How to Dye Yarn with Walnuts

We moved into our current home last August which has a huge English walnut tree in the back yard. I had a few weeks to research dyeing yarn with walnut dye before the walnuts began falling. Unfortunately they didn't all fall, many of them rotted on the tree and then fell so I didn't get as many walnuts as I should have considering the size of the tree. I have no idea why my tree did not behave the way all the books and websites said it should.

I plan on being in this home for awhile and thus making walnut dye each fall, I want to share what I did this year, maybe to help some of you that have access to walnuts and to help me remember for next time.

  1. When walnuts start falling we checked the yard and picked up the ones that still had some green on their husks. From what I've read the husks with green on them make the best color dye. So I didn't use the walnuts if they were all black and nasty looking on the husks.
  2. I removed the husks by rolling the walnut under my foot. It came off much easier than I thought it would.
  3. I picked up free buckets from my local grocery store's bakery and an old lingerie laundry bag to contain the husks. Other people have suggested an old pillowcase but I had a lingerie bag on hand and it seemed to work okay though I did have some little pieces of husk that made it through the holes in the bag and stuck to my yarn. Most of them came off in the rinsing after I dyed though.
  4. After removing the husks, I put them in the lingerie bag and put the bag in the bucket. I filled it with water. Each day I picked up new husks I added them to the bag for about a week. Then I started a new bucket of dye.
  5. I put the walnuts, in their shells, on a shelf to dry. I tried to wash off some of the black stuff on the shells without much luck so they look kind of dirty but after drying a few days they tasted fine.
Ideally I should have dyed my yarn about a week after making the dye. But I didn't have yarn to dye yet. So the husks sat in the bucket for maybe a month before I used it the first time. The first yarn I dyed with the walnut dye was Knitpicks Bare Stroll Fingering Sock Yarn. You can see in the photo that I should have tied more figure 8s on it. Hopefully the skein can be wound into a ball without too much tangling. I love the color that was produced with the first dye lot. All the tutorials I read cooked the dye on a stove but I was using a crock pot so I had to use trial and error a bit to figure it out. It took so long to achieve that color.  This walnut dye tutorial was really helpful though.


  1. I soaked my yarn in lukewarm water for 20 minutes in the crock pot on low.
  2. After removing yarn, I added 2 tablespoons of alum to the crockpot and put the wet yarn back in. With the crockpot on high it sat in there for about 2 hours and then I turned it off and let it cool in the crockpot over night. There is some debate on whether walnut dye needs a mordant like alum but I decided to do it anyway.
  3. The next morning I removed the yarn and took the crock pot OUTSIDE (because the walnut husks are super stinky). I put my dye with my lngerie bag of walnut husks in the crock pot and cooked it on high for about 4 hours.
  4. I removed the bag and let the dye cool to the same temperature as the yarn. I want to get a second crock pot so my dye can be cooking at the same time as my yarn is mordanting (is that word?) and I can just transfer the hot yarn to the hot dye immediately.
  5. When the dye was cool enough to put the yarn in, I cooked the yarn on high in the crock pot for 4-5 hours. And then let it cool before rinsing it off and hanging it to dry. Even after all that time my dye bath was not exhausted. I am not sure why. It seems like that would be long enough but it still had a lot of color in it. I saved it for lately.
Unfortunately not too long after that, the dye bath in my garage froze. I had the one I had used plus an additional bucket I was saving to dye my hand spun in. But those froze solid for several months. Meanwhile I was spinning all my Peruvian Highland roving to dye. By the time I got that all finished, my dye had been defrosted for a bit and my bucket of already used dye had some mold on it so I threw it out. Bummer. The second bucket looked okay and I repeated the above steps for my hand spun in the bottom photo. I wanted to make a gradient dye using this gradient dyeing tutorial.

I planned to take out the first skein after 20 minutes but it hardly had any color to it. I left it in twice as long then started taking them out every 30 minutes or so. But not super happy with the color. After all 6 skeins had gradually come out of the dye bath over the course of a few hours, the dye was no where near exhausted and the color on the yarn was not the dark brown I wanted so I threw them all back in. I cooked them a few more hours then let them cool in the dye over night. So the gradient is very slight.  It never got as dark as I wanted but maybe that is because it was frozen for so long? I still like it pretty well. But I hope to be prepared this fall to use my dye much quicker. Even so, it is fun to think that I spun that yarn, dyed that yarn, and will soon knit that yarn. Like the little red hen!

Joining with Andrea and Linda.

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