In the past, I have not taken the winter as a time to collect items to make natural dyes. Perhaps it is the unnaturally warm winter we are having that has inspired me, but I have found myself looking around and wondering if I could extract dyes from what I am seeing. I have carried out two experiments so far.
So, here is some lichen. This is available in profusion around Hanckley Common, where I frequently walk the dogs. It particularly likes dead wood but also seems to grow on living trees. Now I know that using lichen for dyeing is not encouraged these days because the plants are slow growing and increasingly struggle because of air pollution and the like. At Hankley, as I said, there is masses growing and it is more abundant this year then I remember it being for many years. So, I have taken a bag full to see if it will make a dye.
I prepared the dye bath by bringing the lichen to the boil slowly in plenty of water. I simmered this mix for about an hour and then left to stand, for a week. After that I drained off the liquid through a sieve, squeezing the fibres to extract as much liquid as I could. Into the strained liquid I put some fine wool which had been wetted out and soaked in a vinegar mordent. This was then brought to a simmer just below a boil for about an hour. The outcome was a pleasant, soft sludge green. I think this would be worth repeating.
The other material I collected from Hankley was bark from fallen birch trees. This too was brought to the boil in plenty of water and then left for a week. The resulting liquid was drained off and used as a dye without mordent, using the same kind of wool as I used for the lichen. The product is a soft yellow. It is such a gentle colour it scarcely looks dyed. I can think of some uses for this but am not sure that it was worth the effort.
However, I have read more and think I used the wrong birch bark. I think I should have used the thin, papery bark that peels by itself from certain Silver Birches. There is a small group of Silver Birches in Farnham Park. In the high wind last week some of the peeling bark was blown off and I collected it from around the trees. This is now soaking for a week and I will see what colour I can extract. I am hopeful for pinks. More will follow here.