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Lichens for Vegetable Dyeing by Eileen M. Bolton, a free on line book  RSS feed

 
Judith Browning
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This looks fascinating and all on line at this link. I'm just beginning to browse the book. I've never done any dyeing with lichens and I've never tried to ID what we have here locally, might be a fun summer project

I've just uploaded my aunt's book on Vegetable Dyes. She willed me its copyright and it really deserves being made available and used. It has her paintings of the specimens. She was a hermit, living in a National Trust weaver's cottage in Wales on a trout stream. She dyed, spun, wove and sewed her clothes in these lovely colours, so much more beautiful than the modern aniline ones. - Julia Holloway


LICHENS FOR VEGETABLE DYEING by EILEEN M. BOLTON

 
Judith Browning
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Lichens have been described as 'humble little handmaids of Nature'! They are the most grasping, tenacious and dogged little plants in all the vegetable kingdom. They have a way of doing a vanishing trick in dry weather, so that one can walk about the countryside without realising their existence. When once they arrest the eye and hold one's interest, there is no more fascinating occupation than looking for them, while the high-altitude lichens will lead the searcher into some of the most glorious regions of the world. -Eileen Bolton


One more picture from the book, painted by Eileen Bolton...
 
Jocelyn Campbell
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Ooohhh! If only I had more time!! I collected some vivid lime green wolf lichen from around here and heard that was a decent natural dye. I experimented with some fabric scraps but only had mediocre results.

I would love to hear more about this!!
 
Sher Miller Lehman
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When dying fabric it is best to use only fabric that has no chemicals. Virtualy all fabric have at least some sizing. You want natural fibers. Synthetic fibers need chemical mordant for the dye to take. Ask your fabric store for untreated cotton. Makers of solid color cotton fabrics make a chemical free version. Different companies may call it different names. (Used to own a chain of fabric stores and done some dying myself)
 
Thekla McDaniels
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Mordants are also commonly used on many natural fibers.  The dye stuffs that yield a permanent color without a mordant are much rarer.  Often the mordant determines color you get from a dye stuff, meaning wool dyed with marigold petals for example that is mordanted with alum will give a different color than mordanted with chrome, or iron or the countless mineral salts used as mordant.  I think what happens is the mordants act on the fiber creating a place the color dye can attach.

This looks like a fascinating book, I'd love to get those colors from natural dyes.
 
Earl Mardle
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Thekla McDaniels wrote:Mordants are also commonly used on many natural fibers.  The dye stuffs that yield a permanent color without a mordant are much rarer.  Often the mordant determines color you get from a dye stuff, meaning wool dyed with marigold petals for example that is mordanted with alum will give a different color than mordanted with chrome, or iron or the countless mineral salts used as mordant.  I think what happens is the mordants act on the fiber creating a place the color dye can attach.

This looks like a fascinating book, I'd love to get those colors from natural dyes.


And, of course, we all produce our own mordants so that's no problem. Mordants
  • stale urine
  • salt
  • vinegar
  • wood ash in solution
  • oak galls
  • raw alum
  • water  in which rusty iron has been soaked
  • willow or oak bark
  • copper pieces that have been soaked in ammonia for about 2 weeks.


  • Good page, with recipes.
     
    Lj MacKay
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    Jocelyn Campbell wrote:Ooohhh! If only I had more time!! I collected some vivid lime green wolf lichen from around here and heard that was a decent natural dye. I experimented with some fabric scraps but only had mediocre results.

    I would love to hear more about this!!


    The mediocre results may be because the fibres you used were not wool or protein based. Also, mordants can make a huge difference. Alum is the most common and cheaply and easily obtained (I use the aluminum sulphate you can buy from gardening supplies to change soil ph) Often  cream of tartar is added with the mordant.

    A lot of natural dyes work only on protein fibres (wool, silk, hair, etc), and the ones that work on cellulose (cotton, linen, hemp, etc) often need a longer and more complicated mordanting process.  I would suggest that you first experiment using wool yarn, and if you get good results, then try your scraps of fabric.  Often if I am experimenting with a new dye possibility, I will mordant several small skeins of wool with different mordants and then put them all in the dye pot together to see what different colours result.  Of course, each bit of wool must be somehow labeled, so if you get a colour you like, you can repeat it. 

    You can experiment without mordants if you have an iron or copper pot to dye in. I have experimented using an aluminum pot instead of alum as well, and while it does work, the colours obtained are not as fast or as bright as using alum.  Colours of some natural sources can also be change considerabley by using either an acid or alkaline rinse after dying - add a bit of vinegar or washing soda to the rinse water, and let the fibres soak for awhile to see if colours change - usually the change is immediate and dramatic if it occurs.
     
    r ranson
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    It's very easy to get confused between mordant and modifier.  This isn't helped as many authors, um, may not have the best grasp on the subject.  It took me a long time to learn the difference.  Finally, a member of my spinning and weaving guild took me to one side and explained it.  She's been dyeing and  working with fibre arts for almost twice as many years as I've been alive.  She's mentored some of the current stars in the fibre arts community.  Once I got the basic distinction, it was easier to tell what is a mordant and what is a modifier.

    A mordant affixes the dye particle to the fibre.  A modifier alters the colour.  So far so good... right?  You can stop there if you like.

    We can often get a colour without a mordant, but this is usually not 'fast'.  Basically it comes out in the wash or when exposed to light.  Mordants make longer lasting colours.  Some plants contain enough mordant on their own: rhubarb and onion skins for example.  However, a mordant can brighten the final colour considerably, like this:



    Without a mordant, the colour was a muddy green-orange, but the yarn in this photo was with alum as a mordant, which made a lovely warm orange.

    Different mordants can alter the colour, also different fibres require different mordants.  Cellulose like cotton and linen, need something like tannin.  Whereas that does little good with a protein fibre like wool which likes something like alum as a mordant.

    So a mordant can act as a modifier and a modifier can act a little bit like a mordant.  Iron is a modifier and makes a darker, almost grey colour.  Copper makes the colour brighter. 


    Going from this list:

    stale urine - the main active ingredient is ammonia, this is used for cleaning and in lichen dyeing, fermenting, and activating some of the dyes.  It is also used in harris tweed lichen dye but a method not fermented.
    salt - modifier
    vinegar - modifier
    wood ash in solution - modifier with some mordant qualities - basically it's a week lye - also used for cleaning
    oak galls - a source of tannin, so mordant with cotton, modified with wool
    raw alum - mordant for wool, modifier for cotton, however, not sure why it would need to be 'raw'.  This is new to me. 
    water  in which rusty iron has been soaked - modifier
    willow or oak bark - tannin
    copper pieces that have been soaked in ammonia for about 2 weeks. - modifier with some mordant qualities. 

    I'm over simplifying. 
    There are other mordants and modifiers, but these seem to be the most common.  I really like Rebecca Burgess's book for an introduction into basic natural dyeing.  My lichen dye books are somewhere in my massive sorting pile of books right now, but I'll see if I can dig them out. 


    PS. Lichen can be used as a mordant as well as a dye. For the 'best' results, the method can get complicated involving ammonia and fermentation for months, however, many lichens also mordant by boiling.
     
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