I’m now learning about our Irish lichens and the methods for identifying, collecting and preparing them for dyeing. There are some ethical guidelines for collecting:
1. Use a field guide for your geographic region. I’m finding Lichens of Ireland by Paul Whelan helpful.
2. Use only those lichens that are abundant.
3. Leave nine-tenths of the lichens undisturbed at the sites where you collect.
4. Do not purchase or sell lichens to other dyers.
5. Do not use lichen dyes for large textile projects.
6. Avoid group collecting.
A very good source book is Lichen Dyes by Karen Casselman.
Using lichens can become technical and time consuming, but very much worth the effort. I was fortunate recently to receive lichen from a friend who had already prepared them for dyeing. Lichens normally need to be fermented in ammonia or boiled in water in order to extract the colours. I then boiled the fermented lichen to make the dye bath.
I was very conservative and used 15 grams of lichen to 100 grams of wool. The first result was a beautiful deep purple. There was still enough colour in the bath to dye 300 grams more wool, 100 grams each time. These are the resulting shades of purple.
The more I dye with natural plants, the more amazed I am at the results.
I still have a lot to learn about natural dyeing, but will enjoy discovering new colours from new plants.