Sunday, 16 May 2010


I mentioned briefly that we have 2 Walnut trees growing in the garden and that I want to do some experiments. I'm actually very excited about the trees - I've only ever got pale fawns from the dried husks that you can buy - unless I add iron or copper as a modifier. In fact I am more likely to choose Cutch than Walnut if I want to produce a brown. It's actually very frustrating, because the bath is always a really rich, thick brown colour and whatever is being dyed looks gorgeous until you squeeze it out! Anyway this is going to be the first of probably many reports throughout the next year on the experiments and their progress.

So to start - here are the 2 trees. One has leaves and catkins, the other only buds and the beginnings of catkins. From these I would say they are both Juglans Regia, which originated in Asia Minor, but long ago became naturalised to to temperate climates of Europe. The king of trees, they were highly valued by the Romans - Pliny gives a recipe for dyeing hair to stop it going white and the use of fermented husks is recorded in the early days of dyeing in Persia. (Juglans Nigra or Black Walnut is originally from Central and Eastern America, also quite common in Europe as well now but obviously from a much more recent date)

This image shows the catkins and leaves quite clearly. According to John and Margaret Cannon the catkins can be used to dye I wasn't going to take any this year thought that that would be a later experiment, however it's been pretty windy today and several have been blown down, so I've collected them and will try them during the week.(I only thought the leaves and husks were used, but the roots also get included to get darker colours, they're collected before the sap begins to rise).

I have dyed with dried leaves and had some really lovely results - research so far recommends collecting in early summer, so I'll try some fresh leaves in July. The walnuts themselves may be quite a lengthy process. The recommendations seem to be that they are collected when green, covered with water and a lid to keep them from oxidizing and then stored for - some say 1 year others 2.

As I do the experiments I will give my sources and results. According to Cardon the most common colour obtained from walnuts on their own is fawn, it would seem that you have to combine with madder or indigo to get darker colours, I'm hoping to try as many different methods as I can to build up a good knowledge of their potential.


Spindlers2 said...

I did once get a good deep rich brown from hulls I collected in France. No mordant. With the very dried stuff - yes, fawns!


Florcita said...

I've got browns too with just leaves and the green husks that cover the walnut just as they fall on the ground. I think the secret was that I forgot it in the bucket (covered) for like a month ahahah not on purpose, I just forgot. Right now I have a bucket full of husks of nuts we've eaten this winter, with water... brewing for a few weeks already. I always forget to add some fibre to it! Jenny Dean told me that in any case, this could be a very good pre mordating technique... so, nothing is lost!
I still need to place an order with you! are you settled back in France?

Ladka said...

Hi Debbie, I've dyed with fresh green walnuts (Juglans regia) quite a lot and have posted photos and a description of my procedure on my blog at mamaladka.blogspot. com on 30 April 2009 and on Flickr at
You may wish to have a look for more info.
I've also dyed with fresh green leaves to get lighter browns and beiges (or is it called fawn?) but they are not so beautiful - at least in my eyes.
I'll be following your experiments with your walnuts.

Debbie said...

Thanks Carol, Florcita and Ladka for your comments and support! It'll be good to go through the different stages and options through the year. Florcita, we are here in France until the 17th June then back over to the UK for a month,Ladka your blog is fascinating - the colours you are achieving are beautiful. Thanks for the link!