Roccella fuciformis

Roccella fuciformis

Back in June we travelled home from Sintra via Cabo da Roca. There’s nothing there but it’s a popular landmark simply because it’s the westernmost point of the European continent.  It’s high, well over 100 metres above the sea, with dramatic cliffs. We got there early in the morning, the mist rather reluctant to leave but the spectacular scenery was still to be had.  A few tourist coaches had beaten us there and the visitors headed to the monument for selfies and a quick peer over the edge.

It’s an isolated spot, and you do feel at the end of the world. But what surprised us most was the sheer variety of low-lying plants that covered the area. It really was beautiful.

However, we both had other reasons for being there: we were hunting for treasure. Richard head off in search of a geocache…

…but I was looking for lichens. In particular the coastal lichens belonging to the family Roccellaceae, commonly called orchil lichens. These are the ones that have a reddish-purple dye. Neither of us were disappointed, Richard found his cache and I found a whole range of different kinds of lichen. I collected a few handful of these.

Back home, the long wait began. The colour obtained from these lichens comes with patience. Having done the bleach test to confirm I had found Roccella fuciformis (the soralia react bright red with a drop of bleach) 28g was then fermented in ammonia and shaken every day. Eventually, over the weeks, the colour shifted from green to muddy brown to a dark magenta.

I waited over 4 months. Then there was a four day process of of actual dyeing. I added 2 skeins of 25g sock yarn to the lichen dye bath (1:2 ratio approx). This was then heated to a simmer, repeated the next day, and then skeins were left to dry without rinsing. Finally, they were properly rinsed and dried.

I was really pleased. A gentle rose colour from the windswept cliffs.

Other tests showed that I had also collected some Roccella phycopsis, with more remarkable results and will write about that next.

PS All the information about dyeing with lichens comes from the splendid book Lichen Dyes by Karen Diadick Casselman.