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NOTE: In the following information, the terms "husk" and "hull" have been used interchangeably by dyers sending in their comments. In either case, these terms both refer to the green casing enclosing the nuts as they grow on the trees.

Also, I have included information about English walnuts (Juglans Regia), as well as black walnuts, since their properties are so similar.

Black walnut trees can grow from 45 to 75 feet tall. They are deciduous trees whose leaves turn a bright yellow in the fall. Older trees have bark which has broad, irregular ridges. Black walnut trees can often be found growing along creekbeds.

Black walnut leaves are divided into 9 to 19 leaflets which are lance-shaped. Nestled in among the leaves you can find the walnuts, enclosed in their green husks.

Black walnut leaves and husks both give beautiful, deep browns that are lightfast. To obtain a darker brown, soak leaves or husks in water for a few days before using.


Black Walnut Recipes

From Carol Todd




*2 1/2 gallons whole walnuts inside their green husks
12 oz. mordanted wool
12 quarts water

*Gathered October 11th

1) Cover walnuts (with their husks on) with water, and soak 3 days.
2) Boil 2 hours.
3) Cool a few hours. Add water if needed so yarn won't be crowded.
4) Add presoaked, mordanted yarn. Boil 2 hours.
5) Cool in dyebath.
6) Rinse.
7) Dry in shade.

From Robert Campbell from Arkansas
Black Walnut hulls and Cotton Sweater

PROJECT: Naturally dyeing a bulky cotton sweater

DYE: Black walnut juice
RAW INGREDIENTS: Two 5-gallon buckets of black walnuts which had been fermenting in rainwater for five months
PROCESS: 1) I strained the fermented liquid (about 2.5 gallons) through flyscreen, then again through cheesecloth. combined it and about a dozen walnuts (still in the hull) in a 5-gallon aluminum pot, brought to a slow boil for 30 minutes, then turned off the heat. 2) I soaked the sweater in cold water in the kitchen sink, wrung it out, then submerged it in the hot broth for a 30-minute soak 3) After squeezing out the excess liquid, I transferred the sweater to a cold water and vinegar bath for 15 minutes, then machine washed it cold/cold and machine dried it under low heat. It was beautiful! Just one small problem. I turned the sweater inside out and it was just as ivory white as it was the day I bought it 20 years ago in Santa Fe! So, next day, with the sweater inside out, I repeated the process, allowing it to soak in the hot walnut juice for 75 minutes this time. Everything else pretty much the same. I am attaching two photos. I also dyed a white T-shirt at the same time, and it c
ame out the same color. Many thanks for your encouragement.
CAUTION: Beware of boiling moldy walnuts! Their vapor will give you a headache!

From Barbara Clorite

Black Walnut hulls Recipe
I dearly love Black Walnut hull dye for brown! Take as many nuts as cover the bottom of a pot in a single layer and add water until it fills 3/4 of the pot. Simmer for an hour or two. Strain the nuts. Add fiber to the liquid and simmer for 45 min to an hour. Longer for more depth of color.

Try the leaves for dye too. The color from a bath with just leaves was a warmer richer milk chocolatey color than the walnuts that came from the same tree.

If you have a brown fleece with some white fibers in it, then you can get a more even brown by overdyeing with walnuts.

From Julia Knowles

Black Walnut hulls Recipe
I have obtained a nice very dark charcoal gray on wool with black walnut husks. I live in Eugene, OR. I gathered fallen nuts with husks in the last week of October last year, choosing the ones that were still green and firm. I filled a 5 gallon enamel kettle with the nuts still in the husks, and covered with cold water. After letting the batch sit overnight, I heated it to boiling and simmered for about 1 hour. I strained out the nuts, returned the bath to the heat, and added a coat made of an old (and well fulled) wool blanket. The coat was probably 2-1/2 lbs dry weight. It had been soaking in cold water for 2 days. It was not pre-mordanted.

I simmered the coat for about 1-1/2 hours and it was a pale molasses brown. I pulled it out and added 1/4 cup ferrous sulphate to the bath. (If you are familiar with mordanting, you will notice that this is a huge amount of mordant.) I returned the coat to the bath and simmered another 20 minutes or so.

