Dyeing Time: Black Walnut and Indigo

12 Sep

I’m not sure how long I’ve been doing this–this communing with cloth thing–but I think for maybe 2 years now. And I’m amazed at how my preference for types of cloth and color has changed. I still have a few piles of “new” cloth, somewhere, but I don’t use it–and the re-purposed fabrics I get–at thrift stores, yards sales, etc.–well, I rarely use them just as they are. I tend to do some thing to them–some thing to change the color. Mute it down. Pop it up. Some thing. And here is my latest cloth, still waiting for stitch. An earth guardian. Honoring sun/moon. Holding things in place. Watching over. Protecting heaven and earth. Fabrics all over-dyed or first time dyed in walnut, indigo, onion skin. Some tin can wrapping. Altered for a particular sense of what? Earth? I don’t know. But it’s where I’m pulled these days.


Two months ago I started an indigo fermentation vat. And NO THING happened for weeks. I even put a light on it for a month, stirred it daily, but really just decided it wasn’t going to happen. And then yesterday, when I popped the lid off the container, there it was–that big coppery pile of bubbles on top of the liquid. So I dyed yesterday. With indigo. Simultaneously I was heating a pot of black walnuts on the stove in the kitchen. And I forgot about it in my indigo bliss. Forgot about it until I could SMELL it–and I was quite a ways removed from the kitchen. This was o.k. The windows were open. Fans on. Magic incense burning. But still. An unexpected delivery from Fed Ex. The driver looking at me with a peculiar expression. Sniffing. Looking over my shoulder into the house. Wondering. I resisted the temptation to explain.

But I did dye yesterday. And here is the cloth wet:




and the finished, dried fabric:






Would have posted yesterday but got side tracked. Two weeks ago I was handed two “cicada seeds” by g-son. To keep. To guard. I always honor those requests, so why I tossed them, I just don’t know. But I did. Threw them away. I vaguely remember that I also crumpled them up first, rather intrigued with the way they crunched, like some food snack. Thought about them, then, as food stuff. But the bottom line was I threw them away.

Yesterday after school, g-son told me he needed them now. Needed the “cicada seeds.” Wanted to use them for a class project. In two days. So would I please bring them tomorrow when I picked him up? O.K. Yes. Hmmmmm. So spent this morning looking for more. And found these three hanging in various places, on the stone wall, the wooden fence, and one tangled in a spider’s web. Good. This is good. “Cicada seeds.” Yes.


Sitting on top of just dried fabric. Black walnut. And here’s some of the black walnut dyed fabric from yesterday.

black walnut

38 Responses to “Dyeing Time: Black Walnut and Indigo”

  1. Barbara September 12, 2013 at 1:35 pm #

    Can you go into more detail regarding your indigo fermentation vat? Can you share your recipe?


    • Patricia September 12, 2013 at 1:56 pm #

      hi Barbara–i kinda dye the way i cook–measuring sometimes, weighing sometimes–lot of “well, here goes”–so i’m more comfortable giving you a “real” recipe–www.aurorasilk.com/tutorials/how_to_natural_indigo_dye_vat.html

      this is pretty much what i did–but again, i didn’t document well and that could be part of my problem. part of it!

      she says to add everything again, in the same proportions, once the vat becomes exhausted. let me know how it works for you.


  2. fiberels September 12, 2013 at 1:53 pm #

    Ohhhh a indigo vat ….. !!!!
    Would love to have one …. no space for that kind of thing ….
    I can imagine you got carried away when the vat finally started
    to re-act ! 😉
    Love to see what your Earth-keeper will become after all the
    stitching Patricia !


    • Patricia September 12, 2013 at 4:59 pm #

      thanks so much for stopping by! all you need for the vat is a bucket–i use a plastic 5-gallon bucket. but i would add that i could never do the dyeing itself inside as i’m a total dripping-every-where dyer. but still…it might be worth considering. Earth-keeper. yes. the stitching. for some reason this part of the process has been hanging me up lately. but we’ll see. love


  3. perlhuhn52 September 12, 2013 at 3:13 pm #

    I´m impressed, Patricia! I like these shades of green the best. I tryed pomegranate today and had a pale pale yellow. I´m not very patient and gifted.


    • Barbara September 12, 2013 at 3:28 pm #

      Thank you so much. I started my first indigo garden and I think its ready
      to pick. I will let you know.


      • Barbara September 12, 2013 at 3:31 pm #

        Just checked your recipe-it requires ground indigo. But the madder sounds interesting. I may try a pinch with my plants, maybe.


