Dyeing with lichen


I’ve decided the time has come to start dyeing with Xanthoria parietina, yellow wall lichen and use the mass from two out of four jars I have been fermenting. I am glad I have more than one since it allows me to keep experimenting – and make mistakes ^_^.

The first test didn’t work. I put the fermented mass, which by this time was brick red,  in a stainless steel pot, filled with rainwater and added fibres. After several hours of simmering they turned pale dusky pink and when dried outside in rain and shine over one day all of them became grey.

With the second jar I decided to boil the blood red fermented mass first, for approx one and a half hour, strained the liquid, added more rainwater for the fibres to move freely in the pot and simmered with a tight fitting lid on so that ammonia wouldn’t escape. The fibres took up the color slowly and after about three hours of simmering were all pinkish/purple.   Lichen dyes are classified as substantive dyes (no premordanting needed) but some of the fibres I used were mordanted, some not as I wanted to see if there is any difference.



Wool and some cellulose fibres, especially tencel, were among the darkest, while silk fibres and fabrics were more salmon pink and lighter in color. At the bottom right the pink fabrics are cotton muslin, the dusky pink above them are silks. On the right there is silk, cotton muslin and wool from the prolonged dyeing. The pale pink yarn is bamboo and viscose, the pinks are wool and tencel (next to pale bamboo) and the dusky/dirty pink is linen and silk fibre.

I have used two modifiers, vinegar and washing soda. Washing soda pushed the color to the darker hue of pink purple while vinegar made the color more orange/brown .

Since there was still quite a lot of color left in the dyebath, I entered new, unmordanted wool, bamboo and tencel and the color of the dyed fibres from this second exhaust was almost as dark as from the first one. Also, I set aside small amount of the original dyebath + some fibres for 6 more days and the color deepend (first picture, bottom right).

In general,  by fermenting Xantoria parietina yields pink purple color on wool and cellulose fibres and dusky/salmon pink(puce?) on silk and linen. The longer the mass is boiled before dyeing, the longer the actual dyeing takes and the longer the fibre stays in the dyebath after dyeing, the better.


When I left some of the wool from the second extract to dry outside (it was overcast, not even full sun), it turned blue (1 day) and teal blue (2 days). I was curious if the same would happen if I leave dried wool out in the light (overcast, not full sun, damp) or inside on a sunny windowsill. The change of the  color was slower, neverthless it turned to blue eventually or grey pruple (the wool on the windowsill – the first picture the last yarn on the right).

On the left teal and blue after dryeing wet fibre outside, on the right color from the second exhaust (bamboo, ramie, tencel, wool with silk, wool).

I wonder, however, if the blue is the end color or it would get eventually grey after longer exposure to the light. I am going to test it with these yarn wrapped cards and will post later. If anyone has an experience with this lichen I would appreciate very much if you leave a comment. I know that lichens are traditional Scottish dyes but can’t quite imagine how this one in particular could be used since it changes color so much and looks fugitive too.





16 thoughts on “Dyeing with lichen

  1. My my, that is a lot of experimentations, Monika !! I’m speechless ! It’d be a bit sad if they were fugitive colors, for they really are very beautiful ! They make the prettiest palettes !
    Well done ! I hope you’ll find someone able to tell you more about dyeing with lichens, for I don’t know a single thing about it.
    xoxo Have a lovely weekend !

  2. Thank you so much for your informative posts about dyeing with lichen. I’m interested in trying it but haven’t got there yet. All my dyeing so far has simply been flowers and plants from the garden on silk. Though I have tried both black bean and turmeric on cotton with good results. Thanks again for sharing!


  3. Thank you very much for all your kind comments. I am testing the samples for the lightfastness now and it does not look promising, will keep you posted.

  4. I have only died with Xanthoria once and only a very small amount. I am now fermenting some more. This turning blue has been documented in a Faroese book. I’m waiting to try this myself. Very interested to see how you lightfast test comes out (although I’m not too worried about that – it’s just the nature of natural dyes 🙂

  5. Monika! I can’t get over this run of posts! You are a master among master fiber artists! m..m

    The leaf printed clothing is spectacular! And all the extraordinary colors you have magically produced from the lichen is so exciting to read about. The materials, the type of water and additives and then the time and the sun changes! So interesting! So lovely all.

  6. Monika, if you understand french I can tell you about my experiences with this lichen, because my english is too poor. I try…
    In a basic water (one spoon of alcali/ammoniac, and three weeks of fermentation) : With kidmohair and silk, without mordant, I got a blue/grey or very light violet and it is resisting to the sunlight (I live in the south of France and the sun is very very hard). With aran merino, without mordant, I got different kinds of pink and purple. But when I tried to put superwash wool, the colour (dark pink) turned to blue and then to light grey or “mastic” when it was drying.
    The buckett is very long, I mean you can get colour many times.

    Saturday, I meet Michel Garcia and if you want I’ll talk with him about the question.

  7. I like to use Xantoria for the blue colour. Sun is essential to fully process to blue. My latest vat last Sunday didn’t get a chance to turn because it froze before the sun came around. I took the fibre back inside and pre mordanted in a cool bath of wood ash lye and rain water. It stayed in the cool bath for 24 hours. Now it sits in the dye pot, unheated, until I come back from work this afternoon. My next step is to get it out in the sunshine, but only when the temperature is above freezing.
    I like your sample presentation and you write about the processing very well. Thanks
    Helen in Nova Scotia

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