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Lichen Dye Artwork

Curated Submission
Winnipeg, Manitoba
Late 20th century
DIMENSIONS in centimetres
53.2 x 40
Materials & techniques
Wool, lichen dyes, metal; Weaving, lichen dyeing
Gift of June Cameron
Manitoba Crafts Museum and Library 2891.00
This picture showcasing the skyline of downtown Winnipeg was hand-woven by June Cameron. All of the wool used was dyed using lichens, producing an impressive range of pink, red, and purple tones. While lichen dyeing is not a common process today, it was the only source for many highly valued colours for centuries. Orchil lichens have been used to produce vivid purple dyes since the time of the Roman Empire. Unfortunately, while it produces beautiful colours, lichen dyeing on an industrial scale is highly destructive to the environment. Lichens grow only 0.5 millimetres each year, and a single large batch of dye can wipe out the lichen population in an area. It is possible to harvest lichen responsibly on a small scale, however, and some artisans continue to explore the possibilities of this type of vegetable dyeing.
The dyeing process used in this piece is unique because it does not require a mordant to set the colour. The lichen used is typically boiled to extract its colour or left to steep in ammonia for two to three weeks. The same lichen can produce a wide variety of shades, depending on how long it is left to steep. Vinegar or soda can also be added to adjust the pH of the solution, allowing more control over the final colour. Margaret Ferguson experimented with lichen dyeing for many years and compiled an extensive set of samples. She donated the results of her research – hundreds of wool and lichen samples paired with detailed technical notes – to the Manitoba Crafts Museum and Library in 2008.
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