Beetle · Dyeing

Dyeing with Lichen


Dear Fern,

It has been awhile since I have done any more experimenting with natural dyes, but I have been collecting stray bits of lichen that I often see on the ground at school in the hopes of doing something spectacular with them. I’m very grateful for this article, by Alissa Allen, which is a wonderful source of information and includes good recipes for dyeing with lichens. Did you know that lichens are symbionts, made of a combination of a fungus and a cyanobacteria or algae? I somehow made it to adulthood without learning that bit of trivia. So, some lichens don’t yield any dye at all. Some lichens dye bright yellow, some dark brown, some golden, or tan. These are the easiest to dye with, because you can just toss them in a dyepot and boil them up! You don’t even have to mordant your wool, because lichen dyes are substantive. Which is why, on a lazy Sunday afternoon, I looked at the pile of unidentified lichen I had collected and figured I would just do a quick test to see if I could get any color out of it. 20 minutes later my little piece of test yarn was golden! Yay!

I will have to update you on this experiment further in a few months, because there is another type of lichen that, when fermented using a water and ammonia mixture, will make pink or purple dye! I’ve got a couple of jars of that sitting on top of our fridge right now. And, there’s one lichen that even dyes pink, and then the color turns to blue as the yarn dries in the sun. I really can’t wait to try that!

But for now, this golden beauty will do.

Missing you,


P.S. I know you thought of your wedding planner when you read the title of this post.

P.P.S. To anyone out there reading this who wants to start collecting lichen to use as dyes, please remember to collect ethically—only take lichen that is abundant or already detached from its substrate. Lichens are very slow-growing and may not recover from overharvesting.