Black Walnut-Dyed Yarn: My Dyeing Process
Ok, here goes nothing! It’s time to start the dyeing process. I have done my best to document my full process, so apologies in advance for the length and detail of the post, but if you ever decide to try natural dyeing I hope you find it useful! If you are new to Acre, I would start with Learning How to Make & Use Natural Dye and Black Walnut-Dye: Gathering Materials to ground yourself on the basics of yarn dyeing and gathering the dye materials and yarn before reading my process. Now let’s do this!
700g. or about 15 to 20 foraged end of season black walnuts
yarn swift or back of a chair
1 half gallon unsweetened organic soy milk (I used Silk)
5 gallon bucket with lid
stock pot with lid, just for dye*
wooden spoon just for dye*
Fine metal strainer just for dye*
Large plastic tub
old flour sack towels
Quick note on safety:
*never cook in a pot or use cooking utensils after you have created dye with it. Dye can be toxic to consume, so should not come into contact with food. Do not eat or cook while making dye.
Prepare the walnuts
I collected my walnuts back in November and stored them in the garage until I was ready to create the dye. I tried to brush off any collected dirt, then cracked 15-20 walnuts (700g.) into pieces using a hammer on either the hearth of the fireplace or concrete floor of the garage.
Create the Dye Bath
Next, I wrapped the walnuts in an old flour sack towel, binding the towel ends together with a rubber band to make a sack. I then brought a pot of water to boil (just enough water to submerge the walnuts) and dropped the walnut bag in, immediately covering it with the lid. I removed the pot from the heat and let it sit at room temperature until completely cool, then moved my pot to the basement where it is a bit cooler and out of the way for three days.
After three days, I removed the walnut bag and discarded the walnuts. Then, I poured the dye through a flour sack towel and strainer into a large plastic tub. I poured the strained dye into freezer containers ( I used large yogurt containers for this) and froze my dye until I was ready to dye my yarn. You can skip the freezing step if you have mordanted yarn ready to go (see next step).
Wind the Yarn
Now that my dye has been created, it was time to prep and mordant the yarn. First, I unwound the balls of yarn onto a yarn swift to create long, large loops of yarn (you can also do this on the back of a chair if you do not have a swift). This will help the yarn dye more evenly and avoid spotting. Withe the whole ball of yarn on the swift, I tied the two ends of the yarn ball together to make them easy to find when finished. To keep the yarn from getting tangled during the mordanting and dyeing process, I tied the yarn at four evenly spaced spots around the swift with scrap yarn. I split the sections of yarn on the swift in half, weaving the the scrap yarn through to more securely tie the yarn. Set yarn aside until are ready for the mordanting process.
Prepare the Yarn
A week before I wanted to dye my yarn, I washed my four skeins using a free & clear laundry detergent in the kitchen sink, rinsing and ringing them out.
I then created a soy milk solution to mordant the yarn before dyeing (see the learning to make and use natural dye to learn more about the importance of mordanting) I poured the half gallon of organic unsweetened soy milk into the 5 gallon bucket, adding about 2 gallons of water before submerging my freshly-washed yarn in the milk mixture. I ended up adding more water, until the yarn was covered in soy milk (adding more water is ok, you just want an light, even coating of soy milk on the yarn). I placed the lid on top and stored it in the basement, where it could remain cool. I ended up soaking the yarn for 3 days before ringing it out (do not rinse) and allowed it to air dry for 3 more days. The longer you leave it to dry, the more likely your dye will bond to your fibers.
Dyeing the Yarn
Now it’s dyeing day!! I de-thawed the walnut dye slowly in a pot on the stove on low, adding in the skeins once the dye had completely de-thawed. I did need to add a little extra water to completely cover the skeins, which is ok, because more water will not dilute the dye. Dye is made up of enough dye particles to dye the same weight of fibers so more water will not reduce its potency, just the distance between the dye particles, making the length of time needed for the dye to find and bond to the yarn a bit longer.
I kept the pot on med-low for about an hour and a half before taking the skeins out and letting them line dry (do not rinse). I left the dye in the pot to reuse for a second dye bath, leaving it in the basement to stay cool (A second dye bath can intensify the colors of yarn, and as a yarn-dyeing newbie, I wanted a good strong color for my first dyeing adventure).
The next day, I divided up my skeins and dyed two at a time for about an hour each. I then placed all four skeins to line dry for one week (do not rinse). This gives the dye time to maintain color fastness and bond to the yarn.
Washing and creating skeins
Now that the skeins have been allowed to dry for a week, it was time to wash off the dye and let dry for the final time. I first rinsed my yarn in lukewarm water to get it wet, and squeezed out the access dye. After rinsing, I filled the second sink with soapy water, using 3-5 Tbs. of shampoo (This might seem weird, but I always wash my yarn in shampoo. I figure wool is technically hair, and shampoo is what you would use on that. It works to make the yarn soft and not disrupt the fibers at all. It works super well!) I then submerged the yarn in the soapy water, gently swirling it around. I let it soak for about 5 minutes, then removed each skein to rinse and ring out in the first sink. After all the skeins have been rung out, I refilled the second sink with soapy water and repeated the process, moving the yarn between a washing sink and a rinsing sink until the water ran clear when the yarn was rung out.
I laid the clean skeins onto an old towel, rolling it up tightly and pressing down firmly on the finished roll. This released access moisture before hanging to dry. Leave to dry before winding up and using.
I am so thrilled with the color! It is a dusty, caramel-y beige color. I am so excited to keep playing with black walnut dye, trying out different fibers and soaking times to get different shades. I am also excited to share what I end up making with these beautiful skeins. Stay tuned!