      • Patricia September 12, 2013 at 5:04 pm #

        last year Mo Crow gave me this link:

        it describes processing indigo from fresh leaves. see if this sounds like something you might want to do. i tried it last year but my results were very pale. think i may have waited too long to harvest the plants–and at this rate, i might be waiting too long this year! good luck.


    • Patricia September 12, 2013 at 5:01 pm #

      hey Doris. i’m with you–not very patient nor gifted. last year i used tumeric to get some really amazing yellow. it was easy but very intense. since then i’ve used black walnut to tone it down–and actually some of the greens you mentioned were tumeric yellows overdyed with indigo. glad you liked them.


  4. beth September 12, 2013 at 3:40 pm #

    Luscious colors. I’m loving the over-dyeing. And I really like your earth guardian. You have such a style–I’d have been able to pick that out as yours from a big pile.


    • Patricia September 12, 2013 at 5:08 pm #

      hi Beth. it makes me so happy having you stop by! the over-dyeing is really transformational. and it really helped salvage a bunch of unexceptional cloth i dyed last year. are you in the dyeing process yourself? love xo


      • beth September 13, 2013 at 12:22 am #

        I did some bright colors with Procion dyes when Jude first started talking about color, but I kind of hate them. I’m impatiently waiting under the black walnut tree for more nuts to fall. I really want to over-dye them. I did get a really nice yellow from tickseed sunflowers. I think my name should link to my blog.


  5. thessa September 12, 2013 at 5:58 pm #

    The way you show all the dyed cloths together, and hanging on the racks, it’s easy to feel into the infinite creative potential they carry. It’s such a thrill to be so excited about fabric. Can’t wait to set up my sewing room when the house is built. Thanks for the inspiration!


    • Patricia September 12, 2013 at 6:11 pm #

      hi there! i don’t know if you’ve explored her site yet, but Jude Hill at spiritcloth.typepad.com will absolutely light your fire! glad you stopped by.


  6. Sandi September 12, 2013 at 7:02 pm #

    LOVE your Earth Guardian cloth! Do you have a shop these go in or are they “keepers”?


    • Patricia September 12, 2013 at 7:46 pm #

      funny you should ask. my cloth has just been juried into a gallery here in Asheville but it will be a while before space frees up there. i have a web site where some pieces are listed.


      and i’m glad you asked about this because i need to update it with some newer pieces. thanks Sandi.


    • Patricia September 12, 2013 at 7:47 pm #

      oops–i must be half asleep. the blog is:



  7. Nancy September 12, 2013 at 9:53 pm #

    It all looks so great…just love what & how you create 🙂


    • Patricia September 13, 2013 at 8:59 am #

      and Nancy–i’ve been visiting your site as well. haven’t left comments but feel really moved by the exploration of stones. they’re so lovely. i have such a stash of little rock beings–and truthfully they are some of my most precious be long ings. like, if there was a fire, i would grab them first!


  8. Marti September 13, 2013 at 8:09 am #

    First of all, congratulations on having a cloth juried into a gallery. Well done. Is it your latest, Earth Guardian?

    Walnut is my favorite of all of the natural dyes; foraging for the nuts has given me such a tactile joy as do the myriad, earthy shades of browns that are created.. Equally, what a good feeling to see your walnut cloths, all folded and waiting. Here in New Mexico, I haven’t found any in the wild but grace has a stash and has a pot going for me.

    Have not worked with indigo much, did grow some from seed in TN but can’t do it here in New Mexico. I did strip the leaves and chopped them up and bundled them in some cloth and solar dyed in glass jars. Got color striations that held for a time which pleased me to no end. But when I returned from CA last week, I noticed that one of my cloths with the indigo bits had faded, hardly any traces of indigo left. Could have been from where it was placed, got morning sunlight from the window or could have been that indigo striations from merely solar dyeing just don’t hold…don’t know the answer but for a time, I was happy to have made some indigo markings. Maybe one day, I will try working with a vat,


    • Patricia September 13, 2013 at 9:11 am #

      thanks, Marti. Earth Guardian was not one of the pieces i submitted. i had to send in a dvd with 5 images, an artist statement (that was interesting) and then a description of the pieces themselves. they were older pieces. ones i look at now and think, hmmmm–not finished–not quite something or other–just not THERE. wherever “there” might be. and yes, i was totally surprised.

      i’m with you. blk walnut i love. love everything about it. the way it stains my hands. the smell of the shell especially — and the fact that they are so plenty full here. every where it seems. i love the tree too–the lacy foliage reminiscent of pecan trees in s. georgia.

      the indigo in the garden right now is amazing–there’s so much of it that i’m feeling very overwhelmed. it’s blooming like crazy and i plan to harvest seeds before the first frost–but also wondering if there is a chance it self sows? i have no idea. but what i really need to do is harvest the plants and i just don’t know if i’ll get to it.

