Lichen Dyeing

Actual size of this piece of lichen is about 10 inches across.
Let me introduce you to Lobaria pulmonaria, the Queen of Lichens. This distinctive beauty can often be found on the ground at this time of year, blown down from her home high up in the maples. The bright lime green of the underside stands out amongst the rusts, oranges and golds of the fallen leaves.

Lobaria pulmonaria was traditionally used by the Coast Salish people as a dye for wool. I was first told about this excellent dyestuff by Katherine Tye, an amazing Fraser Valley woman who was involved in the revitalization of spinning, weaving and natural dyeing amongst the First Nations communities in that region, back in the early 1970's. I met Katherine as part of my research into dyeing with native plants that I was doing for a high school science project. (She now has an ecological reserve named after her.)

Lobaria pulmonaria does not require any mordants to give up a lovely, fast, orange-y tan colour on wool, cotton and silk, and I haven't experimented with mordants so it may be possible to shift the colour with iron, copper or tin if one was so inclined. I have always just boiled the whole leaves (fresh or dried) in a big pot for an hour or two, then added the cloth/yarn and simmered for another couple of hours and let it cool in the dyebath. I imagine more colour might be yielded up if the leaves were finely chopped but I haven't tried that yet. It also gives the dyed material a wonderful rich forest-y smell.

I am sure I don't have to remind you that lichens are an integral part of the forest ecosystem and grow very slowly, so do not gather any lichens that are attached and growing on tree bark or rock. Lobaria pulmonaria is relatively lush growing and falls very generously to the ground in wet, windy weather, so it can be easily gathered then.


  1. Even though I've only done it a few times I love dyeing with lichens. Several different ones have left that lovely smell on the wool that never goes away. Delicious!

    Dr. Karen Diadick Casselman from Nova Scotia has several books and monographs on lichen dyeing. I've taken seminars with her and she would be very pleased with your conservation cautions, Heather.

  2. I have dyed with windfall lichens in Texas (while resisting the incredible temptation to try dyeing with the rock lichen) ... the scent that lingers on the cloth is so calming. If only there was a way to substitute it for all the fake-y chemical scents that bombard our poor noses.

  3. The wonderful teacher of all things fiber and dye, Judith MacKenzie came to Gabriola some decades ago and did a lichen class at my house. Two things she told us about dyeing with pulmonaria: one was to dye it together with the wool instead of making an extract and the other was that it somehow adds something to the wool to give more luster. I still hoard a bag of lungwort gathered from the ground over the years on Gabe.


Post a Comment

Please forgive me for using word verification. The spam robots got to me.