Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Monday, 4 August 2014

I Lichen Like That, II: The Results

It's a cool, misty morning. Our annual Exhibition is over and in typical Prairie tradition, there's a hint of fall in the air.  Officially, there are weeks of summer to come, but August means that those remaining warm days can be matched by night frosts any time now. It seems like a good time to empty the dye pots and shift gears.

I managed to get two dyebaths from the boiling lichen experiments.  The first, on washed Corriedale fleece in a stainless steel pot without additional mordants, produced a green-yellow, which will be a good counterpoint to some of the brighter colours I uncovered this summer:

When I was finished with the first bath, I poured the liquid into a cast iron pot with the lichens, boiled the water several times, added a small amount of washed Corriedale fleece and simmered that a couple of times. The second colour has a brown cast to it:

The colours would be more intense had I used more lichen or less fleece, but I wanted to reserve my remaining lichens for future experiments with ammonia baths or different fibres.  These subtle colours can be blended with brighter ones, used for contrast or overdyed.

My plan now is to set up the grand finale of dye pots: an indigo vat.  Indigo is not soluble in water; the plant must be processed and the dye extracted in a reduction bath, which involves working with chemicals such as lye. Traditionally, stale urine, preferably from males, was used in place of the lye.  I've used a urine bath a couple of times-it's a long, slow process waiting for the urine to ferment and the males in my household were not overly cooperative about supplying their services.  It's much easier to use other chemicals and I have some pre-reduced indigo on hand, which means that much of the work has been done for me, so I can set up a bath in a matter of hours, rather than days or weeks.  Whatever the process, an indigo vat is worth the wait. No other dyestuff gives the spectacular blues obtained from working with indigo:

Some samples of indigo dyed wools from previous baths-the colours are richer and more vibrant than shown here.  The skein is a 2 ply hand spun yarn after 6 to 10 dips in the vat.  The middle singles took fewer dips, while the singles in the bottom row were onion skin and marigold dyed, then over-dyed with indigo.
That's the plan, but indigo vats are best kept outdoors, so I have to wait until the weather warms and I have time to work the pot. I noticed that the goldenrod in the front yard is blooming; while I'm waiting, I may set up another pot with the flowers from that.  Perhaps I'm not ready for my final act of dyeing after all.



  1. I love the first yellow and can't wait to see your adventures with indigo!

    1. Thanks, Lucy! I'm working on the indigo vat now.