      apparently indigo has to have the oxygen removed from it to become color fast. the fermentation vat i used was very benign in terms of no thiox–i referenced it above and if you really want to do indigo, you might like it. i did have to purchase the indigo powder, madder, wheat bran and soda ash–so nothing there i could just harvest from the wild. black walnuts provide that thrill at this point. and because the cloth part–the stitching–is what is i am so enthralled with, i’m trying not to spend TOO much time dyeing–although i have to say, that the dyed cloth is becoming so integral to these cloths that i’m taking a different look at the dye process as well. glad you’re home thanks for stopping by. much love xo


  9. Mo Crow September 13, 2013 at 2:40 pm #

    these colours are delicous and congratulations on the show coming up in Asheville!


    • Patricia September 13, 2013 at 4:38 pm #

      i just did a bit more dyeing–the vat seems tired now. may need to sit for a while. the gallery thing–i don’t think it’s really a show–i’m going to respond also to Grace and explain it. check it out below. love to you xoxo


  10. karmadondruplhamo, (grace) September 13, 2013 at 3:42 pm #

    the photographs are just a feast for the eyes and soul…your colors are so FINE!….
    it must feel so so good to have them waiting. just so beauty Full, oh, ……..

    and the Guardian kneeling in ceremony…

    Congratulations on the Gallery. I will wait for word on how that goes for you….and if
    you juried in with work that looks undone to you now, then how great is that?, your
    cloths have become so complex so quickly, really.. and i think the quality of the
    personal dye process will come through to people really well. be sure to take photographs
    when you hang them. please.

    i just went back and looked again at your ARRAY of cloths…and each time i notice
    another nuance. i can’t imagine how it would feel to have all this at Hand….

    BIG BIG LOVE… and what a relief the cicada seeds…..oh, eeeee. what were you
    Thinking, or NOT……!!!


    • Patricia September 13, 2013 at 5:05 pm #

      well, when i said my cloth juried into a gallery–maybe “gallery” overstates it a bit. although it is a gallery, i suppose, quite large, with a diverse group of artists from jewelry, pottery, some fiber, metal work, photography–and some craft type stuff–candles, etc. take a look if you can


      it’s an old woolworth store very nicely redone–two floors and a funky old soda fountain on one side. the good thing about it is that it is right down town and gets lots of traffic. the way it works is you apply and if chosen, there is quite a long wait list before space opens up–could be up to 18 months although the woman who called me said it would probably be about 6 months. maybe sooner. and the way it works is artists rent space–probably about $50/month and then they take 10% i think of all sales. so. it’s certainly not like getting juried into the Southern Highlands Craft Guild but still–hey–it’s a start, right?

      i’m thinking about display. i’ll have a wall or two. what to do with it? i don’t know yet. but will take pictures for sure. and if you have any suggestions–i’m totally receptive.

      and Grace. you wonder how it feels having all of this at hand. it feels the same as always. here’s something funny that happened. when woolworth walk first called me to let me know, they had confused my work with someone else’s work and said, “sorry, not our cup of tea.” and i said, “o.k. thank you.” then the woman realized she had called me but had meant to call another person–quickly apologized and said she’d call right back. which she did. explained the confusion, apologized, and said, “yes, we would like you to display here.” i said, “o.k thank you.” it seemed like either way it was just fine. and either way, it didn’t touch some core place in me. gahhhhhhh. does this make ANY sense?

      and the cicada seeds–what WAS i thinking? nothing. well, maybe i was thinking g-son had been a bit heavy handed with them, several missing legs, etc, and they really seemed just the worse for wear. and i really didn’t think he’d want them back. but also i simply was reacting to the tactile experience of holding them, their crackly little pieces in the palm of my hand, and before i knew it, they were–they were stardust. but all ended well! and lesson well learned. much much much love to you my friend! xoxox


      • karmadondruplhamo, (grace) September 13, 2013 at 7:24 pm #

        well…there’s a lot here. first…yes. stardust. but it might have been
        hard to explain.

