Natural Dyeing

Dyeing with Walnut Hulls

About 2 months ago I had the opportunity to do some dyeing with black walnut hulls. My friend Sophie was able to pick up a few sackfuls of hulls so I could give it a go. Naturally she dyed some stuff too!

Walnut Hull dyed yarn, naturally dyed
Left – walnut hulls, right – walnut hulls + madder. The colours have been captured very true to life. According to Liles the alum mordant brings out more of a yellow brown (which makes sense). SO it’s worth testing without a pre-mordant. I didn’t use him as a reference before dyeing, or I would have tested this!

For this dye session I only worked with sheep and alpaca yarn, and I did a basic alum and cream of tartar pre-mordant on those.

To prep the dye I boiled the hulls for approx 1 hour and left them to cool, then strained off the dye.

Then the yarn was immersed, worked a bit and then brought to a steam. By steam, i mean steam rose from the top of the pot, but the dye did not boil. Typically the yarn was left for an hour at this temp, and then I’d leave it overnight to cool and soak.

We got some nice shades of medium brown from this, and on Sophie’s yarn we did a second heating with an iron mordant (2% WOG). This did accidentally reach a boil and as a result her yarn felted, which I think was more due to the combination of iron and boiling, rather than just boiling. (No pictures, sorry)

After testing out the walnut hulls on their own, i wasn’t entirely satisfied with the colour i wanted, so then i did a bath where i added some madder root, which for me, gave a lovely rich red brown, and is quite a chocolate colour. The walnut hulls on their own are more what i would refer to as “dark latte”.

Naturally dyed Baby Alpaca Scarves
The two shades of brown on these alpaca scarves are dyed with walnut hulls. The lighter shade is a walnut + madder exhaust, and the darker shade is walnut only. Other shades are Madder, Indigo, Indigo/ Fustic.*

If you plan on dyeing with walnut hulls, it’s good to keep these things in mind.

  • Wear gloves – the hulls will stain your hands and can also cause burns
  • If you’re smashing the hulls yourself, wear an apron, you’ll get covered in dye!
  • You will probably need a significant ratio of hulls to fibre. I used 4:1, or 4 times weight of goods.
  • Walnut hulls will break down and grow mould quickly. They can apparently be dried out in the sun and stored, or frozen and stored, or boiled off and the dye liquor saved in glass bottles. You can still use the festering hulls, it’s just a bit of a disgusting experience!
  • Boiling walnut hulls are actually quite stinky. It kind of smells a bit like you are boiling dirt and wood. So this one is best done in a well ventilated area, or outside.

Walnut Hull dye facts

  • Walnut Hulls are a substantive dye on wool and silk and will dye darker the longer you dye with them, and you can also choose to keep heating and cooling until you achieve your desired shade.
  • You can dye wool and silk without a pre-mordant.
  • Using iron and gallnuts in your dye pot along with the hulls gives shades of grey.
  • Supposedly quite light and washfast, I haven’t yet completed my testing, but so far it looks good!

Happy dyeing!

* Scarves are for sale in the shop!

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