East Kingdom Wiki: https://wiki.eastkingdom.org/index.php?title=Guðrún_Sveinsdóttir
This project was my first experiment with using Viking-era dyeing techniques. My husband needed cold-weather garb for his Viking-era Forester’s Guild kit, so I decided that it would be the perfect project to experiment with dyes. I chose walnut husks because the color is a good one for our Forester’s kit, and I knew walnuts were available to Viking-era Scandinavians: I know of extant examples of walnut-dyed wool from Norway & Denmark, and extant walnut shells in Hedeby (theorized to be imports). I had previously found an old wool blanket at a local thrift store that was a good weight and weave for a tunic, but a rather unflattering shade of beige/gray…ish, with stains. I also found there a whole bag of obviously hand-spun wool yarn (of various ply/weights). I decided to go with the “Use What You Have” mentality and use both for the dye experiment. Thanks to a generous neighbor who let us harvest from his trees, I was able to procure two boxes of black walnuts for the project. While the European type of walnut (Juglans regia, or English walnut) is a different species from the American black walnut (Juglans nigra), and therefore might have slight differences in the dye properties, the two species are close enough chemically to be able to substitute the American variety.
After husking all the walnuts (using gloves and a hammer), the husks weighed in at exactly 20 lbs. I heated water over the outdoor firepit that my husband made, and poured it into a 5-gallon bucket with the husks to steep. While the husks were steeping, I scoured the pre-cut tunic pieces and 4 skeins of hand-spun yarn. I made sure the yarn I chose was all close to the same weight, so that I can use it for a weaving or nålbinding project later. The next step was to drain the husks from the dye bath, to prevent any spotting/unevenness in the dyed fabric. I lined a pot with a large piece of undyed cheesecloth, poured the dye bath in, and caught all the husks in the cloth. After they cooled, I froze them to use in a second dye-bath later. I poured the dye bath back into the bucket, and added 80 mL of iron-rich water to darken (sadden) the dye color. I then added the scoured fabric and yarn, making sure to separate and stir them around to ensure an even dye. I left them in the bucket to try a “cold-dye” method, checking the color and stirring/agitating them each day. After 5 days, I decided to try putting it back on the fire for a hot dye-bath. I heated it over the fire for an hour or so, and this time it (accidentally) reached a rolling boil. I stirred very gently to prevent the wool from felting, and when I took it off the fire, I let the bath cool for 8 hours before taking the wool out to rinse. It took the wool a couple of weeks to hang-dry. I then sewed my husband’s tunic, using the Birka tunic pattern proposed by Carolyn Priest-Dorman. I machine-stitched the structural seams to save my hands (tendonitis), but hand-finished all the seams using a period-correct overcast/whip stitch.
I tried to stick to period techniques whenever possible, including heating my dye bath over the outdoor firepit, but I did have to resort to modern ones occasionally, for reasons of physical limitations, availability of materials, or practicality. For example, I had to pre-scour in modern wool-safe detergent due to the unknowns in the blanket fabric (what was the original dye, what kinds of dirt/grime was it exposed to, and what, if any, detergents were previously used on it?), and I used my bathtub for both scouring and rinsing out the excess dye, since that was my only option if I wanted to try to do those things by hand. But I am pleased with the dye results, and my husband loves his tunic, so my goal was accomplished.
Also, fun fact: due to the active chemical components in walnut husks (mainly juglone), the concentrated dye bath can kill many types of plants, and isn’t great to put down drains, either. My solution was to use it as a weed-killer on our gravel driveway, which worked pretty well
More details, including pictures, video clips, and my full documentation on the project, can be found here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1cGQVF5xrr19y1NLSHGJZtsNGFqCj8RVNOLoKR0MM6aY