I have gotten reasonably dark browns before, but this time the result was much closer to true black than I've ever achieved. I think the large amount of ferrous sulphate was responsible.

In the same bath I dyed a linen shirt that came out pale grey. It had no brown tone to it at all. The coat shows a little brown cast in strong sunlight, but in dimmer light it appears a neutral off-black.

From rocksprings@multipro.co

Black Walnut hulls Recipe
I have gotten the darkest brown the following way. To 5 gallons of water, 1 gallon of old (black) black walnut hulls, crushed, and 1 quart of black oak bark, soaked for one week in an old iron kettle. The wool was then added and simmered for an hour and left overnight.

It was then soaked about 1 hour in a baking soda bath of 1 cup of baking soda to three gallons of water and rinsed. It was very dark. Have repeated this more than once.

In our area of Tennessee,we have walnut buyers that come and bring their hulling machines to the local feed stores in the fall. People bring the walnuts that they have gathered to sell, and the buyer dumps them in the machine to hull before they are weighed and you are paid for your nuts. There is always a mountain of wet, gooey hulls near these hullers free for the taking. This stuff seems to make the blackest dye.

From Melinda Shoop

Black Walnut hulls Recipe
I used dried and finely crushed black walnut hulls, at 600% WOG (WOG stands for weight of goods, the dry weight of the fiber).

I put the hulls into a nylon stocking, soaked and simmered for 2 hours before entering the yarn.

The yarn, a 4/24 worsted spun wool, was mordanted for 1 hour at 180-190 degrees F in a solution of 10% alum and 5% tartaric acid, by WOG. (The same dry weight of wool was used as a basis for the mordant chemicals.)

The yarn was entered and simmered at 180-200 for 2 hours. I got a beautiful, rich chocolate brown with warm reddish undertones, well worth the time it took.

This is based on Trudy Van Straahlen's techniques, which I use, as well as Liles' methods. I am always very pleased with the results. Above all, I never skimp on dyestuff; this alone insures beautiful rich colors.

And don't cook at too high a temp! I follow Liles' guidance.

From Carolyn Lee

Black Walnut hulls Recipe
Black Walnut Hulls have always been one of my favorite dyes to obtain browns. I used to stop by the walnut hullers in Missouri with a bucket and get the ukiest, gloppiest hulls from the bottom of the pile. There they were oozing that black brown smelly ooze that dyes so well.

From Iron mordant look for black, from Copper mordant, look for a deep chocolate brown, from Tin mordant look for a rich brown with somewhat honey tones, Chrome was not really exciting, but a soft brown, and Alum produced the more rich golden browns.

Bear in mind as usual, the water content can vary these colors. Also note that the walnut leaves will produce about the same colors, ususally just a lighter tone.

You can dump the walnut hulls in a bucket and let them sit awhile, pour off the water to dye with, add more water and let it sit somemore. You can hang the sack of hulls up and forget them for years and still they will dye, but fresh they are the richest. The hulls contain huge quantites of dye. Also as anyone who has ever gathered Black Walnuts knows, they will stain hands, clothes, etc. It is a very permanant stain. Works good on wood also. It is now available as a wood stain (ground hulls) in the woodworking catalogs. A unexpected source for those who need to buy all their dyes.

From jknowles@pacinfo.com
Black Walnut leaves Recipe
I have gotten a pretty olive green using black walnut leaves on wool. The wool was pre-mordanted in alum. The leaves were harvested in June, set to soak in cold water overnight, then boiled for several hours. The wool was added to the strained dyebath, then brought back to a boil and simmered.

From Bob Jennings, Oxley Nature Center, Tulsa, OK

Black Walnut leaves and hulls - Heatless Recipe
Here in NE Oklahoma, black walnut trees are fairly common, and the leaves and green hulls can be used in this 'non-cooking' method all through the summer. In a plastic bucket (with lid, like a fast-food pickle bucket) pack 1/3 full of walnut leaves and green hulls (mostly leaves), put your yarn (wrapped loosely in cheesecloth) on top of the leaves, then add more leaves and a few hulls until the bucket is 2/3 to 3/4 full. Add water to cover, throw in some rusty nails or 1 tbsp ferrous sulfate. Put the lid on the bucket and set it out on the porch for 10 days to two weeks. This has produced some of the richest dark reddish browns I've ever seen.

