Natural Dyeing with Pecans and the Chinese Tallow Tree

by Ragtimelil

I’ve just moved to Texas and I’ve been learning all sorts of new plants to dye with. Here’s a couple I’ve recently experimented with.

There’s plenty of plant life around here. It’s just that I don’t recognize most of it. I learned my natural dyeing skills in New England. Some plants grow in both places like mullein and oak but others do not. I won’t be seeing any stinging nettle or milkweed here.
Learning about new plants is always fascinating. It motivates me to dye up some samples just to see what comes out of the pot. Here’s some I’ve tried recently.


I was pleased to find some pecan trees nearby. I’ve read that you can use it to dye the same as using walnuts. I saw a picture that showed a beautiful deep brown shirt dyed with pecans. I had to try it.

I gathered a few pecans and crushed them. I added water and let them sit for about a week. The mixture started to foam and ferment. I read that this was supposed to happen. I did have to leave for a couple of days and when I got back, the fermenting had stopped. I don’t know if that made any difference.

Photobucket I strained out the hulls and added some wet yarn and let it sit in the hot sun for a few days. Not much seemed to be happening so I added some vinegar. The dye turned a dark brown. Now I was getting excited. I let it sit another day and rinsed. I was disappointed that most of the dye bath rinsed out. It still left the yarn a pretty shade of reddish brown but I was hoping for a darker shade. I will try it again with more pecans and perhaps trying a mordant of alum.

Final Rinse

Pecan Bath
Pecan Bath
L Pettey
Dried Yarn
Dried Yarn
L Pettey

Chinese Tallow Tree

I read that the leaves of Chinese tallow tree are good for dyeing. The book said you could get brown to black from it. Black is not an easy color to get. There are a bunch of Chinese tallow trees growing wild around here so I decided I had to give it a try. They are an invasive plant, so be careful not to drop seeds around.

I gathered some leaves and ripped them up into my dye pot. I let them sit for a couple of days and then simmered on the stove. Most books say to do it for an hour, but I worry about using up too much propane so I let it simmer 30 minutes and then it sit in the pot overnight.Photobucket

It looked a muddy brown. I added a pinch of alum for mordant and some wet yarn. This time I did simmer for almost an hour and again let it sit overnight. It came out an interesting shade of light brown. Not black, but not bad.

Tallow Tree Leaves
Tallow Tree Leaves
L Pettey
Tallow Tree Dyed
Tallow Tree Dyed
L Pettey

Final Sample

After another rinse and drying, the yarn actually turned more yellow. It's a pretty shade. I'm not sure the photo does it justice.


I’ve been reading more about plants that grow around here that are good for dyeing. It never hurts to experiment even if they aren’t listed in any book. You never know what will happen. I’ll be writing about my results as I go.
Lichens are plentiful around here so I tried dyeing wool with some common varieties.
Sun dyeing with Kool-Aid is a safe and fun way to experiment with dyeing for children and adults alike.
Natural dyes give a soft, muted light to your wools and fibers. Learn some basics about natural dyeing and start with a simple tea dye.
Updated: 08/23/2012, Ragtimelil
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Ragtimelil on 08/22/2012

I'm thinking I need to try something besides brown. Ever wonder why clothes back in colonial times was so drab? Actually, drab was a specific color back then.

dustytoes on 08/22/2012

It's interesting to see what you end up with when dying yarn from natural ingredients. At least you have a lot of sun down there in Texas to help with the drying part. The pecan brown is very pretty.

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