Ravenous Craft

Black Walnut Natural Dye

IntermediateMallory LanceComment

All of my clothes are black or realtree all terrain suits. But I did have one remaining blur denim vest. A vest I love and have gotten a lot of use from over the years, but a blue vest nonetheless. So of course the solution was to dye the vest black. And I wanted to do it the natural way.

I had read about natural dyeing techniques and kept getting referred to black walnut dye. After putting this project off for a while, coincidentally I went upstate to a cabin one weekend and right outside my door, there were a ton of black walnut hulls. Now, if you've read about the process for making black walnut dye, you'll find that the toughest part of the whole process is separating the hull from the walnut. Well, my friends, if you let the squirrels do the work you don't have to worry about that part. Usually the fruits are green, but once they begin to atrophy, they turn a deep, jet black color. I collected a bunch of them and wrapped them up for later use.

Note - when handling the walnut hulls it is recommended that you wear gloves if you're afraid of staining your hands. I personally couldn't care less and the dye didn't make my hands too black.

What you'll need:

  • Item/items to dye
  • 2 large pots
  • washing soda
  • laundry detergent
  • 8-12 black walnut hulls

1. Submerge the walnut hulls in about a gallon of water. It will immediately turn all the water black. Simmer over medium/low heat for about an hour.

2. While the dye is simmering, scour your fabric or item of clothing. Combine 1 tbsp washing soda and 1/2 tsp detergent in one gallon of water. Bring to a boil.

3. Meanwhile, if there are any parts you want to keep fairly un-dyed, rub white wax on them. I did this with my patches and they remained mostly untouched by the dye.

4. Once the water boils, add the item of clothing, submerging it completely. Simmer on low for about an hour.

5. Wash the item completely and wring out. Then add it to the black walnut dye pot and simmer, with the clothing in it for at least an hour. Longer if you want a deeper color.

6. Take the item of clothing straight from the dye bath, and hang it up to dry, without rinsing it first. Then once mostly dry, put it in a dryer, if you have access to one, for about an hour to fix the dye. After that, rinse the item of clothing and hang dry it. You'll see the dye is a deep brown, nearly black color. I hear if you add rusted iron, it helps get the color darker or more grey but I cannot speak from experience there.

For the remaining dye, simmer until it's reduced by half. Then strain out the solids. You can use this, moving forward, as a natural ink.