Anyone who has harvested their own walnuts knows the power of their husks to dye. It's impossible to come away with unstained hands no matter the pairs of gloves you wear.
Last year, we dyed some cotton yarn. This year, we dyed some old cotton napkins.
We began by collecting 6 lbs. of walnuts and covered them with water.
We left the walnuts to soak for over 3 weeks!
After the 3 week soak, the walnuts look like the above picture--murky and black.
We brought the whole pot to a boil for one hour.
Then, we strained the walnuts from the dye bath.
We weighed our cotton napkins.
And then submerged them into the bath.
We let the fabric soak for 1 and 1/2 hours on low to medium heat.
Then we just let the fabric come to room temperature before washing out the excess dye and hanging it to dry overnight.
The husks can be reused again for further dye baths. Also, you can let your fiber sit longer in the dye bath to achieve a deeper shade of brown.
I love how easy it is to dye with walnuts, and the color is scrumptious!
I had one previous experience dyeing with indigo, and it was truly magic because a textile dipped in an indigo bath will actually turn blue when exposed to oxygen. So, after pulling them from the dye bath, you sort of wash them in the air before they transforming blue. It's not the easiest way to achieve blue, but it is a very unique and special process.
Our adventure in indigo was a bit less magical in that we had not grown very much indigo. So, we were only able to dye an ounce of fabric, and the results were a little meh. BUT, Pat's face lit up when the color began to change, and that was worth it. Moreover he is psyched to plant more indigo next year in hopes that we can have better results.
Begin by plucking the leaves from the indigo plant and stuff them into a jar. (pictured above)
Weigh your fabric. This one is an antique cotton napkin.
Seal the jar and place in a pot of water to simmer. Cover with just enough water to prevent it from floating.
Simmer the jar at 170 degrees, not any higher, for a couple hours until the water in the jar turns a maroon or brown.
Empty the contents of the jar into a bowl. Squeeze the excess water out of the leaves.
Then, slowly pour the indigo bath from bowl to bow for about 10 to 15 minutes until the bath turns a yellow green.
Once the dye bath has turned colore, stir in the dye remover.
Meanwhile prepare the fabric by submerging it in the simmering water.
Then, squeeze the excess water from the fabric and gently submerge it into the dye bath. Let it sit for 10 minutes, pull it out, and expose it to air. Watch the magic happen before your eyes. (Note, I squeezed the excess dye bath from the fabric, too. This seemed to help the process along, but the instructions did not explicity say to do so.)
I repeated this process 3 times to try to deepen the color. I didn't seem to work very well, though.
Hang your finished fabric to dry.
In the end, it seems like we achieve a pistachio green more than indigo! Ha! BUT, Pat thinks it is because we didn't have enough leaves. It could also be that we didn't continually stir the dye remover after we added, or it could be the cotton itself being a used fabric instead of a virginal product. Who knows? We will have to wait an entire year to give it a second chance, but we will start growing indigo this Spring--just months away!
Dyeing with Two Pots
For this adventure in dyeing, we got smart and bought a second enamel pot. It's larger: 5 gallons versus 3.
So not only can we cut production time by half, but the larger pot can contain voluminous quantities of plant materials like this big, furry bunch of goldenrod!
You can dye with goldenrod when it is early blooming or late blooming. Pat harvested some early blooming goldenrod from the upper meadow. You can use the upper flowering and leaf portions--approximately 8-10 inches as if you were cutting it for a bouquet.
Mordanting the Fabric in Tannin Bath
We filled the 3 gallon pot with water to under the handles and added 1 Tbl of tannins. (We usually use 2 Tbl, but we were trying to avoid the tannins from overpowering the yellow of the golden rod).
We heated the water to an almost boil and added linen, weighing 3 oz.
The fabric simmered in the tannin bath (180 - 200 degrees) for an hour.
Extracting the Dye from the Goldenrod
In the 5 gallon pot, we covered 35 oz. of goldenrod with water.
We heated the water to an almost boil, and simmered at 180 - 200 degrees for 1 - 2 hours or until the water is a deep shade of yellow.
Mordanting the Fabric in Alum Bath
After one hour of simmering in the tannin bath, we rinsed the fabric in water and dumped the tannin bath.
In the 3 gallon pot, we brought the alum solution to a boil.
Then, we turned the heat down to simmer and added the fabric, and simmered the fabric for an hour.
NOTE: You can reuse an alum bath up to three times before adding more alum. This is our third time using our alum bath.
Dyeing the Fabric in Goldenrod Bath
After an hour in the alum bath, we removed the fabric and rinse in water making sure to catch the rinse water to add back to your alum bath for next time.
At the same time, we remove the plant material from the goldenrod dye bath and immersed the fabric.
We then simmered the fabric in the goldenrod dye bath for 1 - 2 hours, or until you achieve the color you are looking for.
Allow the fabric to cool to room temperature before rinsing it out in water.
Hang the fabric to dry.
You can probably tell in the photos how much of the beautiful golden yellow washed out of the fabric when I rinsed it. So, I am not sure if there was a mordanting issue . . . old alum or not enough tannins, or if it's just using processed linen that is the problem. Still, I am happy with the results, again, and I may try overdyeing for fun.
