Little Golden Notebook

Where fiber art, inspiration, and words meet.

I’m Lichen Dying

I’m liking dying & puns and lichen dying. I tried dying with lichen this past spring but didn’t take any pictures of my results. Until now, that is:

lichen dying - May results

On the left is the iron-mordanted sample, on the right: alum. I know, the results aren’t that spectacular. It turns out that mid-May isn’t such a great time for collecting lichen in my backyard. Early August is better and I’ve started another lichen vat with more material with the hope that I will get better results this time around.

Lichen is a fungus that contains photosynthetic cells – it’s a combination plant-fungus (go ahead: read more about it on wikipedia or and the U.S. Forest Service knowing that I did too).

Okay. So here’s what I did in May and again a couple weeks ago: I collected lichen from trees in my back yard, mainly oaks and mainly this lichen (it’s the green not-leaf-or-grass thing in the following picture):


which also looks like this:


Or maybe they’re more than one type of lichen; I’m no lichenologist, but the pale green one in the second picture is obviously a different kind of lichen (I collected the darker green one, but not the deep green moss that’s also in the picture). I left as much of the lichen growing as I could – more than 50% – when I picked it off the bark because they’re so slow-growing. Also, if you’re going to collect lichen, make sure that you’re not picking a rare/endangered one.

Next, I took the lichen – maybe a tablespoon of it, if that – and put it in a canning jar (forever more only to be used for dye projects) with ammonia. Instead of ammonia from a bottle, you could use fermented urine, but I’m not that hard-core (yet):


I took the first picture yesterday, which was a cloudy day but you can still see the neon greenish yellow of my ammnoia (Parson’s Ammonia, I think). The second picture was taken less than a minute after combining the lichen and ammonia on August 6. I conclude from the fast color results that no matter what species of lichen, you should know within an hour or two – definitely within a day – if you’ve got a lichen that will give you color. By the way, the first time I did this, I had about 1/8 of the amount of lichen shown.

Next: twice a day for a week, open the container to air it out a bit & get some oxygen in, close it again, and shake it. After that, air & shake once a day, or when you remember that you’ve got a lichen vat going. I ended up transferring my vat to a larger glass jar, one that used to have black cherry juice in it. This is important because soon after I did that, Mr. Q asked me why I’d taken the label off of the cherry juice and why was I keeping the cherry juice on the windowsill over the kitchen sink. (I should have labeled it, I know.) After almost 3 weeks, the vat is so dark, it looks like prune juice or coffee that’s been neglected in a glass carafe on a burner for half a day; I had to hold it up to a light to get a decent picture of the color:


And shaken, not stirred:


I haven’t decided when I’m going to dye with this vat. In May, I was impatient and only let the vat ferment for 2 or 3 weeks. Tomorrow will mark the 3rd week for this one, which still seems like not-long-enough considering results that other people have gotten, some of which look as purple as cochineal. I have hopes that I’ll get something darker than my first test, but doubt that I’ll get results as vibrant as cochineal.


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