Natural Dye – Black Walnut

We’re surrounded by Black Walnut trees around here, so many that it’s too easy to be annoyed by the annual arrival of the green, fist sized nuts that create such a hazard falling from the branches during September and October. Then the yard becomes an obstacle course of firm balls covering the ground for weeks until the squirrels finally carry them off. If we want to pick them up in advance of the squirrels (say, if we decide we’d like to reduce the risk of breaking an ankle on our way to the garden) we are amazed at not only the abundance of nuts, but the tenacity of the thick, dark stain they leave on everything they touch. If you don’t wear gloves, you are stuck with it on your hands for weeks.

Looking at it another way, however, the Black Walnut tree is an amazing resource, providing for the willing homesteader an impressive array of gifts–including not only a delicious and nutritious gourmet nut, an oil with numerous uses, beautiful hard wood, and a lovely dye for yarns and fabrics.

That’s why this year, as we begin our Lady Farmer exploration of sustainable and functional clothing, I needed only to look in my backyard for an excellent place to start in playing with natural fabric dyes.


Here’s what I did:

  1. I got a clean(ish) 5 gallon plastic tub and filled it with ripe black walnuts picked off the ground
  2. Filled it with water and let the nuts soak for a few days. I think two days would be the minimum.
  3. Poured the water through a strainer into a 5 gallon pot (I used my canning pot) and set it to simmer for 2 hours.
  4. I took two pieces of an organic hemp fabric blended with tencel, soaked them briefly in warm water (I read that this prepares the fabric to receive the dye and lessens the damage from the hot water soak)  and placed them in the vat.
  5. Took one of them out after about 3 hours and left the other one in overnight


This is just one example of the miracles of color that surround us every day, in every season. We look forward to helping you see them–and creating ways for you to wear them!

– Mary