Sunday, 30 October 2011

Natural Dyeing with Lichen

This is something I've been wanting to do for quite a while. Lichen has been used to produce dyes for longer than anyone can remember and in the not so distant past  dye was still made this way commercially.

This is Ramalina farinacea. It was collected from fallen oak twigs and branches in North Wales. It is a soft grayish green and very common. High winds and rain had stripped a woodland of lots of small  twigs many of which were bearing a good covering of the lichen.

Lichen colonies are easily damaged by collecting and  this is the first time I've seen sufficient dislodged naturally for me to pick up enough to try this.

The first stage is to boil the lichen to release the colour. I used the old pan I generally reserve for melting candle wax. I boiled it for an hour and then left the liquor to steep overnight. I personally found the smell of the boiling lichen unpleasant and was glad when the hour was up.

The following morning I strained out all the plant matter and was left with this insipid pale greyish green liquor.

I almost gave up at this point and tipped it away. However I thought I might as well carry on. I brought the strained "tea" back up to the boil and added some white wool gleaned from the Welsh hillside and pre washed.

Doesn't look promising does it? Once it was boiling I turned off the heat, covered it and left it steeping overnight - close to 24 hours.

I was fully prepared to write off this experiment as a complete failure so I wasn't expecting much...

...and certainly not this - once rinsed and dried I have yellow wool! The colour is actually a little stronger and brighter in real life.

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