Here’s another great fall project that can be done at home, at camp or in the woods. Like the pokeberry ink, it can start discussions (homeschool projects, scout badgework, etc) linked to history, chemistry, tree and leaf ID, art, traditional trades and crafts, and more. Step by step below. I will post a quick video on how to accordion fold fabric in a future post.
Walnut trees are easy to find this time of year. Drive along a country road and look for the bruised green tennis-ball-like walnuts on the ground. Walnut leaves turn yellow in fall and have a distinctive look. Once you get familiar with these you can almost locate them by smell in the woods. Neighbors with walnut trees would probably thank you for picking them up before they have to rake or mow their lawns!
I show my scouts this leaf as an example of bilateral symmetry. Both sides mirror each other down a central line. (If you can find a daisy or sunflower shaped blossom while you are hiking, you can throw radial symmetry into the conversation as well.) Save a few of these leaves for an ecoprinting project we’re going to do later.
While you are out poking around, gather up bits of rusty metal. Even in wilderness area I found old bottle caps and Copenhagen lids. I am not above wiggling a rusty nail out of a rotting wooden fence. Drop these into a plastic bottle. (If you are planning ahead for a backpacking trip, pack an empty water bottle with a tight lid and a few inches of vinegar in the bottom, well labeled, to collect your bits of iron.)
Gather walnuts into a bag using gloves. The juice in these green protective husks is pale and yellow, but when oxygen hits it, it will turn into a dark brown stain famous for its permanence. If you slice one, you can watch it turn brown before your eyes.
The camping version of this involves dropping walnuts into a steel soup can or a coffee can full of water to tuck into the coals of your campfire overnight. It doesn’t have to be very big. I camp with an extra mess kit that is just for art supplies. At home or at a camp with electricity I have a well labeled garage sale crockpot for this purpose. Fill the container with walnuts and add as much water as it will hold. In both cases I do this in the evening to finish the project in the morning.
This is a flour sack. You can buy them cheaply in the kitchen aisle at a Walmart, or pay more money in the craft/fabric aisle or at a craft store. They are just woven cotton and a good size for camping purposes. I wash them out by hand with Dawn dish detergent to remove any sizing, rinse well and air dry. Make sure they are not exposed to weird laundry chemicals or fabric softener. I usually do an accordion fold, which is just a simple back and forth like you would use to make a paper fan in grade school. Then you can either roll it up like sushi or zigzag it up like this one. Tie it with a scrap of fabric or piece of twine, pretty tightly.
The juice from the walnuts, whether they spent the night in the crockpot or the campfire, will be a deep brown. Dip one side of your folded bundle in the walnut.
For this project I went with the sure fire method even though it meant I would not get reds. That bottle full of vinegar and rusty nails, after sitting overnight, made a pretty powerful solution. (You are still wearing gloves, right?) I poured a little of my rust vinegar into the bottom of a can (foil would work) and dipped the un-walnutted side of my bundle. Then I set the whole thing aside and went off to do some other project.
The longer you let this bundle rest and start to dry, the more crisp your lines will be. If you unwrap it wet, it can start to bleed at the edges. Hang on a line to dry. Rinse and wash it, and use as a towel, a gathering bag, a sitting space. The colors should be permanent.
This one turned out nicely. The solid brown stripes are pure walnut. The dark blue is where the rust vinegar interacted with the walnut. The light tan spots were pinched into the folds by the tight binding and made kind of a tie-dye effect. If you are working with scouts or kids make sure before you start that everybody has sharpied their initials onto a corner of their fabric so they will be able to find theirs on the clothesline later.