“Study” implies lessons to be learned, and that’s certainly the case with this mushroom, an orange or pink coral (Ramaria gelatinosa).
When I first started playing with mushroom dyes, I’d read that this one would give purple if an iron mordant was used, so I popped a good handful of the mushroom into my little sample dyepot, along with my mordanted samples, and boiled the life out of it, only to find an interesting grey at the end of the process. I even blogged about it at the time. Despite my suggestion then that I’d try that one again the following year, there were so many more mushrooms to try that I walked on by the orange/pink coral . . . until this year.
The forest provided such an abundance of this coral mushroom this year, along with everything else, that I decided to collect what I could and try again. But since I was spending every available minute out collecting all kinds of mushrooms, I did with the coral what I did with all my other treasures: I spread it out on newspapers to dry.
When it was time to fire up the sample dyepot again, I’d just brought in some more fresh coral, so that went in first, and I used a splash of ammonia to raise the pH of the dyebath to around 10—and the iron sample yarn came out a deep burgundy. (The samples, left to right: no mordant, alum, iron, copper.)
Energized by this result, I tried another sample pot with a handful of dried coral (of which I had mountains by this time) . . . which resulted in an insipid grey. The mountains of dried coral went back to the forest, my gift to the mushroom fairies. Another lesson learned.
I had enough fresh coral left for a good-sized dyepot, from which I got these colours on some Corriedale batts.
As luck would have it, I found another good clump of coral a week or so later; it stayed outside in a paper bag, and by the time I got to it, it had frozen solid. Into the dyepot it went (again with ammonia to raise the pH), along with some premordanted (with iron) silk: a camisole, a scarf, and a silk “hankie,” which will be spun into a fine thread. I took to this dyepot some lessons already given to me by two of my dyeing mentors, Heather and Alissa: when trying for purple, don’t let the temperature of the dyebath rise much above 160 degrees F, and pull it out of the dyebath as soon as you have the desired colour (as opposed to leaving the fibre to soak overnight or longer). And here’s what resulted:
I’m thrilled, of course, although the last lesson from this mushroom is the hardest to deal with: patience. I have no more Ramaria to play with this year—but that makes this purple all the more special, doesn’t it?