Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Much needed R&R!

My workspace this past week!

So I missed updating the blog last week because of a little R&R at our family place on Lake Sebago, Maine. If you've never been there, you must go. It is the most beautiful crystal clear water and sandy bottom of any lake I've ever visited-except perhaps for Lake Louise which was far too cold to swim in! But of course I'm biased having spent every summer of my life there and by all the years of fond memories...summer long card tournaments (a canasta-like game called Sanba), learning the butterfly stroke from a distant cousin, jarts contests over happy hour, the treasure hunts my aunt always ran using tricky limericks she'd write that sent us running for clues from the beach to the house, all the way to the point, and even out to the mailbox, plus waking to the revelry call of the bugle at Camp O-At-Ka (which is a boys camp just next door that my great grandfather -who was Episcopal bishop of Maine -helped get started). Ahh, summer fun!
Anyway, its not summer without a visit to Sebago and it's always a great time for me to get some relaxed knitting done for the store and it's a great place to contemplate life and refresh the spirit for another year.

And, its a time for me to collect lichen for natural dyeing. Lichen needs really clean air and prefers a north (or is it east?) facing exposure near water. Anyway, the woods and rocks around our house and along the point offer a perfect place for it. Since it can take 40 years for lichen (a symbiotic relationship between a fungus and an algae) to grow, you don't pick the lichen, but there are always pieces around the base of the rocks that have fallen off during wind and rain storms (and haven't we had those this summer!). So I always take a bag and walk the trail to the point, side stepping into the woods to search at the bottom of the huge boulders on which the lichen grow. If you search right after a rainstorm, the lichen are green (not tan and black as you see above).

This year I also found another spot for lichen on the way home from Maine in the White Mountains. I always stop at the Wiley House center on Rt 302 in the White Mountains to stretch my legs and let Chloe take a swim in the pond. This year, we also walked a small trail leading from the Wiley house along the river bed, and there were many huge boulders covered with the mamulata (I may have spelled this wrong) lichen that's good for dyeing (the type I collect give the beautiful purple colors and I believe when I took a workshop on lichen dyeing with Karen Casselman all those years ago she referred to this type as mammulata lichen). Anyway, they are the ones pictured above that have the acid orcin in them which when exposed to ammonia (urine if you're a traditionalist) produces the purple dye orchil. I love to see lichen growing, not just for collection purposes since I dye with it infrequently, but becuase they are a sign of REALLY CLEAN AIR.

Remember that if you're going to collect lichen for dyeing, DON'T pick them, but collect the pieces that have fallen off the rock on their own or with the help of mother nature's wind and rain. The fact that they fell off their perch means they weren't healthy anyway and yet they still produce a good purple dye. It may take you a couple of years to collect enough for a dyebath, but as long as the lichen is dry when you put it away, it doesn't go bad or mold.
Ifyou haven't dyed with the lichen yet, here's what I do...
  1. tear up the lichen pieces and put them into a really large jar (a Costco size pickle jar)

  2. cover them with ammonia and cap the jar

  3. let them sit for a couple of days, shaking the jar up twice a day (you need to oxygenate them for the process to occur)

  4. add water to the mix (so the solution is 2:1 ammonia & water) and continue to shake twice a day and let the lichen ferment for 3-4 weeks until you see a good deep purple color.

  5. strain off the lichen, add water enough so that your yarn or fiber is submerged and heat (do not boil) until the dye is set (could be 30-40 mins).


  1. wow!....who knew about the lichen?!....
    and Maine sounds just lovely too, Jen!

  2. Jen, I gave you a blog award! can stop by my blog and pick it up!...just drag the picture to yours, and pass it on!