Homemade walnut ink and quill

green walnut husks being prepared to be made into ink

I can’t be certain why or when the obsession began, but K has been asking for weeks to write with a feather. I was pretty excited by this obsession if I’m being totally honest, because this is exactly the kind of old timey activity that makes me really, really happy.

First, we did a quick google about different kinds of natural inks. He latched onto walnut ink, which was kind of perfect since it just happens to be exactly the right time of year for finding walnuts everywhere. We collected a few shells on a walk, (because surely it would be the black shells that make ink), only to realize once we got home that it’s the green husks that give the ink its colour.

Yes, green husks equal brownish ink. Go figure.

I also realized that making walnut ink can be quite the intensive process. There’s aging and time involved, and well, 4 year olds aren’t exactly heralded for their patience. Some time had already elapsed since the initial shells, and he had since found a turkey feather at the apple farm and was adamant about using it in walnut ink, so I made the executive decision to, umm, ahem, half ass it.

green walnut husks being prepared to be made into ink

First, we husked our walnuts. The husks went into the pot while the shells and nuts were smashed with a hammer. Then they were thrown into the pot as well for good measure.

I don’t know that smashing the shells was good for anything, but it was fun.

Then, I added just enough water to cover the mess, and set it to boil at medium-high (ish) heat for 30 minutes. 

walnut husks turning a sludgy brown on the stove

Just remember: if it looks like sludge and smells like sludge, you’re doing something right.

While it boiled, we set to work making a quill out of his turkey feather. We watched a fantastic Youtube video from How to Make Everything but the basics are this: cut the tip at an angle, cut across the top of that angle for the writing surface, then slit up the shaft to hold the ink.

Maybe just watch the video.

Then, it’s time to strain out the lumpy bits and get your ink. 

Every website I read said to wear gloves and exercise caution because walnuts stain. Like stain, stain. I, being the rebel that I am, and also having just overcome a half a bushel’s worth of grape stains, decided that I was too cool for gloves. I don’t like to tell people how to live their lives, but don’t be too cool for gloves. My hands are still stained, half a week later. I mean, I still probably won’t wear gloves next time either, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. It’s a wonder that my bamboo counters and white farm sink came out unscathed.

After straining, I added a splash of alcohol to prevent mold. If you’re doing this as a one off and don’t plan on using the ink again you can probably skip this, although I did read that it helps the ink dry a little faster which I thought would be pretty useful for little ones.

We also used thicker art paper designed for ink because I thought it would hold up to the liquid ink better. Watercolour paper would also probably work well, although I’m a big believer in using what you have on hand, even if that just means scrap paper! I’m not going to lie, I had dreams of making our own paper too, but I also know my own limitations. Homemade ink and a quill are one thing, homemade paper is just crazy talk.

A letter that reads,

After we finished our letters to each other, we folded them up and sealed them with wax!   (Yes, I have a wax sealing kit. This is the kind of old timey nerdery I’m talking about. I am one breakdown away from going to Jane Austen conventions in hand sewn costumes.) My DIY brain wonders if you could carve a sigil in an old wine cork and stick it in some candle wax, but I am not responsible if that ends terribly for someone! On the other hand, if it works, let me know.

letters folded and sealed with wax

As you can see, we did this activity outside, because walnuts STAIN. I have to say though, that he was uncharacteristically careful. It was also a great activity for a reluctant writer. Personally, I found the quill a little difficult to write with so letter formation may not be great, but the novelty of it is such a great way to exercise those muscles needed for writing and bring enjoyment to a usually tedious task!

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