30 July 03
I’ve been learning how to dye fabric. Not in a very elaborate way—the kind you throw in the washing machine and keep the poor thing returning to the beginning of its cycle for half an hour, till all your cheesecloth is a tangled shroud. The fun part, though, has been learning how to dip the ends of the cheesecloth in some walnut ink I made last year (I had three quarts left, which was never going to get used on paper—a small bottle can last three years; it’s a full sepia color).
The walnut gunge just seeps up into the cotton—it’s beautiful, a deep rich brown fading into buff. I don’t know quite what to use as a mordant, a chemical that forces the pigment to adhere permanently to the fibre, though alum and tara (whatever that is) appeared in a Google search this morning. For the moment I’m not worrying about the mordant—just enjoying the beauty of the process.
How to make walnut ink:
1) Run around at least five yard sales till you find a pot large enough (4-gallon canning pots are ideal).
2) Gather as many black (not English) walnuts as will fit in the pot, husks, stems, maggots, and all. Late October is best. The husks should be turning black.
3) Cover the walnuts in the pot with water and soak overnight.
4) Bring the pot to a boil and then simmer all day.
5) Turn off heat and allow to sit overnight.
6) Remove nuts and husks from dark murky liquid, being sure to squeeze out every last drop of dark murky liquid. There is no way to do this without making a mess. It’s very like making mudpies, so you might as well dig in and enjoy it.
7) Bring to a boil again and simmer all day till the liquid is the consistency of Turkish coffee.
8) Run through a sieve.
9) Run through a finer sieve.
10) Run through a stocking.
12) Label bottle so nobody mistakes it for hibiscus juice!
13) Without toxic preservatives such as formaldehyde, a mold is likely to grow on the ink over time. Just stir it in. Strain again before using.