After last Christmas,I was completely out of brown felt with all the making of fairies and fairy houses, so the first batch of dyeing this year is brown. I use Black Walnut husks/shells to get the color just right. Black Walnut trees (Juglans nigra) are native to the US and were used by Native Peoples to dye. I started with 1lb of shells covering them with warm water till they just started to float, and then soaked them overnight. I did this in Pyrex glass containers using their rubber covers to keep the dye away from interested cats we share our home with. It is also important to keep the dye safe from your little ones who may be watching you as you dye. Walnut shells will stain quickly, using tongs and rubber/latex gloves can help keep your hands from getting stained. I used this liquid for the first dye bath but continued to refill the water that was covering the shells with hot water from the sink and within a hour or two you will have more dye available to add to your dye bath. I just kept using the shells until they are done giving their stain. When you are done with the shells they can be composted, but keep in mind they have a toxin in them that can affect other plants and it takes several months of composting for it to break down (follow this link for more information). *Please also note if you are sensitive to nuts do not use Black Walnut Shells to dye for brown.
I will move my dyeing operation outside when the warm weather returns, but for now it's on the kitchen stove. My next step was to pour the dye from the overnight soaking of the shells into a stainless steel pot on low heat, letting it just simmer, if it starts to boil reduce and let it cool off just a bit. Do not place the cover on the pot, and have your kitchen vent fan on. Black Walnut Shells contain tannin a natural mordant so you do not need to add a mordant to your pre-soaking of the fiber, just soak your wool felt or fiber for several hours in warm water then place in the dye bath. *Another note, this dye is hard on silk fibers but fine for wool or cotton. Good color can also be achieved through prolonged cold steeping of hulls and fibers.
When removing the felt from the dye pot I hold it over the pot with metal tongs and let it steam dry, the natural nature of felt lets the dye drain quickly, but the art can be, in leaving a little in, here or there, to give it a natural variation. I first transfer the felt to a glass bowl and let it finish steaming from the dye bath and moving it around as the dye continues to dry, letting it settle on different parts of the felt. Above is my spring project with the first of the brown felt. This Egg Cozy Pattern can make an Egg Cozy, or a finger puppet and of course a stuffed bunny when a bottom is sewn on.
I hope you enjoy dyeing as much as I did!
Happy Spring to all!