Friday, 8 November 2013

Evernia Prunastri Lichen Dye

My first attempt at dyeing with lichens proved troublesome. Curiously, more people have read that post than any other, so it was my most rewarding beige dye yet. The proper process for fermenting crottle remained a beguiling mystery, til this book was recommended by people on Ravelry.  It is old enough to give me a feeling of rediscovered tradition, but modern enough to follow.  Eileen Bolton sounds fascinating, I'd be driving up to North Wales to find her, if she hadn't died 25 years ago.  

Her book was reissued thanks to Karen Diadek Casselman.  I bet she'd be well worth meeting, too.  Since I shan't be in Canada any time soon, I have at least taken on board her thoughts on ethics.  Before cutting another swathe through the local lichens, I decided I really ought to do as she says and identify five lichen species.  Oddly, I found Eileen Bolton's hand drawn illustrations and descriptions much easier to refer to than photos, though I did use both.

Can't miss the orange one, must be Xanthoria parietina.  It grows all over the dry stone walls on the coast. The white one on a garden wall has to be one of the aptly named 'Chewing Gum' lichens, probably Leconora muralis. It's not mentioned in the dye book and heaven knows how you would scrape any off, the thin layer of lichen seems welded on.   


The real challenge was sorting out all the mixed species shown flourishing on the sea buckthorn below. The local lichens are not picky, much the same ones appear on birch, oak, apple and pine. After any blowy day, there are plenty to collect without violating the code of ethics, from fallen twigs or just lying loose on the ground.  


Three distinct types often grow together.  I think the grey-green filamentous bunches are probably Ramalinas and the wrinkly green lobed plaques are various subspecies of Parmelia.  Taking a magnifying glass to their hairy undersides helps pick out one from another. The most abundant one really caught my attention when I looked it up in the book.

Evernia prunastri, growing in shrubby bunches among the other types on the stick below, is alternatively named for its appearance as the Stag's Horn Lichen. Its white underside and smooth oval axils convinced me I had the identification right. 



Eileen says this is an orchil lichen which gives a deep plum colour with ammonia on wool.  I picked up bits every time I was out, let them dry, then rubbed them through a sieve.  Adding household ammonia diluted one to two with water made the powder swell up.  Stirring several times a day gave a pungent reek to the whole room.  Within days the colour changed from green to khaki.  By day 12, dark plum.   


One tablespoon should dye 50g wool, with no mordant.  This deserved my best skeins of fingering weight Dorset Poll.


The dye bath was not an instant success, no colour seemed to be going into the wool.  I gave it a good hour simmering and left it overnight.  Nice pale pink, maybe the lichen needed to ferment a bit more.  I used another tablespoon on Day 15 and Day 21, then put the last skein in with the remaining two tablespoons of now mud coloured lichen paste on Day 25.

I'd say this is a much better result than beige, even though it isn't deep plum.  Plenty of storms presently, think I'll keep picking up bits and do a stronger bath, one day.  Can't commit to another month of stirring stinky lichen til those at home with sensitive nostrils have got over this experiment.  


I used the after bath from the final dye to get a bit of variegation on the two middle colours, then crocheted this shawl.  The pattern is easier than it looks and I am very happy with the final result. Though you'd never imagine from the fermentation smell, the wool has a lovely fragrance.


The pattern is called 'Over the Willamette'.   I have called this shawl 'Plumette' in reference to both the windfall of lichen and the diminutive shades of plum it gave.


21 comments:

  1. Gorgeous shawl . . . just my colours!! I've got a bagful of this lichen in my cupboard, must get the ammonia bottle out. I'd be very happy if I achieved this lovely pink.

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    1. Make sure you use a container with a good lid - this pyrex dish worked well, but in the words of Ms Bolton 'the mixture should not slacken' and the ammonia is certainly volatile.

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  2. Wow -what an interesting post! These lichens grow all round here (lots of trees) and I'm always finding branches full of them on the ground...

    Penny
    x

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  3. After the storm last weekend, there are absolutely loads among the leaves - might have to restart the process this weekend. I miss not having a pot to stir.

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  4. I like the colours of lichen and the shawl.:-)
    fermantation is something I wont to try nest year,
    (sorry for my bad English)

    Anne(Rosendame)

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    1. Nice to meet you - I've been admiring your blog. Ausgezeichnet! Vor dreissig Jahre habe ich ganz gut Deutsch gesprochen, jetzt habe ich das Motiv wieder zu uben.

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    2. Hallo Fran, Danke,

      du sprichst immer noch gut Deutsch ;-)

      Liebe Grüße von Anne

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  5. Totally blown away by your having made this (and your other projects) from carding the wool and picking the lichen up! So cool, and what a fantastic end result!

    *Beginner knitter and needle felter, wannabe crocheter*

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  6. Your post made me wish to try lichen dyeing again. My first attempt was "abruptly ended" when I opened the lid. Although it wasn't inside I just couldn't imagine using it at the time, so off it went. But Xanthoria parietina is so easy to obtain hereabout, I think I also noticed the stag's horn lichen - I might try again, but definitely in summer.

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    1. I think Xanthoria Parietina may do a total colour change in direct sunlight, but I haven't collected any to try. Any that is not firmly stuck on the rocks gets blown away by the wind on the coast. Best of luck with yours - the yarn will smell lovely - honest!

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  7. Lovely group of shades of such a pretty colour, not an air-head sort of pink, but one with depths and subtleties... I'm still mystified by how you make things from beginning to end (and admire you tremendously for it), but I Have got ADHD so that may be something to do with it ;-).

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  8. Lovely blog, gorgeous colours! Staghorn need sunlight while it is growing to produce the deepest colours, methinks. I'm about to try, but I am doing it in the wrong winter, should be late summer I know, but Hey! Keep up the excellent advice. Fran Mixer

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    1. That's interesting, bet you are right about sunshine. Most of the plants are best for dyeing July-ish. Should we have any sun, this summer, then a good storm, I shall be out collecting.

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  9. You need to "ferment" at least 3 months. The process is not a true fermentation, but a chemical reaction, so needs time for the dye to mature. Before 3 months, they dye will be pale. You can store the dye 3 months to a year before using.

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  10. You need to "ferment" at least 3 months. The process is not a true fermentation, but a chemical reaction, so needs time for the dye to mature. Before 3 months, they dye will be pale. You can store the dye 3 months to a year before using.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks - I will try this. The book suggested 21 days, but I have noticed other sources do seem to recommend much longer fermentation.

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  11. great post...i will be out hunting Evernia prunastri at my next opportunity!

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