Mushroom Paper

Now that it’s warm enough to go without a fire in the woodstove for most of the day, I’m waiting for a good time to fire up my outdoor burner and see if there’s any colour left in the dyebaths from the November dye workshop.

With the mushroom dyeing season almost over, it’s time to get going on some more mushroom paper. Yes! – certain mushrooms can be processed into paper. (Or, to be technically correct, “paper-like sheets,” as apparently only paper processed from materials containing lignin can properly be called paper. But I’m going to call mushroom paper “paper,” because that’s how I think of it.)

To make mushroom paper, I use conk (Fotimopsis pinicola), dyer’s polypore (Phaeolus schweinitzii), and turkey tails (Trametes versicolor).

Mushroom paper bowls
Mushroom paper bowls

Here are some bowls I’ve made recently. Of the three mushrooms I use, conks make the strongest and most resilient paper, so that’s the tan base material in each of these bowls. I used a turkey baster to create the dark brown designs on the inside – that’s from dyer’s polypore (after I’ve used it to dye fibre, of course). The textured band on the bowl on the left is from the turkey tails. I do like the texture of turkey-tail paper, and I’m working on a way to make it less brittle – by adding a quantity of jelly fungus. I’ll have more to say about that in a later post.

Turkey Tails
Turkey Tails
I don’t have any good photos yet of a conk. Here’s an image of turkey tails (you’ll find an image of a young dyer’s polypore in my December 14 post). Turkey tails live up to their name – the “fans” that grow in tiers have subtle stripes in shades of brown, grey, or orange. They’re so ubiquitous they’re considered the crabgrass of the mushroom world, so they’re easy to find.

To make paper, the mushrooms have to be cut into small pieces and run through a blender with water until you get a pulp of the right consistency. After dyeing with the dyer’s polypore, the mushrooms will be in crumbly chunks that can be liquefied very easily. Turkey tails, after a bit of soaking, can be cut with scissors, then blended. Conks, on the other hand, have to be soaked until soft and rubbery – sometimes this takes months!

Once I have a nice pulp, I use standard papermaking screens to make thin sheets that can then be dried flat or molded to a shape. (I won’t go into the entire papermaking process here, but I’m going to have a workshop on April 26 for those who are interested in learning it.)

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4 thoughts on “Mushroom Paper”

    1. Thanks for your kind comment. Sadly, mushroom season is over, although I’ll be spinning up some of the colours I still have on hand. I never cease to be amazed at the beautiful gifts the mushrooms give us.

  1. Mushroom make wonderful paper, and mushrooms make wonderful watercolors to paint on that wonderful paper. Long ago Miriam Rice taught me how to distill the “dye” into a great grain free watercolor, and I have my pretty “bolete| painted on the mushroom paper with the mushroom watercolors. Mushrooms are a great source of delight to me, from the hunting of them, the eating of some of them, paper from others, but most of all the dye colors that I get from them. I started up in the 80’s with the serious search for mushroom dyes, and again with the help of Miriam Rice…..via the phone…I began learning about the Fungi Color and have been searching for ever new colors since then from the Fungi around the world. I have lots of paper made of mushrooms, some with some additives to help make the paper strong, but some just those polypores. Sam Ristich used to send me large boxes of “conks” as he called them for me to use for dye…lots of shades of golds there….and then what was left for the papers.

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