Week Three: Bark, Roots, and Black Walnuts

October 25, 2011 § Leave a comment

Working with bark, roots, twigs, and whatnots takes a bit more patience than other more direct dyeing processes.  We collected apple and elm branches a few weeks back (from downed limbs around Providence) and spent some relaxing time peeling/scraping away at the bark and cutting them down into twigs.  Along with the birch bark we still had from Maine, we made piles of material and let them soak in jars.  Especially in the apple twig jar we could see the color develop and get deeper as the week went on, but that jar also happened to have the foulest smell once we opened it again.  Turns out that even if toxicity isn’t a huge issue, it’s pretty handy to have a ventilation system!  After the soak, we had the dye baths simmer and for the birch bark heat up, being careful to not let water bubble at all (or you’ll lose your color!) and then at last brought in the yarn.

The process of dyeing with the black walnuts was exactly the opposite!  Right away, color leeched from the husks onto our hands and stuck for days.  The husks are famously great for deep, dark hues in natural dyeing.  We got a wonderful tip-off from our weaving teacher on a home she remembered with a black walnut tree in the yard.  It took a lot of walking and fumbling to follow the directions correctly and asking strangely to use the funny walnuts on someone’s lawn, but we got so many!  We separated the husks from half of them and boiled the other ones whole.  The dye bath looked nearly black and bubbled up all gritty and great and made the whole room smell like dirt. This dye seems a testament to all the advice we’ve gotten about “not reinventing the wheel” and making good use of established dyestuff- all the historical accounts were 100% right! This dark bubbling brew of a dye bath was just as satisfying as we’d hoped!


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