Osage Orange is one of my favorite dye sources for creating a range of golden yellows, metallic and russet golds, as well as soft mossy greens. In this post I demonstrate how using mordants can be used as a color changer, brighting or darkening protein or cellulose fibers, creating beautiful shifts in color. I find this exciting when working with natural dyes to create my patchwork quilts!

Natural fibers dyed with Osage Orange Heartwood
no mordant--pure and earthy

Natural fibers dyed with Osage Orange Heartwood
alum pre-mordant--brightens color results creating metallic golds

Natural fibers dyed with Osage Orange Heartwood
iron after mordant--darkens color results creating mossy greens

The Recipe (No Mordant)

  1. Osage Orange wood shavings (aprox 4oz per pound of fiber)
  2. Enough water to generously cover dye stuff
  3. Bring the water w/ dyestuff to a boil--30 mins or longer
  4. Let the pot cool to touch then strain wood chips/shavings from the pot (I suggest using a colander lined w/ cheese cloth)
  5. Set aside the wet wood chips, they can be saved and reused again or composted
  6. Return strained golden dye bath to the pot and reheat
  7. Soaking the dyestuff a few days ahead is an alternative or aid in extracting color from dyestuff
  8. Evenly soak fibers in hot water before placing them in the dyebath (this helps achieve even color)
  9. Place pre-wet fibers into the dyebath
  10. Heat dye bath to a slow boil for aprox 1 hour, using a spoon or stick to submerge fibers and free air bubbles
  11. To achieve even color avoid crowding the dyepot
  12. Reduce heat and let the fibers cool in the dyebath this will give brighter results
  13. Most dye artist let the bath sit and cool overnight or even a few days, longer is stronger
  14. Remove the fibers from dyebath, rinse with cold water until water runs clear
  15. Hang to dry
  16. Once fabric has dried, hand or machine wash gently with a mild detergent such as synthrapol
  17. Use your fibers to create something beautiful

Using Mordants

The below instructions for using mordants are sourced from Aurora Silk

Alum (pre)mordant used at 25% by weight of fabric, or use less if you are dyeing a light tone. For silk dyeing, it is possible to use hot tap water and not have to heat the mordant bath. Just dissolve the alum well in hot water from the tap into a pot or bucket large enough for fabric to be completely submerged, add the fabric and let it sit overnight, with occasional stirring. Always wear gloves, such as dishwashing gloves, when working with any mordant.

Iron (after)mordant called “green vitriol” in old dye books, this is an essential of the dyer’s art. Iron after baths can take any yellow or gold and turn it to a soft green. Reds become burgundies, pinks become plums, and any tannin source (any weed or bark) can be used to make pretty greys, just by adding iron. Usually used as an after-mordant modifier, where you just watch the color and when it has changed “to taste”, rinse it. If used as a pre-mordant, ½ oz per pound is the usual ratio = 3%. Do not use too much as it can “weight” and damage delicate fibers.

The Osage Orange Tree, Maclura Pomifera produces a large, spherical green fruit ranging from 4" to 5" in diameter, the fruit is actually an aggregate of many small seeds, resembling a green, wrinkled orange. Common names for the fruit is "horse apple" or "hedge apple", the fruit is not used in the dye process, but can be used as a natural insect repellent.

A stack of cotton and raw silk ready for quilt making, hand dyed with Osage Orange and a variety of mordants.

Harvesting wood from an Osage Orange tree in Austin, Texas

Read more about identifying and harvesting the beautiful golden heartwood on my previous blog post.

If you do not have access to harvesting your own wood, the dyestuff is available for purchase through the well-known dye houses such as Aurora Silk, Dharma Trading, Earth Hues, or Botanical Colors.