Wednesday, February 29, 2012

a new experiment

well, there hasn't been much going on lately - sorry for the lack of posts. I did finally finish my Alabama Chanin corset top - pictures forthcoming; I've already worn it to school once. The knots are kind of itchy, but it's pretty amazing to me to own a hand-sewn garment now.

This is a basket of lichen. Now, before the eco-police come knocking, a caveat: these lichen were harvested off a dying plum tree that a friend and I are taking out by hand. I figured, I may as well make the best use of the materials as possible.

(Axe, I'm having trouble logging into my flickr account, but I did get the message. No rush on those recipes, I'm happy to wait - and plenty to do in the meantime, what with taking down a tree without chain saws.)

Oh yes, people, we are taking down a tree with a pair of hand saws and a rope. It's kind of awesome. We had our scary bit last week, when we took down a branch that was probably too big a chunk of tree to take down in one go. We were worried about it landing on the garage and smashing windows - quite exciting for a while. We both were laughing a bit with nerves and I think the consensus was: "we should not be doing this." But we did it, avoided failure, and picked lots of lichen while sawing the tree into manageable logs and breaking down the twigs.

which brings me to these guys. So, I sorted them. The Old man's beard (usnea, down right) makes a yellow dye. The cabbagey-rosettes in the back can be used for a darker yellow dye. The glass on the left is the valuable one: oakmoss. Not common in the states, it's still harvested by the ton in Europe for the cosmetic industry (it has a sweet-earthy scent which lingers quite a long time, and is traditionally the base for the "cypress" family of perfumes). I couldn't get my hands on the hexane (natural solvent) or I would have been making my own oakmoss absolute (a sticky/gummy oakmoss perfume - because you can't distill oakmoss into an essential oil, it's too fragile). Alas, I settled instead on using the oakmoss for dye as well.

Oakmoss is not used for dye anymore, as it grows so slowly that dye production would quickly hunt it to extinction. However, when used for dye, it produces a natural purple dye. That's right, folks - purple. One of the more difficult colours to attain naturally. In fact, the purple dyes extracted from snail shells were a technological advancement over oakmoss - and once it was discovered that snail shells could be used to produce purple dye, the oakmoss dyeing industry (or so I read) basically disappeared.

So here's how it works. It's in this ammonia-water liquid and I have to shake it up once a day for the next 6-12 weeks. Even on day two (pictured above) the water is turning red. I accidentally put the oakmoss in way more liquid than I ought to have used; it is supposed to be a thick slurry. However, this does make it easy to shake - I'll just treat this as a less-concentrated dye and add more of it when I dye in the spring.

Kind of exciting, isn't it? I'll be sure and let you know how it turns out. Hopefully it won't be a colossal bust.