We love lichens! They are tiny organisms in a multitude of shapes and colours. Most of them like to grow where the air is pure, so we are spoiled with a great abundance of growth forms on Skye. Four of them have inspired our latest range of woollen wraps, woven from soft lambswool.
Lichens are composed of two organisms, algea and fungi, which form a stable symbiotic association. Some of them are very slow-growing and commercial harvest is no longer allowed. In the past lichens were collected to dye wool for the weaving of tweed, especially Harris Tweed. The most famous of these lichens is crottle, which was boiled together with the wool and gave a reddish-brown colour.
Another group of lichens was used to make purple ‘orchil’ dyes. To achieve the purple colour the lichens had to be fermented in urine to start with. Even though the dye had a very small light-fastness, it was highly valued as purple was one of the more difficult colours to achieve naturally.
We didn’t use lichens to dye our woollen wraps, but we looked at them for inspiration. We chose a two-sided weave design with a soft grey on one side and the lichen colour in a wavy pattern on the other. We wanted to reflect the connection between rock, a favourite lichen habitat, and the living organism.