Dyeing In Winter

It was as early as August when the walnuts started plunk-plunking to the ground around here. I had grand notions to gather them slowly until I accumulated an impressive amount, enough for a really rich dye bath. But it turns out black walnuts get moldy when you try to store them in humid summer conditions. My dreams of slowly accumulating a large pot full were looking slim. But then a storm came through in September that shook a ton of them from the trees and I was able to forage for and dye my yarn all in one day that resulted in the dark brown I was dreaming of. Shortly after that, I thought, since drying them wasn’t an option for storage, maybe freezing would work?

Last week, when I was rummaging for some broccoli in the barn freezer, I remembered that I had put a bag of 18 black walnuts in there. Since the temperature was forecasted to go above freezing for the first time in what felt like forever, I figured I’d give winter dyeing a try. The snow stopped by mid-morning and I went outside to break up thawed walnuts (with gloves on, of course.) I shoved the pieces into a gallon glass jar and poured hot water over them. When cool enough and well steeped, I strained out the liquid, which I then topped off with a little more hot water. In went a skein of wet worsted weight superwash wool and I let it sit overnight. (The beautiful thing about walnut dye is that you don’t need to mordant the yarn. But based on past attempts the richer brown was when I used alum.)

The next day, after some rinses and soaks, I had this caramel colored beauty. Not surprisingly, dyeing yarn in winter is a much different experience than doing so in summer or fall. But knowing I can keep something like walnuts for a rainy snowy day to feed my urge to dunk a skein of yarn in a dye bath anytime of the year is promising.

(The primroses have nothing to do with the dye process—the windowsill seemed like the perfect sunny spot to photograph the yarn.)