Who knows what evil lurks inside of black walnuts?

walnuts in a bucket 2

The chemgrrl knows!

Yes I know, in great detail. The dyeing of wool with black walnuts can be summed up quite succinctly: it was icky.

So to do this, first you need some walnuts.

Check. I gathered the fallen ones from my yard. I guess that was my first mistake. The directions I was following said to get them from the trees, but that proved difficult, seeing as my walnut trees are about 20 to 30 feet tall. So, the ground it was.

Secondly, you need to separate the nuts from the hulls. The hulls are the green and/or brown outside layer, and the coffee-ground stuff inside them. The hulls of black walnuts are pretty hard, so I cracked them with a sledgehammer.

It’s lucky for you guys that I did this at night, with a headlamp. Otherwise I might have taken pictures of what resulted.

The walnuts were full of maggots. After the first couple, in which I dutifully picked the nuts out of the squirming hulls, I decided to chuck it and threw the whole things, nuts and all, into the pot. I did give each one a good whack beforehand, to make sure that it was open. Only occasionally did I send maggots flying everywhere with the force of my blow.

Yeah. Icky.

So then I filled the pot with water (maggots and all!) and let it soak overnight. Then I went and took a shower. With lots and lots of soap.

In the morning, I boiled the mixture for about an hour. Then Huan-Hua came over and we fished the walnuts out of the mixture, then strained out the protein and goo with an old pillowcase. Well, it’s an old pillowcase now.

Here’s what was left.

what was left

Ick. Fortunately, that was about the end of the gross part.


We dyed about seven skeins of yarn. I dyed some KnitPicks bare DK weight, and Huan-Hua dyed some handspun she had, plus overdyed some purple Lopi. I diluted down the walnut juice a bit, then we popped in our pre-wet yarn. Simmer for ~and hour, viola! Brown yarn.

walnut yarn in the big bucket

Can you spot the knitter in this picture?

We pulled it out of the steaming walnut-ness so it would cool a little faster.

After a rinse, it looked like this.

walnut dyed yarn all

It’s funny how much darker my yarn came out. Huan-Hua’s was kind of a caramely brown, where mine was a medium chestnut brown. The purple Lopi took the dye pretty well, and became dark brown.

still life with plug

After drying:

walnut dyed yarn

Walnutty goodness. The yarn took the dye really evenly. I was kind of bummed by this, as I really like the tonal quality of kettle-dyed yarns. It still smells like walnuts, too. I kind of liked the smell as I was boiling the walnut mixture, but it became more and more unsavory as the day went on. Now it kind of makes me want to yak.

walnut dyed yarn 2

I think I need to wash it again. Blarg!

But pretty, though. Yes?

***For those of you interested, I AM going to write out a detailed tutorial on how to dye with walnuts sometime next fall. So check back!**