Lichen Dyes

Above, Lichen on rusted railing, November 26, 2016

Ethel Mairet (1872–1952)

“Some of the most useful dyes and the least known are to be found among the Lichens. They seem to have been used among peasant dyers from remote ages… The best known of the dye Lichens are Parmelia saxatilis and Parmelia omphalodes which are still largely used in Scotland and Ireland for dyeing wool for tweeds. The well-known Harris tweed smell is partly due to the use of this dye.”  

I read this selection on lichen dyes for the 47th LibriVox Nonfiction Collection. The selection is from Ethel Mairet’s 1916 book Vegetable Dyes, which contains recipes for natural dyes. Mairet was a craft hand loom weaver, who influenced generations of hand weavers in Britain. Besides her book on vegetable dyes, she also authored Handweaving Today, Traditions and Change (1939).

In the late 1960’s, in my “back to the land phase,” I was interested in spinning and natural dyes, and initiated my adventures into that, actually fascinating, subject by shearing a sheep… Whew… However, I still use the blanket for which I spun and dyed the yarn. The natural dyes I used at that time were indigo and madder. The abundance of lichens which grow on cedar fences and rusted iron railings near my house has me (sort of) interested in trying lichen dyes. Meanwhile, the lichens are beautiful to look at!