Quite some time ago, I became the beneficiary of natural dyes that had been abandoned at, or gifted to, my Guild. Among them were some very old looking bags of dried lichen. I was appalled by this discovery, to be honest. Lichens are slow growing, increasingly threatened, complex organisms. I hear they are plentiful in some parts of the world but I am not living in one of those parts. People far more articulate and knowledgeable than I am on this subject, such as India Flint, have explained why harvesting these plants for dye is not a good idea. However, clearly there was a point in the past when these lichens were harvested and it is too late to make that unhappen. So I have done some research into the lichens that have labels on them. Some of them are so old they have imperial labels on them rather than metric labels. Wikipedia says Australia began metrication of weights and measures in 1971. So you know what I’m saying.
I decided to start with some of the lichens whose labels suggested they should be treated using the boiling water method. The simplest, and the one achievable in winter. First, a soak in rain water. Coral lichen above and Sticta Colensi below. I gave them a 24 hour soak in rain water, and then started the heating. Then there was straining out. Then a contest between dye baths on the go. In the end I decided that since Karen Casselman’s book on lichen dyes pretty clearly recommends long processing, perhaps this was a dye that could spend some time wrapped in a blanket to stay warm between heatings.
The whole time I was working on these two dyes I was thinking about why anyone would harvest lichens to get the colours suggested on the labels which say things like ‘boiling gives gold’ and ‘boiling gives pale olive green’ or even ‘boiling gives warm beige’. And the outcome: Sticta Colensi is the yellow on the left. Coral lichen pale brown on the right. So now we know. Leave them where you find them, my friends. There are faster growing ways of achieving these colours.