Grackle & Sun

Dye Day #1 Results: Barking up the Wrong Tree, or the Semi-FAIL of Walnut and Birch

Not all was a righteous success on Dye Day #1, but lessons were learned on all fronts.  Two such cases were with walnut and birch.  We’ll start with walnut.  This, by all counts, should have been a cakewalk.  Walnuts stain very easily, but getting that colour to stick to wool proved more difficult.  Let’s see why.

Dye Notes:

Dyestuff:  Walnuts

Parts used:  Hulls and bark.  IMPORTANT NOTE!  I always thought that a walnut hull was the brown part that directly encases the nut.  Silly me, that’s apparently not the case.  The hull is the green part that wraps around the whole shebang.  The hard brown casing is just the shell.  Why is this important?  Because the bulk of the dye is in the green hull—not so much in the shell.  Oh, you’ll get a very dark, dark extraction—it just won’t be potent enough to stick to the yarn.  Or so I learned.

Source:  Martha the basketweaver

Yarn:  Knitpicks Bare Superwash mordanted with 8% aluminum potassium sulfate and 7% cream of tartar, Lion Brand Fisherman’s Wool unmordanted.

Ratio of dyestuff to fiber:  The recommended minimum ratio is 0.5 : 1.  But as I did not prep this bucket, I have no idea how much was in there.  A fair amount of bark was soaked by Martha for an unspecified number of months.  When I got the bucket, the liquid was black, but not stinky at all.  I added to it a bag of whole walnut shells, meaning the nuts were still in the shells, but there were no hulls.  I soaked all of this together in a warm spot on the back porch for 2 weeks. The total amount of yarn used for this pot was 160g.

Extraction method:  I strained the bucket through a colander and coffee filter and reserved the dye liquid.  I measured out 166g of the soaked walnut shells and tied them off into some pantyhose and added that to the liquid.  This was gently simmered together for 1 hour.

Dyebath:  Yarn was then added the pot, and the dyebath was simmered for another hour.  Everything was left to cool in the pot overnight.  The pH of the dyebath was 6.7.

The results?  When we first pulled the skeins out of the dyebath, we thought we’d nailed it.  And then we watched in horror as the dye liquid dripped back into the pot and all the colour leached out of the yarn , leaving it cream or tan again.  In the end, the results were ok on superwash, not so much on non-superwash.  Unmordanted was a total FAIL.  On the Fisherman’s Wool, I ended up with what I dubbed as ‘walnut creme’, by which I mean a slightly darker cream colour than what I started with.  No photo, as I immediately overdyed it in another dyepot so it wouldn’t stare at me banefully from my stash, a reminder of my failure.  The superwash was slightly better.  I got brown, but not delicious brown.

Walnut on mordanted superwash; iron modifier

Modifiers:  The after-dip in an iron modifier helped to darken the yarn significantly, but it took out any red tones that were originally in the colour.  I’ve heard that some people will just add the iron to the dyebath from the get-go, but I wonder if that ultimately effects the yarn, as too much iron can make it brittle.  It is also possible to continue to overdye the yarn until you get the depth of colour that you desire.

Below is an example of the overdyeing and modifying as done by my friend Kittyraja:

Superwash on the left, regular wool on the right. Both alum mordanted.

She says, “The bulky yarn on the right was also treated overnight in more walnut dye and an iron modifier, which helped to darken it some.”  The superwash appears as-is from the dyebath.  I like that the bulky yarn essentially turned greyish.

Lessons learned?   I wonder if the bark in the extraction had anything to do with these results?  Maybe.  Next time, it’s nothin’ but hulls, baby.  I’d like to get good colour without having to use an iron modifier.  I will definitely mordant my wool and after the hot dyebath, maybe let the yarn sit in the pot for an extra day or two.  Or three.

On to birch.  Oh, I had hopes for this one.  Wild Colour says that it’s possible to get a kind of mauvey colour from birch bark.  Definitely in the light pinky-purpley range.  As that would have been a totally different colour on our palette for the day, I was really hoping that this one would turn out.  I followed ALL THE STEPS, people.  Which is not like me, as my curiousity to randomly follow other paths gets the better of me on most days.  But I did good here.

