Sunday, 5 December 2010

Not So Bonkers About Conkers

There was recently a Ravelry thread regarding the substantial walnut tree outside the Knit studio shop in central Newcastle. One customer collected the nut husks and used them to dye a skein of wool a wonderful series of rich browns. This got me thinking about dyeing with other nut husks that are more commonly available in the UK compared to walnut. One obvious choice was the spiky husk that occurs around conkers. Fortunately although it was near the end of autumn a number of husks could still be found around so I was able to collect some for a test dye.

I originally tried extracting from 240g of husks. After smashing up they were simmered for about 2 hours than left overnight before another 30min simmer. The resulting dye liquid was a rather disappointing pale brown.

Undaunted I then carried out a test dye using 4x15g alum mordanted and 4x15g unmordanted Shetland fibre. After a couple of hours simmering the results were somewhat underwhelming so I left to soak overnight.

Sadly there seemed little difference the following day so I split the dye solution and tried alkali, copper and iron modifiers. After rinsing and drying the results were:

(left-unmordnted, right-mordanted, top-bottom, no modifier, alkali, copper, iron)

The results are that most samples are an unremarkable tan with slightly stronger colours on the alum-mordanted fibre. Only iron significantly altered the colour giving a pale grey suggesting that the brown was down to tannin.

Given the effort to recover this colour I have to say that these husks weren’t worth the effort, given the stronger tannins you can get from oak galls and bramble which are also available throughout the year.

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