Friday, September 19, 2014

Walnut Juice




Nature offers many wonderful materials to use as art supplies. When cooked and boiled, walnut husks make the most deep golden brown ink or dye. They, like the Oak galls, have tannins for a permanent stain. Native Americans and pioneers used them to colour leather, wood, and baskets.
The ink is great for calligraphy or painting and is useful in ‘antiquing’ just about anything. The instructions I found said to remove the nuts from the husks, but when I experimented, I was too lazy to do this and the result was still a success. The first year, I left them in an old enamel bowl in a dark corner of the barn for a year. Later, the old fruits had become a dark, ugly congealed mass. 
They were perfect! The blacker and more decomposed the better. Now I collect them every year and I only take what has fallen to the ground and there is usually plenty. I am now processing last year's harvest. Most people say to use husks from the Black walnut Juglans nigra, but to be honest, I am not sure what my tree is. I have a feeling it is an English Walnut Juglans regia and it works just fine for me and that is what is important, right?

Walnuts, both green and black, work great especially if they are going to sit in a dark place for a year. But they can be cooked up right away and still work well. I did learn the first year to cover them to keep out critters. I kept waking to find them scattered all over my deck.


Rusty iron is a valuable addition to the process, just as with oak galls. I keep an old gear and nail handy for this purpose. When on walkabout, I keep my eyes open for pieces of rusty metal.

In a large canning cooker went the rusty bits and the old gunky walnuts.  I then added about 3 gallons of water. Some people say to use distilled water but I think that is silly since the well water here has iron and rust in it just like the metal I add... so well water works fine. 


I brought it to a boil and then simmered for a few days, turning it off when unattended. After about a week I poured the mess through a colander and kept simmering it on and off for another week. It didn't have to take so long but I was working and felt lazy when home. I simmered it from time to time to make sure it didn't start molding.


The second straining needed to be through a fabric. Since I have a bag full of clothing and things to dye, I grabbed a large white cotton shirt left over from my costuming days. I figured it could be useful and get colored at the same time. I tied it over a smaller pot (didn't need to... turns out clothes pins or other clips work better). I moved the shirt around a few times while pouring the liquid to get the effect I wanted.

I hung the shirt to air dry and then poured the juice through again, focusing on the back side of the shirt. This time I let the whole garment go into the dye for a few seconds and then wrung it out. There is quite a change... the second dipping shows a much warmer brown. It also has a lot of texture and patterns, which is what I am after. I may do it a third time before I heat set and rinse to see what I get.


After this, I strained the liquid through coffee filters (in the past, used muslin scraps) a few times (more labor intensive, but the liquid has to be free of organic material) I save the filters and fabric for other projects. I added alcohol to act as a preservative. The batches I made the last 2 years I used 151 rum and they haven't molded. Also, rum sounds more natural and friendlier. I then added a little liquid scent to make it smell nice.



Very soon, I will post swatch samples of the pigments and dyes I have made so far. And watch for future blogs showing results of my different projects (including the finished shirt that doubled as a strainer).


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