        and then…love the story about their cup of tea, mistaken identity.
        and how great it happened that way….for you to have the experience of “either way”. very good fortune, that. but the cloth…
        well, i guess i would feel so GOOOOOOD with the cloth all there and

        i went to the Gallery and looked…nice stuff, but/and yours will stand above. it’s NICE and for me personally, much better with how it’s
        set up. that’s how it was at the Oregon Artist Market and it was great for me. it allowed me to ask a price i really felt ok with. am
        kind of hypersensitive to all that as you know. and what WILL happen is that someone who has a Gallery will want to represent
        your work at their Gallery. you can decide. am assuming it’s the same pretty much everywhere, but you would get half. but/and
        that might take you all the way to the Highlands Craft Guild and
        in many ways that might feel really really good. to know what you Make is appreciated to that degree…but then it’s all still the thing about setting prices that make sense in the company of others
        in the Guild, which are much higher because they are members of the Guild…such a circle, yes? so, to me, this, with the really
        GREAT soda fountain is really comfortable and may allow you
        to shore up your personal household economy nicely.
        i am going to watch anything you write about this with great interest.
        and be OH SO SURE to take really good photographs in case
        the Highlands Guild comes looking for you right away.

        This makes me really really Happy at the end of a very soggy day…
        BIG LOVE, moi


  11. Jan September 14, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    what wonderful results with your dyeing! I keep seeing what people get from walnuts and thinking, hmmmm, keep a lookout; but no luck so far. you’ve got some great fabrics there; e lovely to see how they become textile pieces of art.
    I’ve done some fabric dyeing with woad this summer; just added urine, and away it went! VERY smelly!! but wonderful results. soft blues. I (tie-)dyed a cotton top and some loose cotton linen fabric. got another folded piece in, as the dye-bath is getting used up. see what happens.
    jan, england


    • Patricia September 14, 2013 at 10:25 am #

      hi Jan. great that you stopped by all the way from England! what nut trees grow there? i’m noticing hickory nuts and shells on the ground now and am tempted to see what they yield. and this spring a neighbor gave me a woad plant he bought at the annual herb sale. it grew nicely but i haven’t done anything with it. hoping it will come back next year. thanks for your kind comments about this cloth. do you have a blog?


  12. Cathie September 15, 2013 at 8:07 am #

    Nice dye results Patricia. Loved the story about the fed x guy. I think every person who has dyed naturally, has done that same thing. I know I have.
    I have been traveling around the North East for a few weeks and am collecting nuts, seeds and leaves from all over. Can’t wait to throw them in a pot and see what happens.


    • Patricia September 15, 2013 at 8:34 am #

      hi Cathie! just checked out your blog. so, you’ve been on the road, collecting as well. would love to know where you were in WV. and yes, the FedEx guy. the stories he will tell!


  13. Barbara October 28, 2013 at 10:57 am #

    Hi Judith. I wonder if you can help. Please.
    This weekend I made a dye bath from indigo plant.
    I placed in a 1/2 gallon canning jar about 1 lb of leaves and the rest water.
    i submerged the jar in a pot of water at about 160-170 degrees for 4 hours.
    i then strained the leaves and added a tblesoon of baking soda.
    Then for about 15 minutes I poured the bath from one bowl to another .
    Then I added a tablespoon of Spectralite ( thiourea dioxide).
    After that I added my pieces of silk organza for about 1/2 hour. Gently pushing around
    every so often.
    What I got was a lovely shade of cool green-I guess I didn’t have enough leaves to make blue.
    When I began to iron it the color disappeared. The heat caused it to go back to its natural color.
    I stopped ironing immediatey and still have some of the fabric left.
    My question is this:
    Is there any way I can make the silk I have left color fast and is there
    anything I can do in the future to hold the color?
    Frustrated in NYC


    • Patricia October 28, 2013 at 11:37 am #

      Hi Barbara–wow. sure wish i had quick answers for you. i know last year i harvested my indigo kinda late in the season and it was very light. Jude suggested that i harvest earlier–like in July or August. have no idea if this would impact things the way you’ve described. i personally think indigo vats are tricky and unpredictable–at least that’s my experience. and that’s part of the reason i’ve gravitated more towards black walnut and black bean.

      you can check out this website–http://shiborigirl.wordpress.com and even take an on-line class.

      although i thank you for your question, i’m such a novice at this myself–and in terms of your question, sorry to say i’m clueless. but i’m sure someone has the answers for you. good luck.


      • Barbara October 29, 2013 at 1:46 pm #

        Hi Patricia,
        Sorr I called you Jude.
        Thank you for your quick reply. When I figure out what happened I will let you know. Have a great day!


    • jude September 22, 2017 at 10:06 am #

      indigo is not an exact science, could be the the vat was not actually properly reduced. I would check the ph and adjust your additives. Glennis might be the one to ask. https://shiborigirl.wordpress.com/


  14. jude September 22, 2017 at 10:03 am #

    no walnuts here yet this year,


    • Patricia September 22, 2017 at 10:10 am #

      Hey Jude. I just read somewhere that the bumper crops for bw come every 5 years.


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