Grackle & Sun

Archive for the tag “osage orange”

Dye Day #1 Results: Stinkyass Osage Orange FAIL

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.

I saw something nasty in the woodshed.

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:

“Stinky, stinky sewage tree of eternal stinkification. One touch = POO HAND FOREVER! Okay, not that bad, but considering the underwhelming dye results, I was pretty meh with the OOT. I modded the shit out of the superwash on the left.” —Kittyraja

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!

The Fast and the Fugitive

It’s time to play…


It’s all fun and games until your colours fade away.   When we talk about dyes, we often refer to them in one of two ways:  substantive or adjective.  A substantive dye is one that does not need a mordant to adhere to the fiber.  It is capable of bonding directly to the fiber on its own.  An adjective dye does not bond to the fiber on its own and requires a mordant to help the dye adhere in a lasting manner.  We also use a few other terms when talking about dyes—like fast and fugitive.  A dye that is fast means that it has staying power.  A dye that is fugitive means that it’s going to run for the hills–ie, is going to fade in some manner and make you weep tears of woe for all your hard work wasted.  This fading can happen by washing, wearing, or being exposed to light—the latter being one of the more common ways for a dye to fade.   From what I’ve read, there are very few substantive natural dyes.   The majority require you to add a mordant to your dyeing process to help not only bond the dye to the wool, but also to help a fugitive dye become more wash- or lightfast.  It is recommended that one perform a lightfastness test on naturally dyed yarn to determine whether or not you’ve achieved a relatively stable dye.  This is also recommended to test for fastness anytime you experiment with a new process or dyestuff.  It lets you see firsthand if it worked.

Following are the results from the lightfastness test I conducted on the dyes used for Dye Day #1.  It is very important to note:  This is the unmordanted yarn that I used as a control.  I repeat, this yarn is unmordanted!   I wanted to see how fast these dyes were on their own.  To my knowledge, with a mordant such as alum, these dyes are all quite lightfast.  The lightfastness test was conducted for exactly 1 month, from June 23 to July 23.  Swatches of each yarn were collected, and half was tucked between several sheets of dark construction paper, while the other half was left exposed to full sunlight outside.  Here goes:

As you can see, the majority of the swatches demonstrate a study in lightfastness FAIL.  A few, like the elm and onion, only faded a little bit.  The alkanet faded more than I expected, but given how super unexpectedly dark it dyed to begin with, it’s really faded to closer to the colour I thought it was going to dye anyway.  Particularly low scores go to safflower and eucalyptus.  They surprised me.  And the TOTAL FAIL! of the lightfastness test goes to… annatto seed.  Whoa, nelly!  For something that was so willing to dye everything in sight, it sure did fade fast.  The annatto was gone by week 2.  Some of these dyes, like the eucalyptus, are said to be substantive, and I think that perhaps under normal circumstances it would not have faded so much.  We’ve had crazy high UV days here this summer, such that it would test the lightfastness of dirt, I think.   I suspect that if this test were conducted at a different time of year, the onion, alkanet, elm, and eucalyptus would have faired much better.  Just conjecture, but I think a safe assessment.   As always, I’d love to hear about your results with natural dyeing.

Live happy, dye happy!

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