Dye Notes:

Dyestuff:  Birch

Parts used:  Bark

Source:  also Martha the basketweaver

Yarn:  Knitpicks Bare Superwash mordanted with 8% aluminum potassium sulfate and 7% cream of tartar; Lion Brand Fisherman’s Wool unmordanted

Ratio of dyestuff to fiber:  1:1 is the recommended minimum amount for results.  I used more of a 2.5 : 1.  The total amount of yarn in the dyepot was 160g.

Extraction method:  Martha send over birch bark scraps that she couldn’t weave with.  Who needs ratios?  I decided to soak the whole kit and ask questions later.  So, 394g of birch bark was broken into small pieces and then soaked in a covered bucket of cool water for 2 weeks.  The bucket was then strained through a colander and coffee filter and the dye liquid reserved.  166g of bark were kept out and tied off into panythose and added to the dye liquid for a hot extraction.  This was simmered very, very gently for 1 hour.

Dyebath:  160g of yarn was added to the dyebath for a cold, overnight soak.  The pH of the dyebath was 6.3.  It is said that if you boil this dyebath, you will hate your life.   Boiling is bad news for bark.   It is also said that this dyestuff is suitable for a cold dyebath, but I’m doubting that now.

The results?  So unremarkable, friends, that I don’t even have any pictures of mine.  It pretty much did not dye at all.  For anybody.  Not on superwash.  Not on wool.  Not mordanted.  Not unmordanted.  Not with a fox.  Not in a box.  Zilch.  Nada.  Goose egg.  The upside of this?  Our yarn emerged from the dyepot so pristine that it was ready to immediately overdye a different colour—which is what all of us did.  Lol.  So at least our yarn wasn’t trashed.  That would have been sad.

Modifiers:  Kittyraja had fun playing with modifiers on her skeins of birch (not)dyed yarn.  She also painted them with some alkanet.  They turned out pretty cool:

Kittyraja says, “Birch Bark. Didn’t do a damn thing to my yarn. But, the finished product ended up being one of my FAVES. I modded it with iron and spot-dyed with some leftover alkanet dye, which gave it the pale purple bits. I like it.”

Lessons learned?  I dunno.  The only thing that I can think of is to try a heated dyebath and then go from there.  I didn’t read of birch having pH issues, but maybe that was it.  The one thing we do know is that it wasn’t for lack of dyestuff.  We had more than enough to yield colour.  Maybe it was a species issue?  Could be.  There are lots of different Betulas, and I have no way of knowing what type I had.  I would say that I prolly wouldn’t try this one again, but I feel it’s a challenge now to get this one right.  Has anybody had success with birch bark?

Live happy, dye happy!

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8 thoughts on “Dye Day #1 Results: Barking up the Wrong Tree, or the Semi-FAIL of Walnut and Birch

  1. Haha! I use powdered walnut hull in my hair rinses and moisturizing masks to add just a bit more brown to my locks. Seems to work good on that…and if I’m not careful, on my light colored towels. :/

    • A lot of dyers buy the powdered walnut hull if they don’t have a supply handy. Luckily, we’ve got black walnut trees growing everywhere around here. People will pay you to clean them out of their yards. I never thought of using it for hair, but that makes sense. How long does the colour last?

  2. I usually do a hair rinse or conditioning mask (with the walnut hull in it) about every 2 weeks, so I’m not sure how long it would last if I didn’t keep boosting it every couple of weeks but it definitely lasts at least 2 weeks. :)

  3. Pingback: At the Burrow DyeTable # 7: Lychee LOSE & Walnut WIN « Grackle & Sun

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  5. Pingback: Birch Bark: Day 1 | spinayarnknit

  6. To get really good color with walnut, use fresh green hulls. Make sure you wear gloves! If the hulls are already oxidized most of the dyestuff is already gone.

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