Natural Dyeing: Keeping It Simple With Osage

Natural Dyeing: Keeping It Simple With Osage

After my ill-fated attempt at Logwood exhaust and Osage I wanted to go back to something simple. Since I had not gotten the colour I expected at all from the last dyebath, I wanted to go back and use just the Osage to get a good baseline of what I could expect.

This would be my fourth experiment with natural dyeing, and I was feeling a little more confident, despite (or perhaps because of) my failure with my third attempt, so I decided to reserve one skein for an iron afterbath. That way I could still get my baseline for the Osage, but also branch out a bit more and dip my toe in the modifier waters.


204 g Merino 2-ply (from commercial top, 3 skeins total)
8 g Osage extract (4% WOF)
2 g ferrous sulfate (iron, 4% WOF for one skein)

The Process

This time I wasn’t dealing with chips like I was for Logwood, so there was no need to start the soak the night before. I had purchased my extract from Maiwa in Vancouver, and it’s in the form of a thick, brown liquid. Because it’s an extract and much more concentrated, you don’t need to use the same weight of fibre as you would with chips. To give you an idea, for the Osage chips, Maiwa recommends 20-30% WOF, while the extract you use 4-6% for a medium depth of shade, so I went with just a hair under 4%.

To get this particular weight of fibre calculation, my math looked like this:

204 (grams of wool) x 0.04 (4% weight of fibre) = 8.16 (grams of Osage extract)

My kitchen scale does not measure fractions of a gram, so I either just round up or down to the closest whole gram.

I started first by warming up my dyebath water to a balmy 75-80C. Once it hit that mark, I took out my pre-measured Osage extract, dumped that in, and stirred to get an even distribution of the dye to water. I then took my pre-soaked yarn, and threw that into the pot. I let it simmer for 60 minutes.

The Afterbath

I went with ferrous sulphate, which is a crystal that dissolves in water, mostly because I wanted something that would dissolve and I wouldn’t forever be fidgeting with getting bits of iron out of my yarn. There is also your own iron solution you can make, and there’s lots of recipes on the internet (along with natural dyeing books). I wanted something I could control a bit better than the home brew solution because:

1. I wanted something I could measure out (with the idea of being able to repeat the process), and;
2. I wanted to know exactly what my weight of fibre was because iron can break down protein fibres, and I wanted to avoid that on my first go round.

To dissolve the crystals, I heated my water up to about 60C and threw in 1 gram of the iron, stirred, and got that rusty orange colour you’d expect from iron.

But wait, didn’t you say you used 2 grams, you ask?

Well, I had started with one, which was 2% WOF on the nose. I took that solution, put it into a bigger pot, added more hot water, and then threw in the one skein I had chosen for my afterbath. I let it sit in there for about 10 minutes, but after that time there was no change. Perplexed, I thought to myself, “perhaps 2% wasn’t enough?”. At that point I removed the skein, and stirred up another 1 g of iron into some water (bringing up the iron to 4% WOF), and repeated the process.

That brings me up to the 2 g and about 4% WOF. I let it sit for another 10 minutes, but alas, no change.

Not wanting to damage the fibres I pulled the skein out, rinsed, and let it dry with the others. The image at the top of the post contains all three skeins, and the one in the middle (blue ties) is the iron afterbath solution. Unless you really, really look, you can barely see a difference, and it’s certainly not the greenish colour I was hoping for.

I’m a little stumped. I’m not sure why this didn’t work. I’m debating trying again with one of my other skeins and really pushing the iron ratio up, just to see if there’s any changes. I’ll also most likely be trying my own home brew iron solution to see if it makes a difference. I really like the idea of using the ferrous sulphate because I like to measure and set up semi-repeatable processes, but unless for some reason I got a real bummer crop of ferrous sulphate (is that even possible?), I’m not sure what I could have done differently.

What I Learned

Modifying with iron isn’t as easy as I thought – more experiments are definitely required. I’m going to try the home brew solution and see if that makes a difference.

Osage is much more orange than yellow – I was expecting something more on the yellow range than the orange – not that I’m complaining! My water is pretty pH neutral, sometimes pushing slightly to the alkaline, so I don’t think that made too much of a difference. I’ve read throwing in some pennies will brighten the yellow, but in Canada, we got rid of pennies a while ago and I literally couldn’t find any in my house. Instead, I bought a small piece of copper piping, which I’ll throw into the pot next time I’m dyeing with Osage.

Crossposted from Dominion Fleece & Fibre

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