Throughout history, people have dyed their textiles using familiar, locally available materials and archaeologists have discovered evidence of textile dyeing dating as far back as the Neolithic period. Plants, invertebrates and minerals are all sources of natural dyes with the majority derived from plant sources such as roots, berries, bark, leaves, lichen and fungi.

 

We have been experimenting with making dye from lichen with excellent results. Click through for our step by step instructions.

 

There are a vast number of plants from which you can obtain dye. I have always presumed that most of them would produce decidedly earthy colours compared to the bright synthetic dyes we take for granted in modern life. I could not have been more wrong.

Please note that not all lichens produce a dye so please do your research before you forage for them. Many grow exceptionally slowly, so it is essential to gather responsibly to avoid damaging colonies. We currently have two lichen dye projects on the go.

 

Ochrolechia Tartarea

We have been experimenting with making dye from lichen with excellent results. Click through for our step by step instructions.

 

Also known as Cudbear, this lichen was traditionally used in the Highlands of Scotland to produce a vivid purple dye. Growing almost exclusively in the far North of Scotland, the sample I used I purchased from a lovely lady at the Wilderness Gathering who is an expert on Natural Dyeing. This lichen needs to be fermented in an ammonia solution to extract the intense colour which can range from bright pinks and purples to maroon.

 

Evernia Prunastri

We have been experimenting with making dye from lichen with excellent results. Click through for our step by step instructions.

 

More commonly known as Oakmoss this widespread lichen is found growing throughout the northern hemisphere. Used extensively in perfume production it can often be found on the ground beneath oak trees making it an easy lichen to gather. I collected the jar full that I’ve used in the dye below from the ground during my dog walks. I typically find a couple of pieces each day. Utilizing the ammonia method outlined below it yields a lilac/purple dye, alternatively, a yellow colour can be prepared by just boiling the Oakmoss in water.

 

Preparing lichen dye

We have been experimenting with making dye from lichen with excellent results. Click through for our step by step instructions.

 

Half fill a glass jar with the lichen. Add a mixture of one part ammonia to two parts water. Oxygen is required for the chemical reaction to take place, so the advice is to fill the jar three-quarters full with the solution and to remove the lid to replenish the oxygen every so often. Keep the jar in a warm place and shake vigorously each day. The dye should be left to ferment for at least three months to achieve an intense dye colour.

 

To use the Lichen Dye

We have been experimenting with making dye from lichen with excellent results. Click through for our step by step instructions.

 

Pour half of the lichen dye liquid through a strainer into a saucepan. Return the strained lichens to the jar and top up with a new ammonia/water mix – you should get another couple of batches before you lichen is ‘spent’.

Add water to your dye pot and submerge the material you are dyeing (having prepared it by soaking in water first). Bring to the boil and simmer gently for about an hour or until you achieve the colour you want. Remove your dyed product and leave to dry. A new wet item can be added to the pot once the dye has cooled and the process repeated.

 

We have been experimenting with making dye from lichen with excellent results. Click through for our step by step instructions.

Each subsequent dye will be lighter as the dye pot becomes exhausted resulting in a colour variation. Our photos show this in the three darkest skeins. The lighter ones were achieved by popping the wool skeins in the bath for a minute or two before removing them. The dye we used for all the skeins, and the unspun fleece came from the Ochrolechia Tartarea lichen. The Evernia Prunastri is still steeping, and we will share our results from that in a future post.

Lichen dye does not need a mordant. The colour will fix and should not fade. Some lichen dyes are photo-sensitive so the dyed item will change colour when exposed to intense sunlight. I hope to experiment with one of these lichens soon.

For more traditional nature craft inspiration check out our How to Make Oak Gall Ink and our How to Make Pine Resin Salve Posts.

 

We have been experimenting with making dye from lichen with excellent results. Click through for our step by step instructions.

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24 comments

David Benjamin March 12, 2019 - 10:16 am

Hello. What a wonderful article. There are a lot of lichens in our local parks and woods and a lot of it is on windfall branches so it is sustainable to gather them. I like to dye feathers and furs ( recycled fur coats etc, i have a conscience ) for fly tying. I wondered if you have tried using lichen dyes in the microwave oven as some people do with kool aid

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Sarah - Craft Invaders March 12, 2019 - 4:23 pm

Thank you David, no I haven’t. I’d love to hear how you get on if you do try it 🙂

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Cricket January 27, 2019 - 4:22 pm

Isn’t vinegar a mordant in some cases?

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Sarah - Craft Invaders January 30, 2019 - 4:29 pm

Yes it’s one of the more common mordants 🙂

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Sarah - Jayne January 20, 2019 - 9:41 pm

Hi, glad I found your page, I have some Cudbear, which I also got from the Wilderness Gathering. I haven’t started it yet as I was unsure when’s it said an ammonia liquid. Can I ask what you use and where you get it?
Thank you!

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Sarah - Craft Invaders January 20, 2019 - 10:20 pm

Hi Sarah-Jayne. It’s a fab festival isn’t it – we loved it. I got this one off Amazon https://amzn.to/2CwVy5c and followed the instructions that came with the lichen although I was a bit rubbish at remembering to take the lid off the jar ever so often and to shake the jar regularly – as you can see it still worked beautifully. I think I still have the printed instructions somewhere, so if you need them just shout 🙂

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Fran Baker November 26, 2018 - 12:05 am

Thanks for posting about this. I THINK I have a tree with the oakmoss lichen growing on it. Bits keep falling off. I often used to save bits but had no idea you could dye with them. I’ve been dyeing with Alum, iron and vinegar and trying every plant left in my garden, leaves are falling fast from trees though.
Can I get prints from leaves with using lichen to dye with instead of fruit teas and alum, iron and vinegar? Might be next year before I’ve collected enough lichen though.

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Sarah - Craft Invaders December 10, 2018 - 12:46 am

I often find oak moss lichen on the ground Fran when it has come out of trees so it sounds like that is what you are finding Fran. I never thought to try eco printing with it. I have tried sticking it in alcohol as technically its edible – it didn’t colour it particularly so I think you need the ammonia to release the colour but I’d love to hear how you get on if you do try it and I’ll let you know if I come up with anything too 🙂

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Kelly October 4, 2018 - 4:08 am

Your colors are amazing! I am on vacation and just collected some moss to try dyeing some yarn. I won’t be home for a couple of days. How do you recommend me keeping it till I get home? Right now it’s in plastic zip lock bags.

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Sarah - Craft Invaders October 4, 2018 - 7:37 am

We were delighted with the colours Kelly. I should think the moss will be fine in the zip lock bags for a couple of days. If you think its very moist inside the bag you could leave them open to allow air to circulate a little. Good luck with your dyeing – I’d love to hear how it goes 🙂

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