English Walnut Recipes

From Vanessa Thew Thompson

English Walnuts - nuts and shells Recipe
How about dyeing with the nuts and shells themselves? Someone from our study group brought these in soaking. Our study group was slow to get going and the things sat around outside my studio from October (beginning of) until March 12. We then boiled them for about an hour. Strained off the liquid and put in premordanted wools (alum, copper, tin, iron, nothing) and low and behold... the colors are great.

I've gotten a good black... and it was with these same walnuts. It is a gorgeous BLUE BLACK. Premordanted the yarn with ferrous sulfate. This is ONLY the nuts and shells. The hulls have been removed. Nice clean English walnuts just like you'd buy in the store.

But, there was one draw back... Boy did this whole things STINK!! After we removed the nuts/shells, the smell was not as bad. I believe the mold etc probably helped.

More Walnut Recipes

From Lola

Recipe for Walnut hulls
What you can do is gather the walnuts when these are green, crack these open and discard the nut. Put the hulls in a pot of water, let it sit out for about 2 weeks or so. Be sure to skim off the scum that forms on the surface. When you're ready to use the dyebath, strain the liquid, if you didn't already put the hulls in a muslin bag or something like that. Bring to boil and then simmer for 30 minutes or so with prewetted, mordanted wool. Depending on how much walnuts you cracked (I used 6), you'll get a nice medium brown color.

Beware - wear rubber gloves when you crack these walnuts open! Your fingertips (and wherever the walnut oil falls upon will be stained brown and it's really hard to wash away - takes about a week or so for the dye to go away.

From Sandra Rude

Walnut husks and nuts
I've had a lot of fun using walnuts picked when still green and soft (May or June here in the SF Bay Area). If you cut into a soft green walnut with a paring knife (wearing gloves, of course!) the place where the nut is going to form is still liquid, and is it ever potent!

I cut the walnuts into a bucket in halves or quarters, pour over just enough water to cover, and let the whole mess soak overnight. Next day, I stir it up well, and pour off the liquid. I've been able to get almost black in a strong concentration, and colors ranging from brown to cinnamon to taupe in successive afterbaths.

You can store the liquid in a jar with a tight-fitting lid for months.

They're not nearly as smelly to use at this stage as nuts that are picked in the fall after the hulls turn black. I've found that when I soak the mature hulls, the resulting fermented goo is so foul-smelling I can hardly stand to be near the dyepot.

Hints for Walnuts

From Vanessa Thew Thompson

Walnut hulls
As to walnut hull use, the only addition I might add in case someone has not is to make sure you strain the liquid with a fine cloth BEFORE placing your wool fiber (be it yarn or fleece) in the pot. Those particles from the hulls are so fine it was impossible to remove them from the fiber.

Picking the walnuts up when green will lead to more dye and darker colors. But the old ones left on the ground (leached out) over winter give off beautiful tans.

From Barbara H. Carlbon

Black Walnut husks
My yard overflows with black walnuts from late Aug. on. Now I have all the black icky shells left by the squirrels. I have gallon jars with black walnuts and juice that have been sitting under a work table for years. Every now and then I scoop off the mold (even though covered) if there is any, and add some of the liquid to a dye bath, such as cochineal for altering color.

I also tested the liquid for a regular brown dye bath and it worked fine. I use walnuts to mordant other dyes sometimes too, keeping in mind that it will alter the color some, but usually to my liking.

I even have a few nuts that have been sitting in a jar of water for about 8 years. This would probably make a great floor stain by now.

I generally use the whole nut husk on, nut inside. I try for fresh fallen nuts with no bruises. I think they give the richest colors if they are used fairly soon and removed after simmering within a day. Oh, I usually soak them for a few hours before simmering. With walnuts, I usually strain or scoop the walnuts out and then dye.

I have achieved a wide range of shades from rosy beige to deep rich brown by removing skeins at different lengths of time from the bath. I once produced black, by over cooking (forgotten pot boiled). One caution is that if you want a rich color, keep the bath under boiling or even lower.

