Sunday, January 10, 2016

New Year--New Tapestry Diary

I'm underway with my next year's tapestry diary... I mentioned it in the last post and now, ten days into 2016, I have 10 days woven.  I'll weave a rectangle or square each day and continue to use from my yarn remnants for the daily entries.  However, this year I've decided to devote each month to a larger image, sort of like the weekly ones I did for 2015.  I don't have sizes worked out for each month--I'll determine that as each month rolls around--but I do know my subject for the year--the black walnut tree in our yard.

We have several black walnut trees living near us and one is quite large.  I love all of the black walnut trees, but especially the large one with the twists and turns of its limbs and its dramatic presence.  I see the tree each morning when I look out the kitchen window.  On winter nights I can look at the moon from my upstairs window as it shines through the filigree of limbs.  When walking through the yard in the fall I hope to not be pelted when nuts tumble down.  And I've stumbled on nuts and fallen--only once but it was a good one!  Watching the squirrels busily dig holes in the yard to hide nuts is always amusing, too.  Wonder how they know where they are later?

I've used the black walnut tree as subject in one month of the 2015 tapestry diary and I devoted a larger tapestry to the tree a few years back.  Here's that tapestry, called To the Essence of Every Nature.


It occurred to me last Sunday that there might still be some of the walnut hulls in the yard to use for dyeing and when I looked around it seemed I might have enough to at least get a few light values.  I picked up about half a bucket full and soaked them for a couple of days and then started cooking up dye from the hulls on Wednesday.  And I'm still at it!  I've dyed almost three pounds of wool now, doing about four skeins each day.  I'm getting a variety of light, medium and dark values of both browns and greys, depending on the pot I'm cooking the dye in.


It's been a years since I've done natural dyeing so I looked through a couple of my dye books for help.  One was an old classic, The Dye-Pot, by Mary Frances Davidson.  She was a long-time member of Southern Highland Craft Guild and was who first taught me about natural dyeing in 1974 at a workshop we invited her to conduct at North Georgia College.  Another book I used as reference is Want Natural Colour? by Jeanie Reagan.  She self-published the book in 2003; I don't know if it's still available or not but it has lots of useful information.

Black walnut is what's called a substantive dye because the material contains tannins and so it doesn't need a mordant for dyeing.  Several parts of the tree can be used for dyeing: leaves, bark and hulls--what I'm using.  I've used stainless steel pots for browns and an iron kettle to get the grays.  The kettle is from my grandmother's things and probably dates to the 1920s or 1930s.  The colors coming from it are wonderful shades of grays--almost the color of the black walnut bark, in fact--those iron pot skeins are at the top of the photo.

I have five pots going today, four on the stove and a crock pot that's now devoted to dyes.


 I picked up more (probably the last) walnut hulls today and have them soaking.



I've started winding the dyed, dried skeins into balls and weighing them.


I think, by the time I finish the dyeing adventure in a couple of days that I'll have enough yarn to carry me through the year as I celebrate the black walnut tree in all its changes through the seasons.


  1. Beautiful yarn. I still have samples from francis Davidson axworkshop I attended when I was in the Huntsville Guild. Hmm. Guess I need to pull them out and do something with them. She was an amazing lady.

  2. Jan. 17. 2016 I just caught up with this walnut blog post today and am mesmerized with your beautifully colored yarns.....just exquisite. Way back in the 60's before computers when my kids were small and my spare money also small I started dyeing with all kinds of "stuff" I could gather and grow. I was so much fun digging into the onion bins at the supermarket and growing flowers that yielded dyes. I read Indian books and loved how they worked with baby urine. Oh sure as the years went by I attended dye classes and bought my share of the small tan envelopes but....nothing is as much fun as working with what is outside in nature. Thanks for sharing these beautiful colors. from Janet K up the coast in NJ

  3. Just in case you get a wild hair, I find that the book Wild Color by Jenny Dean is my go-to book. She has very simple mordant recipes that can be used for small batches-like 4 ozs. Davidson's book was all we had back in the 70's, and I still look at it some times.