Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Homemade Butternut Dye

We learned that most of the Confederate soldiers didn't really have standard-issue uniforms. Most of them wore handmade clothing, and much of that cloth had been dyed what they called "butternut" color. Women in the South made dye out of crushed walnut or other nut shells, which dyed the cloth a sort of tan-brown color. When that brown got dirty and dusty, it looked grey---thus "the blue and the grey" division between North and South that we've all heard of. (And I think their official uniforms, when they had them, may have been grey as well.)

So, we tried our hands at making butternut dye! I don't know how well it turned out. Should it have been darker? The picture on our instruction post looked darker, but this picture looked about like ours. We were kind of busy the day that we did it, so we may have rushed the process a bit, and maybe our shirt would have turned out darker/better if we'd left it in the dye bath for longer. We still have a bag of walnuts in their shells, so we may try again another time. However, it was still a fun and memorable activity, and the children were very pleased with their handiwork.

Anyway, here is the process we used. It's very simple, basically just crushing the shells, boiling them, letting them steep, and then adding vinegar. Maybe we should have crushed the shells smaller, so they were more powdery? We didn't have a nutcracker, so we banged our nuts with a hammer to crack them, then pulled out the nutmeat and banged the shells with the hammer some more. It was quite fun.
Butternut-dyed shirt

Seb playing soldier (bedroll, pack, musket with bayonet, ammunition pouch, and canteen). I like his stern face.

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