Dried English walnut and fresh black walnuts

Juglans regia et Juglans nigra, getrocknete echte Walnüsse u. frische Schwarznüsse, nogales secos y nogales negros frescos, gallchnónna triomaithe is gallchnónna dubh úr

We came across a couple of nut trees whilst out walking doggie, and I (mis-)took them to be pecans. Why? We have not so far away a huge pecan that I had (mis-)taken for an ash. Confused? Well, I’d only ever seen one pecan tree, in the Adelaide Botanic Gardens and hadn’t really retained an image of its leaves. The aforementioned pecan tree nearby is however a real specimen – tall and spreading and grand. Just like a large ash, but different. Back to the nut trees… looking at the fruits I’d managed to collect, they were clearly a different shape to pecans, and when I cut them open, that confirmed what they were. They were left in a bag for a few days and started to go mouldy, but were still full of potential. All three went into the dyepot at once and produced some beautiful, deep shades. One fruit would probably have been ample for the small amount of yarn, but it was only an experiment (this time). 

fresh J. nigra fruits

These colours reminded me of a previous experiment with J. regia leaves: rich browns and deeper shades on the unmordanted yarn.

dried J. regia fruits

The next dyepot involved some dried English walnuts that has fallen from the tree prematurely last summer, or maybe the summer before, or the one before that. Whichever, it was in much hotter weather. The fruits were still whole, but dried and had not grown to full size. Four or five of them were thrown in to soak for a few days, then boiled for a bit before the yarn was added to simmer (the colour of the liquour suggested it was ready).

A different range of shades, and different again to the earlier experiment with leaves. Worth repeating, but I’ll be wanting to try some fresh J. regia next year.


Walnut leaves – dried

Juglans regia, feuilles séchées de noyer, getrocknete Walnussblätter, hojas secadas de nogal, duilleoga gallchnó thriomaithe

This doesn’t count as a new dyepot as it was done a few weeks ago. Honest.

I can’t remember if I weighed the leaves; if so, it would’ve been at about 200% wof.  They dried quickly, hung in bunches in the shed. When I decided all moisture had abandoned them, a quick squeeze and rub showed they were still quite flexible and not ready to crumble like dried herbs.dried walnut leaves

The results speak for themselves – an interesting variety of shades, and along with the results from the fresh leaves, quite a range all from one tree.

Now I’m imagining a tartan dyer and weaver living in the vicinity of a walnut tree and having his own plaid in a dozen shades of brown. A project for the future? Next year, perhaps…


Walnut leaves

Juglans regia, feuilles de noyer, Walnussblätter, hojas de nogal, duilleoga gallchnó

It’s the time of year when I remind myself that if I don’t go and pick some green walnuts soon, they’ll be too hard to cut for nocino. Only last week we found two more “wild” trees while out walking doggie and another one on the way bacwalnutk from harvesting, so now that makes seven. Sounds like the making of a poem or song.

I also gathered enough leaves to experiment with dyeing. The results were interesting, even though at first I confused my mordanted with unmordanted samples. The unmordanted yarn was clearly “marked”, but produced slightly lighter shades. Ethel Mairet wrote that mordanted yarns produce a “brighter and richer colour”. I’ll definitely try again, and also with dried leaves.

From the top: unmordanted, mordanted, unmordanted + alkaline modifier, mordanted + alkaline modifier, unmordanted + acid modifier, mordanted + acid modifier.

The alkalinewalnuts2 (bicarb) brought out more brown, whereas the acid (vinegar) brought out a redder tone.

When the leaves were simmering, they smelled surprisingly like rhubarb leaves and did not take long to yield their colour into the water.

And the nuts? They’re already turning the vodka dark and bitter. After steeping for a month or so, the liquor will be strained and bottled and ready to drink this time next year. Well worth the wait!

Nocino yarn

nocino3After coming across some walnut trees a few years ago, I decided to try pickling the unripe fruits, then discovered a recipe for nocino. The fruits are cut up, then steeped in vodka, sugar, lemon zest and spices for a month. It only takes a few days for the mixture to start turning black, which got me thinking; if the walnuts can stain anything in sight (hands, chopping boards, counter-tops, etc), maybe they can also dye yarn?

After the four weeks were up, I strained and bottled the mixture, then put the leftover walnuts and spices to good use. They were boiled for about an hour, then alum-mordanted yarn was added. I didn’t bother weighing or measuring as it seemed futile. The walnuts were added to the original mixture by number, not weight, and there was naturally some difference in size.

The yarn was heated for another hour, then left overnight before rinsing. Thnocinoe smell was like Christmas cake from the start of the process to the very end, and one year later the yarn still smells yummy. I might try making something with it if I can bear to stop smelling it.

And the colour? A deep, honey-brown… the colour of Christmas cake mixture in the mixing bowl, when it’s just ripe for dipping the finger in for a taste… The resulting liqueur is pretty good, I have to say. Viscous and deep black-green with just the right amount of bitterness. It’s best left for a year to mature, and has now become a yearly ritual.