This experiment has been a long one. It started a month ago when I bought these crushed walnut shells from Riihivilla Web Shop. Leena has a wonderful online shop and a very informative blog about natural dyeing (also in English). The instructions said to soak the walnuts for a month before dyeing, apparently it takes a long time for walnut shells to release colour. So I did soak them for a month and quite soon the walnuts started to ferment ( I think). I wouldn’t recommend doing what I first did; I put the walnuts into a plastic container and closed it with a lid. It’s a good thing I did check on them every once in a while because pretty soon the whole thing would have exploded. So no air-thigh containers. I learned that just in time. Also after a month the smell is pretty strong.
After a month of soaking the shells, I sifted the walnut crust away and dyed 100 g of unmordanted labswool yarn. Apparently walnut contains tannin which is nature’s own mordant and using alum as mordant would not make the colour stronger, in fact just the opposite. I kind of forgot to boil the walnut shells before dyeing the yarn and that’s why my first try was lighter than my second try where I added the walnut shells to the dye and boiled the dye for one hour.
To dye the third skein (bottom right) I used the dye again and the result was the same as the first colour. I read that if you add an iron after bath you could get the colour even stronger. I have to try that sometime.
There was one small juniper tree that had come to the end of its journey growing at our yard. I was interested to try what kind of colour I could get from its bark. Stripping the trunks was surprisingly easy. All I really needed to do was to pull the bark out with my bare hands. I let the bark soak in water for one day before boiling it for one hour. Rest of the process was similar to dyeing with lupine (read about it here.) Boiling juniper bark smells really good! I’m serious, if somebody develops a juniper scented perfume I’m the first one to buy it! The colour was pretty too.
I think this brown colour is really pretty. All the yarns I used are wool yarns and were mordanted beforehand with alum.
I reused the dye for the second time but added madder powder into it . This gave the yarn it’s redness.
Dyeing with lichen differs from the ”normal way” of plant dyeing. It’s kind of like making a trifle. I have tried dyeing with lichen before, but I used the kind you find in trees and I found that the results where pale and more greenish. Using lichen from the rocks is a different story, I really loved the colour. Now I’m must say that I’m really bad at identifying different kind of lichen. I just collected “a lichen cocktail” from all the different kinds of lichen I could find. I think in dyeing the most commonly used lichen is called kiventierra in Finnish. If anyone can tell me how these following lichen are called, either in Finnish or English, I would be very interested to know!
Useful tip for collecting lichen from rocks (or from trees): It’s best to do it on wet weather, preferably when it has just rained. Dry lichen does not want to let go of the rock. You can also create fake rain by using spray bottle and that will make collecting easier.
As I said the dyeing technique is like making a trifle. Take a pot and make the first layer with lichen then add a layer of yarn, then lichen and so on. In the end the yarn should be completely covered in lichen and in direct contact with it. Then add enough water so that the water almost covers the top layer.
I brought the water to a boil and after that lowered the temperature. You don’t want to keep temperature too hot because the wool yarn might get damaged. I dyed the yarn for two hours. I’m not going to lie – the smell was interesting and I was happy I was working outside, but the result was beautiful. The difficult part is to clean up all the rubbish from the yarn. The last part is to rinse the yarn in cold water.
As I said the result was a beautiful reddish brown colour. In fact I got so excited about my first try that I collected some more lichen and used a bit bigger 10 litre pot.
On the left you can see the colour I got from my second try. I saved the colour liquid from that batch and coloured the yarn on the right as normal by boiling the yarn in the colour liquid for one hour. The yarns I used here where wool yarns I had pre mordanted with alum. You can read my post about mordanting here.