not rinse the item thoroughly enough. Excess dye WILL stain any other clothes! After that, wash as usual with other like-colored items.
DO NOT ATTEMPT TO STORE UN-HUSKED NUTS! THEY WILL ROT, LEAK, AND STAIN EVERYTHING THEY TOUCH!
Have Fun, and Go Nuts for Natural Dyes!
Want to learn more about making dyes from
Sign up for our Natural Dyes workshop this December.
On their Survival Outing in August, Hunter-Gatherer graduates David & Lara found out the hard way that washing their hands just once or twice was not frequently enough! The stain on their hands lasted for several weeks — learn from them and wear gloves!