Saturday, January 24, 2015

Dyeing with 4 Lichens from 3 Corners of the World.

So I've been enjoying some nice down time here on Peaks.
I'm now in my 2nd trimester and my energy is perking back up.
Beginning around Halloween I was feeling pretty tuckered out as I was balancing this new life form growing inside me and just in general wrapping my brain around our lives changing forever.

Between the holidays, my time has been spent researching baby things, doctor appointments, times with family, snuggling on the sofa all day watching endless series of whatever felt nice and interesting. I blow through tv way more than is good for me. Holding my small chicken a whole lot more and just standing in my painting studio soaking up the energy in there and day dreaming about what I'll paint when I get around to it.

As Christmas neared I started to plan on taking January and Feburary off from cranking out the knitted and sewn goods. Or really any major shop planning things. I just needed a break from not thinking about creating for the shop. And it's been really good.
I still got the dye urges and one day a few weeks ago as I was cleaning out the fridge trying again to find that weird smell, I found two things that I over looked last time.

A red cabbage.

And a bag of tiny skiny purple carrots.
From September......

I had also been hankering to dye up my fermented lichen jars of reds and purples.

That is what I'm going to begin with here, the lichen dyes.

The next two posts will be about the carrots and cabbage, but seperately.

This is my 3rd post on lichen dyes and you can find the others in my archives.


I heart lichens

I revisted my wonderful and so so informative book by Karen Cassleman, Lichen Dyes, A new Source Book. 
I've had it about a year or more and found a few pages where I had made all these notes on with my pencil. It occured to me that the first time I experimented with my fermented lichen dyes I kind of winged it, even though I had read what she said to do.  Also I was working with tiny amounts of fiber.

This time though, I did exactly as she said.
Started with 1oz of washed fiber : 1cup of dye liquor : 4 cups water.
From there I repeated the fiber amount in the afterbaths until the color was absorbed.

I had a different lichen in each jar.
The 1st being what I was pretty sure was
Evernia prunastri
that I collected from my mother in law's yard.
Which by the way is a lichen paradise.
 Let me see if I can pull up a picture.
I mean, come on. How can you not fall in love with this weird and strange organism?

Ok, two pictures. They live in the Sierra Foothills, California 
and going there in Feburary is such a treat. 

I also collected from the same spot a dark curly green lichen. Which may be what was in this last picture. 

A had a 3rd jar of Xanthoria parietina that I had collected from Inis MeĆ”in, the middle of the Aran Island off the west coast of Ireland during our honeymoon in 2013. I finally used the last of that jar. 
sniff... sniff....

The 4th jar was of Umbilicaria mammulata I collected at Squam Lake in New Hampshire while teaching at the September Taproot/Squam
Meeting Stephanie Pearl McPhee aka The Yarn Harlot was pivotal in my lichen dyeing adventures because she confirmed for me that indeed Umbilicaria does resemble black potato chips. After she said that I knew I had seen it before. But I realized I didn't know what I was more excited and overwhelmed with. The fact that I just had a conversation with Stephanie Pearl McPhee. Or that she cracked my lichen mystery. 
Both I'm sure. 

Then on the last day of Squam before I headed home, I took another foraging walk around and there by the lake behind the big house, on a rock was a wonderful smattering of Umbilicaria mammulata and another Umbilicaria with the common name, toad skin lichen. Growing side by side. I collected a small amount and begun the soaking as soon I got home. 

On this day of dyeing, I was excited to get some dyeing done.
But to also just use up what I had.

Lichen fermentation is super exciting and everything
but we need not foget about the dyeing bit.

The Umbilicaria is the only one that really held the deep color in the first bath.
The others, turned out to be a very soft pink or purle.

I did wonder if it was because I was using loose wool opposed to yarn or fabric.
Which I think, saturates better... Not a fact, just in my experience so far.

I was super impressed with the first dye bath of Umbilicaria which is on the left. A bright magenta.
I think I did 2 after baths with an once of washed wool in each pot.
In a few of them, I added more dye liquor which made me feel like I was cheating but, I wanted some color to be drawn out.
It was fine.

The mystery lichen, 3rd from the left came out kind of impressive.

Going across the picture here, the fluffy batts are my carded lichen samples, 1 oz each.
1st baths starting on the far left and going up.

(below the batts are my cabbage experiments which I will post about later.

Here is my jar of leftover Xanthoria from the Aran Island.
After I poured off all the dye liquor, I just couldn't face dumping the lichens.
I mean, they came from such an ancient place and ancient spot.
So I filled it back up with more ammonia and water just to see what would happen.
This is it after just a few minutes.
I'll wait a few weeks and try it again.
When using something like lichens for dyes, I think it is so important to use up every last drop.

In the mean time, I've acquired a few lichen tools. 
A microscope
another lichen book
little jars for collecting and testing lichens in the field for dyeing
dissection tools
and the cutest red tiny filing cabinet from Ikea that will soon house my new lichen herbarium. 

Now I've just got to get organized. 

If you have any questions about lichen dyeing, leave me a comment and I'll do my best to answer you. 

I have taught a lichen dyeing course once at the Maine Fiber Frolic last summer. 
Lichen dyeing is a tricky course to teach, for me, because I want to fit so much information into a course and it all really needs time. 

I'm still on the fence if I'm going to teach one from my home studio this spring. 
I need to think about how I want to structure it because most likely, I need to be the one to prepare and ferment the lichens and even then it will be dyeing of little samples. 

So if there is something really specific or an area in lichen dyeing you'd like to learn in the form of a course, do let me know. 


brsmaryland said...


I have some lichen fermenting in water and ammonia. Not sure exactly what kind but one is turning a nice brown color and the other purple. I'm getting ready (antsy) to dye with them but worry about the ammonia coming in contact with the yarn. Seems like it would possibly disintegrate the fiber. Is that every a problem?


Rachel said...

Hi Beth, Thanks for your coment:) That's a very good question and real concern. In my expereince, 2 things will help this NOT happen.

When dyeing, scoop out a cup of yoru dye liquid and add 4 cups of water to the dye bath and then add yarn.

When heating, do not heat over 120f for more than 20-30 minutes at the longest.

If you were to heat at a higher heat for a longer period of time, it would make the yarn harsh.

Good luck!


Anna said...


I have just discovered your blog and it is a wonderful resource to learn about lichen dye. Personally I have dyed wool yarn with lichen found in my backyard using the boiling water method. I want to learn more about collecting lichen and other lichen dyeing methods. Are there any books that you would recommend?

Thank you!

Rachel said...

Hi Anna! Sorry this took me so long. Yes, I have just the book for you! You can find on Amazon or your local library, "Lichen Dyes: The New Source Book" by Karen Casselman. It is small, very few pictures but THE BEST information out there. She knows her stuff and it is my lichen collecting and dyeing bible. I also, use some of the very large lichen id books, a microscope and such to build my collection and to know what I'm collecting. Good luck:)