Lichen Dying: You Will Lichen It

Hallie’s display of lichen, lichen dye concentrate, and lichen dyed yarns at the SB Fiber Arts Guild Dye Day

You are welcome for the cheesy, dad joke title of my blog.

I am well known in my household for puns and play-on-words like this one. My husband sighs and looks away into the distance. My daughter laughs at me hysterically. It all evens out in the wash (smile).

So, most of you know that I’m an herbalist. Some of you know I’ve been exploring plant dyes for the past 7 years or so. I’ve come across some fantastic colors over the years, deep saffron yellow of Mexican marigolds…the dusty rose of avocado pits…but this new experience with lichen was pretty amazing.

To be honest, the only lichen that I have worked with is usnea and I use it for medicine. It’s one of my key herbs for urinary tract, strep, and staph infections (among other things). Using this other species of lichen (see below) for dyeing expanded my realm of plant…well, fungi (+ alga) relationships.

Yes, lichens are the symbiosis of fungi and alga!

Just a few weeks ago, a new friend from the local fiber arts guild that I am a part of showed me the wonders of dyeing with lichen. She had a few skeins of yarn dyed shades of purple from two species of lichen in our area in Coastal California: Parmotrema austrosinense and Flavopunctelia flaventior.

Luckily, just a week after I saw this brilliant color (purples are quite hard to find in the plant dyeing world), she said that she had some extra concentrate of lichen dye to share. So, I picked it up and dyed some recycled saree silk and some wool yarn.

Sun dyeing the silk and wool fibers in the lichen dye bath

Some basic info about this process:
– make sure to harvest lichen from the ground after it has fallen from oak trees after a wind storm (please DO NOT harvest directly from the tree)
– clean off any bark or wood debris from the lichen
– let the lichen sit in a mixture of 1 part ammonia and 2 parts water (yes, it stinks) for about a month; shaking it occasionally
– add water to your concentrate and simmer the wetted protein fibers in the dye (or you can sun dye)

All of this is covered in Hallie’s video on the dyeing process. Hallie is an Art Teacher at a local Junior High and a crafter and dyer. Check out her informative video and feel free to share. She also recommends this book if you want to dig deeper.

Because the lichen concentrate was rather smelly, I decided to sun dye my fibers in 1/2 gallon ball jars on the back deck. I let them sit in the dye bath for about 2 days, shaking them well every now and then.

The color set amazingly well. What you see in the below pics are after washing the fibers and then laying them out to dry. I’m definitely satisfied with this dye bath!

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