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Dyeing With Osage Orange

Kacie Hodges

This entry was originally posted in October 2016. Since its publication I have had several requests for the recipe, so I am including it again here with edits / additional images from my findings since it was first published.

Range of Osage-derived color on wool, silk, cotton, and linen.

Range of Osage-derived color on wool, silk, cotton, and linen.

Side Note: Although Natural Dyes found their way into my routine over a decade ago, I am just now beginning to feel confident in my ability to produce certain colors from locally foraged material. My goal is to provide a glimpse into the processes I use, although you will find that there are many different ways to approach this particular topic of interest. A majority of my dye work takes place outside, over an open fire. I tend to gravitate towards materials that are not as heat sensitive, and therefore are a bit more forgiving when it comes to long exposure over a flame.

I have found that Alpaca and Cotton (and other cellulose fibers) do not take natural dyes as readily as wool, thus I gravitate towards material that will help give them an extra boost instead of the ones that look good upon first inspection, but tend to wash out over time. It has been a long journey of figuring out the most suitable materials for my particular processes, so I would like to share a few things I have learned along the way in an attempt to encourage fellow dyers and provide some information on this particular topic of interest.


Osage Wood harvested, delivered, and cut by the best looking lumberjack I know over at  Tennessee Valley Firewood Co.

Osage Wood harvested, delivered, and cut by the best looking lumberjack I know over at Tennessee Valley Firewood Co.

Osage Orange

I was never a huge fan of the color yellow until I discovered Osage Orange. It should be noted that you may obtain gorgeous hues from flowers such as Queen Anne's Lace, Marigolds, Coreopsis, and Black Eyed Susan, but I have found that Osage works better for my approach especially when considering larger quantities of fabric/fiber.

Sawdust and smaller sized chips are best to work with, although you can obtain dye from the fallen branches and smaller logs once they have had time to soak in water for several days.

Osage Orange is very high in natural tannins and is known as a substantive dye; therefore it does not require a mordant. (A mordant is a fixative that allows dye molecules to bind to fiber) Although a mordant isn't required, you can alter the hue by experimenting with different treatments before, during, or after the dyeing process. Because of this, Osage Orange can range in color from vibrant yellow to olive green.

To extract the color from the wood, I usually heat a huge pot of Osage over my dye pit. For this particular example, I downsized to a normal sized cooking pot since most folks don't have a witch kitchen setup in their backyard. Both an indoor stove or an outdoor fire pit will work just fine.

Put wood chips / sawdust in a metal pot (stainless is preferable) and slowly raise the temperature to 180 -ish degrees. Some recipes I have read will tell you not to let the water boil, but I have left a pot unattended and come back to find it boiling out of control, and the dye worked just fine. Heat to just below a boil or don't, the main thing here is time.

The longer you soak, the more color that will be extracted. 24 hours at minimum in my opinion.

Once the wood chips / sawdust has completed the soaking process, strain the water so that particles are not left in the dye bath. (A metal strainer covered with cheese cloth or a ripped up t-shirt work well for the smaller sawdust particles.)

You can save your sawdust / wood chips for later use. After straining, I dry the material on an old screen door and store it in an opened cardboard box in the garage .

For this recipe I used several types of fiber in order to show how differently each one takes the dye. To keep things simple, none of the fabric / fiber has had a mordant treatment. All samples were washed in warm water before being put in the dye vat.

Once the samples had been thoroughly soaked, I added them to the dye vat and heated it to a low simmer for several hours. I allowed the vat to heat and cool several times over the course of 24 hours. Exact replication of a heating method is not crucial. I find that when dyeing over an extended period of time, I have to turn the stove off to run errands or sleep, so naturally the vat will heat and cool with the ebb and flow of everyday life. For this particular recipe the dye was in the vat for roughly 1 day, though I usually allow my vats to sit longer. (3-5 days are ideal) Have I mentioned yet that Patience is a key ingredient?

Took me awhile to figure that one out, but it's definitely necessary.

After a good soak it's time to reveal the magic.

For best results, hang all freshly dyed goods in the shade and allow them to fully dry before washing them with a mild soap.  (I use Dr. Bronner's for fabric (hemp, cotton, linen) and Unicorn Fibre Rinse for all yarn and raw fiber (alpaca, wool, cashmere).  From my experience, allowing the samples to fully dry before rinsing them seems to lock in the color.

The samples above have been washed and dried. As you can see, Wool steals the show, per usual. The Hemp fabric is actually a lovely color yellow, though it looks pale in comparison to the others.

Depending on how much you have dyed, you may be able to re-use your dye vat several more times before it is fully exhausted.

Outdoor Setup during a recent afternoon dyeing with friends.

Outdoor Setup during a recent afternoon dyeing with friends.

Osage has the capability of using varying canvases to achieve a wide range of hues. At some point I would love to explore the depth of colors produced from each type of natural fiber, but for now I mainly focus on Alpaca, Wool, Cotton, and Hemp.

**If you are interested in achieving a wider range of greens, you will need to first dye the fabric / fiber with Osage only. Remove from vat and allow to fully dry, which will help lock the color in. Add iron ( I use iron tablets available at any grocery / drug store) to the Osage vat and heat to allow it to fully dissolve. Once the vat changes from yellow to green, you can add the previously dyed yellow fabric and watch it transform, sometimes as quickly as it hits the water. (If you are having trouble changing from yellow to green, keep adding more iron) Make sure to keep an eye on the vat, as it will eventually change from green to gray if left too long.

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In hopes of spreading the love, I am offering 8 oz. packages of Osage Orange Natural Dye Supply chips (while supplies last) in the shop. If you are interested in experimenting with different fabric and fiber, I also offer a Natural Dye Supply Starter Kit that includes sample swatches along with the Osage wood chips.

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If weaving is more your thing, I have listed several Fiber Bundle packs filled with various Osage-dyed materials, along with metal Frame Loom Weaving Kits that are perfect for spontaneous creative experimentation.

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In the next few weeks I will be filling the shop with a fresh batch of weaving kits, rust dyed linens, felted vessels, and handspun alpaca yarn.

Please keep in touch and holler at me with any custom order requests, I do love a good collaboration.

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