There is no odor so bad as that which arises from goodness tainted.
Henry David Thoreau
I don’t think Thoreau had natural dyeing in mind when he wrote these words, but they are apropos, nonetheless. So horrid was the malodorous waftage of the Osage orange bucket, and so fantastical the failure of the dye, that I am certain those of us who tended the dyepot will think long and hard before we ever attempt to dye with that particular wood again.
Dye Notes. Sigh.
Dyestuff: Osage Orange
Parts used: heartwood and bark
Source: E’s farm
Ratio of dyestuff to fiber: Not sure. I pretty much soaked everything we had and asked questions later. A ratio of 1:1 is recommended. We definitely had much more than that—I’d guess between 350-400g in the initial extraction. We used a 1:1 ration for the hot extraction, though. The amount of fiber used was 160g.
Yarn: Knitpicks Bare Superwash mordanted with 8% aluminum potassium sulfate and 7% cream of tartar; Lion Brand Fisherman’s Wool unmordanted.
Extraction method: The wood was chopped into 1 inch chunks and soaked in a bucket of water for 2 weeks. I laid Saran Wrap directly on the surface of the water thinking that it would not only keep mosquitoes out, but that it would help inhibit any mold growth. In retrospect, what I did was encourage some impressive anaerobic activity. Although Saran Wrap is not totally impermeable, I think in this case it created the medium for
this veritable Petri dish. After 2 weeks, the bucket was strained of all its obnoxious effluvia, and 166g of wood was reserved (in a tidy pantyhose bag) with the liquid for the heated extraction. This was simmered gently for 1 hour. The smell was not so gentle.
Dyebath: The pH of the Osage orange dyebath was 5.8, which means that its moderate acidity did nothing to break up the bacterial mosh pit in that dyepot. Yarn was added against our better judgement, simmered gently for 45 minutes, and allowed to cool overnight in the dyebath. Not that it mattered.
The results? Because the dyebath smelled like poo, the yarn, when pulled from the mephitic abyss, also smelled like poo—as though purged from the very ass of Beelzebub. And if this was not bad enough, this rank fermentation of evil, the only yarn that was dyed was the superwash, and it dyed tan. Tan poo-yarn. :( Let me tell you something. Had we achieved the gorgeous golden yellows pictured in dye books and countless dyeing blogs, I would have considered this a WIN. This post would briefly caution against the potential issues with ill-fermented extractions, and that would be it. But tan was not on the agenda for Dye Day #1. There was a strict no-tan policy written into the mission statement on page one of the syllabus. That’s why E and I chose the dyestuffs we did—they were all guaranteed to yield good colour. All my research said that Osage orange was an easy yellow. It’s one of the few natural dyestuffs that is supposed to be a substantive dye. This was supposed to be a no-brainer. And look at the dyebath—there’s colour in there! It’s not like there wasn’t some hope, despite the smell. Jenny Dean did not warn us about this. And it’s just as well that she didn’t try, because nothing could have prepared us for the fetid putrescence that was this wretched dyebath of woe. Had she said that this could happen, I would not have believed it. Now I know.
Funnily enough though, after it had aired out for a couple weeks outside and was washed with Eucalan a few times, I kind of liked its gentle light brown hue. It dried into a nice neutral-toned yarn that is actually quite lovely. Go figure.
I overdyed my Lion Brand skein (which did not dye at all) with eucalyptus just to get rid of the smell. Other people overdyed in other dyebaths or modified their skeins on the second day of the workshop. Below, you can see Kittyraja’s modified and unmodified skeins. I’m pretty sure she used iron:
And there you have the whole baneful tale. Where, oh where, did I go wrong? It’s hard to say, but I have a few ideas. My friend, E, was over this weekend to learn how to knit socks two-at-a-time magic loop. Good times. And I asked her about where she found the Osage orange. Turns out, she got it from an old felled tree on her family farm. Like, a tree that had been dead and down for a while. I wonder if this is why so very little dyestuff came out? It’s likely. A little fermentation can help a dyebath along, just as a good soak certainly helps break down bark and cellulose so that dye is more readily released. I think this wood was old enough to be carrying its own bacterial inoculation into the soak bucket. That’s why that bucket went bad when the others did not. The elm and birch barks came from a basketweaver and had been properly dried and stored.
Lesson learned? Next time I’ll try freshly harvested Osage orange and do a shorter soak or soak it in a different solution—alcohol, ammonia water, etc. Or I might try adding some heavy-duty essential oils and see if that helps inhibit the funk. Only one way to find out…
Live happy, dye happy!