Lichen: Parmelia saxatilis - Obsession nr. 4

Parmelia is the lichen that has most commonly been used here in Iceland to dye.  It gives rather nice yellows and browns and even over to reddish browns.  And it leaves it's wonderful scent in the wool.  As with other lichen, heat will make the colours more brown so dying cold is actually quite smart.  There are three varieties of Parmelia that grow here and all are used to dye wool.  They all look very similiar, but P. omphalodes is slightly more brown in colour than the others. P. sulcata has a wrinkly kind of surface.  I think the one that I collected is P. saxatilis which is known as Shield lichen or Crottle in English.  Crottle was also commonly used in Scotland to dye wool.

I came across this lichen by accident.  Even if it is quite common here, I hadn't quite figured out where to go to look for it.  But my husband and I were taking my mother in law for a drive to see a place where we sometimes take the dogs for a walk.  It's a lovely place, only minutes from the city and there is this river and a few small summer cottages and there is also some lava rock that is covered in moss and also Parmelia saxatilis.  I sat on the rocks and as I touched the rock to steady myself I felt that it wasn't actually a rock, but a lichen.  It looks just like rock.  That is so cool!  I am always so grateful for these little gifts from nature and in that spirit of gratefulness I gathered a little bit.  Just enough to cover my palm really.  Because there wasn't that much of it in that place.  I'm not dyeing large quantities, only about 20-25 grams of wool at a time (there are about 30 g to an oz).  I'm just curious about what colours I can get and I want to document that.

There isn't that much written about lichen dyeing compared to dying with plants, but what there is in Icelandic is about Parmelia.  There isn't usually any difference made between the different Parmelias in dyeing literature, but I'm interested in the subtle differences.  But the problem lies in identifying them correctly.  I may have to look to one of my father collegues for help one day because I just may be wrong about the particular variety.

I did the same with this lichen as I do with all the others.  I first simmer it in water and coloured some wool.  That gave me a mustard kind of yellow.  It's very nice even if I'm not a fan of the curry yellows.  There just simply doesn't seem to be a lichen colour that I don't like.

Then I tried to steep it in ammonia, but that didn't really do anything special.  At least not yet.  It's still sitting there and I'm still shaking it.  This can go on for weeks.  Up to 16 weeks I've read, so patience is needed.  But, I'm not expecting purple from this one.  It would be more of a maroon, or in the best case a burgundy colour.  But we'll just have to wait and see.

I had rather high hopes for this in a soap.  It somehow seems logical that a light yellow liquid will give much less colour than an orange one will.  But...  You'll have to wait for the next post.  There was a bit of a mix up and I couldn't find my notes, so this soap you may have seen before in my Peltigera post.   That was wrong.  This soap, the one that I decorated with Gallium verum, is made with Parmelia water, not Peltigera as I thought.  And it only produced a slight blush of a colour.  And no mustard tone to the soap.  It really amazes me how unrelated the yarn and soap colours are.  I would have thought that there would be more of a correlation between the two.  Because even if I have been using the exhaust baths to colour the soaps, there has been quite a bit of colour left in the water.  But I'm sure I'll have to try the lichen decoctions fresh in soaps one of these days.  For now this is just experimentation for fun.  And I have a lot of soaps that smell of Vetiver and something.  Oh, yes this one does have Orange Essential oil and Vetiver.  At least I got that right.


  1. I would love to see some photos of your home. Lichens in bottles and glasses, pots and pans, boiling and soaking and seeping and weeping.Thanks for doing all the hard work for the rest of us!

  2. Haha :) Yes, well. Suffice it to say I'm driving my husband crazy! But I absolutely intend to do something about all those jars and bottles and yarn and... stuff... And that's gonna be any day now!

  3. I'm with Donna -do let's have a peek at the "laboratory" sometime, eh? I love how your concoction looks like cloudy tea -it's made me thirsty! :)


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