Last year I successfully died fabric with black walnut, which was my first try at dying fabrics with natural plant material. My end goal is to have about 10 or so colors so that I can make a quilt similar to this beauty. This year I decided to try my hand at pokeweed. I had read that it can be difficult, but we have so much pokeweed around our neighborhood I couldn’t help but try. A 25:1 ratio is recommended, 25 pokeweed weight to 1 fabric weight. I ended up with about a 35:1 ratio. Then I picked all the berries off the stems. This part took FOREVER. And it made my hands look like this. It’s a bad sign for dying fabric that this washes right off your hands with soap and water.
Using two books from the library (one of which is a really beautiful book called Harvesting Color) and the internet, I read that a vinegar mordant helps the fabric hold the dye, so I pre-mordanted the fabric in vinegar, which was done by simmering (160 degrees) the fabric in water with about 1 cup of water. To prepare the berries for the dye bath, I mashed them in the dye pot, filled the pot with water and 1/2 cup vinegar for every gallon of water for a pH of 3.5. I heated this for 1 hour over low-medium heat, then strained the berries out. The pre-wetted/mordanted fabric went right into this dyebath and soaked on medium heat for 2 hours. I turned the heat off after 2 hours and let it soak for about 30 hours.
I ended up with fabric that looked like this. Needless to say I was pretty ecstatic, but worried it would all wash out like it did on my hands.
Which is exactly what it did. I let it sit and dry for over an hour, then brought it to the sink. The color immediately started to rinse out, and I was basically left with a piece of dirty looking fabric, with a SLIGHT pink hue if you squint (or just pretend). Oh well! Maybe I’ll try again. There are a few things I think I could possibly do better, such as being more precise with measuring exactly how much vinegar should be added to the dyebath and using pH strips to get to exactly a pH of 3.5 in the dyebath. Also, using a thermometer because the dye is very temperature sensitive and the color will be destroyed at temperatures too high.
Here are the three fabrics I have so far. Pokeweed on the left, black walnut method #1 in middle, and black walnut method #2 (soaked overnight) on the right.
Posted on September 5th, 2013 by Susanna
I got the idea about a year ago to make a quilt with all naturally dyed fabrics. Even though I haven’t finished my second quilt, I got started with the dyeing process this past weekend. Most of the plant material I plan on using is “ready” this time of year. My first experiment was using black walnuts. This isn’t meant to be a full tutorial, there are lots of good sources online and books. I’m simply documenting and presenting what worked (and didn’t work) for me.
Before dying, I scoured the fabric by simmering with some washing soda. This removes any waxes or junk on the fabric that would keep it from dyeing evenly.
At first I didn’t mordant the fabric. I gathered about 10 black walnuts from the ground below a tree, they were mostly green, some browning slightly. Then, following directions from two books I got from the library (Harvesting Color by Rebecca Burgess and The Handbook of natural Plant Dyes by Sasha Duerr), I cracked the hulls and separated the nuts (which I left in our backyard and hopefully someone will eat them).
Then I put the hulls in a 5 gallon bucket and added water and let fester in my basement for 2-3 weeks. The water quickly became dark dark brown and stinky. Once it seemed ripe, I strained the liquid into a pot and brought the liquid to a boil, then simmered with the fabric for about 30 minutes. I had two pieces of fabric in the pot, so I decided to see what difference time made. I took the first piece out after 30 minutes of simmering, the second piece I let steep overnight. Then I rinsed and rinsed the fabric until the water ran clear(ish), let dry, and here’s how they looked:
While the colors were lovely (they both kinda appear white in this picture, they were actually much darker), I was expecting a much darker brown rather than a light gray. I had done lots of research and a lot of people said a mordant was unnecessary with black walnuts, but I also read that some people used one so I decided to experiment. I kept the darker of the original fabrics (the one that sat in dyebath overnight) and mordanted the lighter fabric and redyed it. I created an alum mordant by simmering 20% alum per fiber weight, then let fabric steep for 4 hours, stirring occasionally. Additionally, I decided to try boiling the black walnut water with the black walnuts for an hour to try and extract more of the dye from the husks. After boiling for an hour, I added the fabric and soaked for about an hour on medium heat. Then I let it steep overnight and rinsed the next morning.
What a difference those extra steps made! It’s now a much deeper brown, almost olivey. So I have my first 2 colors- I need about 10 more to create the quilt I have in mind! This may take a few years. 🙂