Looking for more adventures in natural dyeing?
Why Use Natural Dyes?
My journey with natural dyes began over steaming pots of onion skins and turmeric and with a mysterious flowering vat of indigo. It was about 12 years ago, and I was taking a beginning weaving course at California College of the Arts. The course included a couple units on dyeing-- bothe synthetic and natural. I can still remember how enthusiastic the guest instructors were in explaining the process. You have to be excited about the natural dye process, because it can't compete with the simplicity, vibrancy, and consistency of the synthetic dyes.
As I waited to dip my limp, skein (all tied up to prevent tangling) into the murky vat of indigo, the experienced graduate students assisting the class warned, no dared, "If you want blue, just use synthetic dyes, but if you want a spiritual experiecence of achieving blue that requires repeatedly dipping your fiber into a vat, exposing it to air, and then dipping it in again, and again, dye with indigo!" Jokes on them, I am hard wired for laborious, tedious, time-consuming art projects. Bring it!
All of this preamble to explain, that this natural dye business is one of those things you do because you love it. Otherwise, it is too time consuming, has multiple steps, and can be independable.
To add to the precarious nature of the natural dye process, I am attempting to dye plant fibers (like cotton and linen) which don't take natural dyes as well as animal fibers (like wool and silk). And another hill to climb, I am using upcycled, woven cloth (like church linen) that have been chemically treated, washed, bleached, and who knows what else. Bottom line, these old fibers might not be as receptive to natural dyes.
In addition to loving the process, perhaps the most important reason to go natural is to benefit the earth. This doesn't mean that the process is harmless, though. If you are going to use natural dyes at home, it's important to use completely seaparate pots, spoons, etc. Anything in high concentration can be toxic, and the mordanting process uses alum, which also can be harmful in large quantities. Still, the natural dyes are much more earth friendly and human friendly than the synthetic dyes.
So with that, here goes nothing!
Our zinnia dye adventure began in the garden by snipping off the zinnia blooms from their stoic stems. (Perhaps more acurately, the process began in March when Patrick started zinnia seeds indoors, under a growth lamp).
That day, we happened to have 10 1/2 oz of zinnias blossoms in bloom.
So, we prepared about half that amount (5 oz.) of linen fabric.
We set both the fabric and the zinnias of aside to prepare the fabric to receive the dye.
Mordanting the Fabric with Alum
Especially for plant fibers, like linen, there needs to be an agent to help bind the dye to the fiber. This agent is called a mordant. For this dye job, we are using two mordants: alum and tannins. Alum is hydrated potassium aluminum sulfate. It can sometimes be used in canning preserves, but it is a very common mordant in natural dyeing.
In a 3 gallon enamel pot, we brought our alum bath to a boil, and then down to a simmer --- at about 190 degrees Farenheight. We then added our fiber to the pot.
NOTE: You can reuse your mordant bath several times before adding more alum to it. This is one that we had from last year's zinnia dye.
We simmered the fabric in the alum bath for an hour, at 190 degrees.
Next, we cooled the alum bath and rinsed the faric in cold water -- carefully reserving the rinse water to add back to our alum bath for next time.
Once alum bath was completely cooled, we returned it to a jug for use next time.
Mordanting the Fabric with Tannins
Next, we prepaerd a tannin bath to further mordant the fabric. Tannins occur naturally in wood and acorns. It is an extra helper in mordanting plant fibers like cotton and linen.
To prepare the tannin bath, we heated 1 1/3 gallons of water and 2 Tbl of tannins (pulverized) to 180 degrees.
At this point, we added the linen to the tannin bath and returned the temperature to 180 degrees.
The linen simmered in the tannin bath for an hour. Then, we rinsed out the tannins and hung the fabric to dry.
We dumped the tannin bath into the woods since it can not be reused.
You can see that the tannin bath, itself, dyes the fabric a little--well, tan. The amount of tannins you use will affect the deepness and richness of the final dye color.
Preparing the Zinnia Dye Bath
We heated the same 3 gallon pot of water and 10 1/2 oz of zinnia blossoms to 140 degrees. They simmered for 2 and 1/2 hours to extract the pigment from the flowers.
After pulling out the blossoms from the bath and squishing the water out of them, we added the 5 oz of linen to the dye bath.
We left it simmer for 2 1/2 hours before pulling the fabric out and cooling it to room temperature.
Finally, we rinsed the dyed fabric with warm water and hung it to dry.
The resulting color is very subtle, but I am happy with it. I wonder if using only red zinnia blossoms would produce a deeper yellow, or if this linen is just a poor receptor. At any rate, there is always over dyeing and tie-dyeing with another natural dye. Layering colors is another way to diversify the range of colors and sometims to mediate undesirable outcomes.
A Couple of Notes
We love this book, Harvesting Color, by Rebecca Burgess! Please seek it out if you want to deep dive into a natural dye vat of your own.
Also, at this point we only had one dye pot to work with. If we had had two, it would have cut time in half. You can imagine we acquired a new pot before beginning our next adveture in dyeing.
Please leave a comment if you have any questions! Happy dyeing!!!
These naturally dyed fabric will hopefully become a
Anna Lentz, artist, writer, and creativity coach who blogs about making a creative life connected with nature at Spring Bird.