Monday 23 November 2015

Making My Own Walnut Ink

Walnut husks after boiling

Earlier in the autumn I was lucky enough to be given a bag of walnut husks.  Although keen to explore the possibilities, I'm ashamed to say they sat in the kitchen in a plastic bag getting a bit mouldy and smelly for quite a number of weeks until I finally took action.  The aim was to make some walnut ink. I put them in an aluminium jam pan (one I only use for dyeing and such like - my actual jam making has been spectacularly unsuccessful - see below!)

Plum concrete - my first and only attempt at jam!

I was following a method in Alice Fox's book "Natural Processes in Textile Art".  The walnut husks were covered with water and boiled with the lid on the pan for a couple of hours.  I then strained the contents through some muslin.  This turned out to be quite a messy process (probably more so than it needed to be - involving several pans, lots of spills and walnut detritus everywhere!)
Walnut husk detritus after being strained through muslin

After straining, the remaining walnut liquid was boiled for two and a half hours to reduce it down.  I tested the colour and consistency at regular intervals.  After two and a half hours I let the liquid cool, then strained it through a sieve and bottled it.

Walnut ink tested for colour and consistency at regular intervals

Whilst boiling the liquid I also added some fabric to the pan.  In fact after washing out the muslin used for straining, I tore it in half and put half back in the pan with the walnut liquid.  Half way through the next stage of boiling I added some more fabric - which I think was polycotton.  Here are the results from the fabric dyeing after washing out.

Original muslin colour, colour after straining only, colour after boiling for 2 and a half hours

Polycotton fabric showing darker areas

The polycotton fabric turned out a similar shade to the muslin that had been used for straining but it did have patches that were darker.   I suspect this was a result of some deposit on the fabric causing the dye to be taken up much more in those places.  Also, I expect the fabric would have gone a darker shade if it had been 100% cotton.

Although the total time taken was as I have said, I kept having to stop and restart as daily life got in the way and it was a couple of days before I finally got to the end of the process and managed to bottle my ink:

Walnut ink - bottled and ready to use

I think I could have stopped sooner.  The ink I bottled was too thick to write with and needs diluting for use with pens.  Having established this - I added some water and began having a go with my new ink.

Now I just need to practise my writing skills!


  1. I'm delighted that you were able to make use of the walnut husks! I have loads every year, as although my tree is small, it is amazingly productive. I'd like more people to respond to my offers of bags of husks.
    Cheers, John

    1. I was very pleased to have them - it's been great to experiment!

  2. How lovely to make your own ink! Looks like it would be lovely to draw with.

    1. It's fun getting used to the dip pens - but you can use other things for mark making too - still experimenting!