Walnut is a very permanent dye, and a very strong dye. I have walnut-dyed wool from 10 years ago with not sign of rotting. Also, the bark, twigs, and leaves will produce similar colors, but the bark and nuts are especially potent.

One caution about walnuts and the hulls, they produce a very fine nasty sediment in the bath, so my one brilliant discovery is that Painters paint straining bags, easily purchased at hardware or paint supply stores (very inexpensive) are better than nylon stockings, cheese cloth or anything else I've ever tried, at letting the dye in and keeping any plant material out.

From Ruth Konrad

Walnut hulls
I've dyed with walnut hulls and have gotten fabulous results, but encountered an interesting fact with a fellow historical textile buff. She noted that at one museum the samplers displayed were patchy in places where the embroidery thread should have been. Some color lasted well, others,where the brown should have been, were gone.

The curator told her that the high acid content of the walnut dye over many years(a hundred in this case) caused a deterioration in the fibers. I have seen paper acid stain and deteriorate valuable prints (I'm a custom framer in my other life) so I can see where this might be a possibility. Personally, I don't expect anyone to be looking at my stuff a hundred years from now, but I thought someone out there might have a comment, or find this interesting.

From Christine

Walnut hulls
I have done several experiments with walnuts.

1. Picked up very over-ripe walnuts (black color on the hull) from the ground after the tree had dropped them naturally. These with no mordant created a wonderful very rich brown color. Depending on length in dye bath a warm golden brown to a very dark rich brown.

2. Used green walnuts, before reaching maturity picked directly from the tree. These with no mordant created a green toned brown. Just like the unripe color. Almost a khaki color.

To acheive a very dark black/brown try using iron as a mordant. This can be put in the dye bath for the last 30 or so minutes of simmer time. This should gray the entire bath. Allow to cool in the bath to acheive the darkest possible color.

From Carol Leigh Brack-Kaiser

Black Walnuts
I use black walnuts every year. People have a variety of recipes. Some gather the nuts, hull and all, and soak them in water for days/weeks/months with varying effects. Some actually have the patience to remove the husks to use.

I personally just pick up the green nut with hull as it has fallen from the tree. Fill a dyepot with these and cover with water. Sometimes I'll let it soak overnight, otherwise just heat up the whole pot, bring to boil a couple hours, strain out the nuts, add more water, then add premordanted fibers.

The dye works equally as well on cotton and linen as on wool. You'll pull a variety of browns, tans, brown blacks, depending on which mineral salts you use for setting the dye. Although the tannic acid in the dye is enough to set a color without using a mordant, I find the color is deeper and more lasting with one.

Many variants effect the color from walnuts. The color from the walnuts on our property are a yucky mousy tan. There are trees at other locations nearby, however, which yield a good, rich brown. Other locations have yielded a wonderful rich chestnut brown. All using same water, same mordant, same dye methods.

The soil, slightly different gene pool for the species, different seasons seem to affect the color, as well as the mordants used.

Walnut crystals Regular hulls get bulky for shipment, but walnut crystals work just fine. It takes about 3-4 ounces to dye one pound of fiber. For more information about walnut crystals, see http://www.hillcreekfiberstudio.com

From Linda L. Batzloff

Whatever you do, don't leave your yarn in the pot and let the pot ferment - the odor is AWFUL!!! - When I did that, I had to bury the yarn, a really nice dark brown, in potpourri for almost a wear before I could stand being in the same room with it. Now after 10 years that I dyed it - I can still smell it a little, but I've learned my lesson - dye it and get it out.

From Dave Kanger

I have gathered walnut hulls in the fall and placed them in a 6 gallon plastic bucket which I then filled with water and placed in a large plastic trash bag. I sealed the bag and put it away until several months later. This allowed the stain to ferment and concentrate.

When ready for use, I boiled the mixture to kill the bugs (mold, etc) and then strained it through nylon panty hose. The dye was then put into plastic gallons jugs until needed, and it keeps forever.

I don't know about wool or cloth, but when sumac is added to walnut dye, it will dye leather black. You can also gather Sumac now. Gather the leaves and stems, and run them through a shredder twice. Then add the mulch to the dyebath.


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