Lichen dyes date back to the 16th century, according to the web site, Elizabethan Era. These mossy, rock-dwelling plants were a cheap source of green dye for both rich and poor, enabling everyone to have colourful clothes. According to Cornell University, ancient Mediterranean cultures used various types of lichen to achieve yellow, red, brown and even purple dyes.
Though modern chemical dyes usually replace older dyeing methods and materials, you can revive these methods at home. Whether you're interested in greening your clothing projects or simply need an inexpensive dye for tie-dye, lichen may be the answer.
- Skill level:
Things you need
- Sharp knife
- Lichen: green, golden-green, red-green or orchil (purple)
- Plastic bucket
- Large pot
- Cloth or yarn: wool, linen, silk, muslin, cotton
Slide the tip of a sharp knife under a patch of lichen to loosen it. Gently push and wiggle the knife under the lichen until the patch is totally loose.
Peel the lichen off of its tree or rock and place it in a bucket. You'll need up to a pound of lichen to make fabric dyes. Choose one colour of lichen and harvest only that colour for your dye project. Mixed lichens make muddy dyes.
Tear the lichen into small pieces and place it into a large stew pot. Add about 2 cups of water (or 2 cups for every pound of lichen) to the lichen. Bring it to a boil over high heat and boil it for about 20 minutes.
Reduce the heat to medium high, bringing the mixture down to a simmer. Add the fabric or yarn to the dye, submerging it completely. Simmer the fabric or yarn in the dye for about 1 hour to achieve a dark, rich colour. Unlike other plant dyes, lichen dyes don't require fixatives or mordants.
Remove the fabric or yarn from the lichen dye and wring it out gently. Rinse the fabric or yarn with cool water until colour stops running out of the material.
Allow the material to air-dry. Unlike other plant dyes, lichen doesn't need a mordant or heat to make it fast and permanent. Once dry, the material is ready for use.
Tips and warnings
- Wash plant-dyed material in cool water with like colours.
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