dyeing with lichens

my daughter gave me Karen Casselman’s book about lichen dyeing for my birthday, and remembering how much lichen lies around in Extremadura where I have a place in Spain I thought it would be interesting to try out, purely as an experiment. I had been thinking of the pretty green lacy lichen in the ilex oak and cork oak trees, which comes out with the prunings, but I also found a lichen that is very common on the granite rocks around my house and on the sierra. of course, lichen takes ten years to grow back, so it is not at all viable to go pulling it off rocks, even in the back of beyond, but you can take a few loose pieces and windfalls.


the black edged lichen in the centre of the photo is lasallia pustulata, I have since discovered, on an old blog from Isabella Whitworth who made a special trip to Galicia in Spain. I didn’t know that at the time, and had my kit out to test the various lichens I found with bleach or the very alkali ash water, lye.


the lasallia briefly flashed red when touched on a cut edge with bleach, which according to Casselman means it is a variety of lichen containing the pigment orcein (purple) and needs processing in an ammonia vat. the lacy green tree lichen did not flash green, but it did react to the lye, so it was put in a pot to soak in spring water for thirty six hours, with the possibility of gold or rust colours.


I shredded the lasallia into small pieces and covered it with the same depth of water, and then the same amount again of an ammonia based window cleaning product, an alternative to household ammonia which Casselman suggests.


then I put the top on and shook it vigorously. I continued to shake it up to aerate it, six times a day for the first week, during which time it became a lovely rich deep rusty brown, then three times a day for the second week .. tailing off during succeeding weeks. and it turned, as casselman says it should, a beautiful purple-black colour like sloe gin. I brought it home to Norfolk with me, and then I had to think hard about what to dye, Casselman said purple, will dye anything including synthetics, plastic buttons … what in the world did I want to dye purple? also a very small amount – 1 oz to 250 ml of the original liquid. in fact I got almost a litre of liquid from my jar.


in the end I decided that I would re-bundle a cotton jersey jacket that I made, and which I had already dyed in a bundle, (using India Flint’s wonderful leaf dyeing method), in order to try to get the collar and top of the back purple.


but I made various mistakes. if you alter the ph you alter the colour, it goes pinker, and rather than use my neutral tap water full of calcium and iron and chemicals I used water butt water – acid!


then I hadn’t bargained for the dye soaking through the bundle and so being quite dilute. anyway I ended up with a delicate shade of rose-purple in a great bundle-string pattern on most of the top of the jacket



and some lovely maroon string!

0orchil string

the jacket is now waiting for an antiqued metal two way zip.

the other lichen was most disappointing and produced nothing but a pale fawn colour.  In fact if you look through the tables in Casselman’s book lasallia pustulata is down as giving a red colour rather than purple, though not tested by Casselman herself, so the colour is possibly not due to the acid water I used, though the photos on Isabella Whitworth’s blog would indicate purple colours.


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