When my husband and I knew we’d be moving to BC’s Sunshine Coast and building a home in the middle of a rainforest, I decided it was time to learn about mushrooms – like so many people, I’d been conditioned to just stay away from fungi because they were so deadly. So I took some courses and obtained some reliable reference books, and now I look forward to each year’s rainy season and the fascinating wonders it brings.
Somewhere along the way, I heard about the International Fungi & Fibre Symposium. When I learned it would be held in Mendocino, California, in January of 2008, I knew I had to go. And I’m so glad I did: not only did I spend a week surrounded by people who were just as crazy about mushroom dyeing as I was, I learned more about the whole subject than I ever thought possible. Autumn is now a time for searching, gathering, and experimenting, and I’m getting some wondrous results (you might even say I’m obsessed. I’ll share what I’m learning through this blog.
Living in a temperate rainforest means that mushroom season—September through November, generally—delivers a bounty of fungi, many of them capable of giving colour. So it was only a matter of time before the Fungi & Fibre Symposium came to the Sunshine Coast; we made it happen in the fall of 2016 (“we” being members of the Sunshine Coast Spinners & Weavers Guild and the Sunshine Coast SHROOM, a local mushroom club that has since ceased its existence). This was a fabulous event, and mushroom dyers from many parts of the world were able to explore our own mushroom paradise while again enjoying great camaraderie.
Mushroom dyeing is a passion, combining the best of both worlds: fibre arts and fungi.
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I am very interested in using fungi in dying fabrics (paticularly wool). Thanks for your postings!
Hi Deb – Thanks for your comment – glad to hear someone else is hooked on dyeing with mushrooms! Whereabouts are you? I’m planning on giving another dyeing workshop this fall, so I’m eagerly awaiting mushroom season (and hoping for some good summer rains!).
After admiring your mushroom bowls at the container show at Fibreworks I was glad to see you had a website to explain your process.
I am writing an article about Fibreworks for Coast Life magazine and would like to include a mention of the Shroomworks…A picture would be good, too, but when I took one at the gallery it was a tad out of focus–maybe the texture gave it an incorrect reading? Anyway, if you have a high res jpg image that you could send me for the magazine, that would be great.
Thanks, Jan DeGrass
Arts & Entertainment
I love hearing about all your results with mushrooms .So very informative
I spend some time in southern Auvergne every year and was very lucky to find some polyporus tinctorius on some trees in the area. I tried dyeing with them . Got the colors shown in Cardon’s book but brighter yellows .I have 3 photos you might be interested in seeing .Just give me your email if you want me to send them to you .
Thanks again for your very interesting blog
I am absolutely intriged with your mushroom dyeing, especially your results from the lobster mushroom! Did you change the pH of your dyebath at all, or did you get those lucious colors just from using a neutral bath? Did you use any mordants, or was the difference in color strength just from subsequent turns in the pot?
Thanks for sharing all your lovely results on your blog. Very inspiring!
Thanks – I, too, remain fascinated by what mushrooms can give in the dyepot. I use alum for all my lobster dyeing – I’ve tried copper and iron, and they made very little difference. But I do like to play with the pH – an acid afterbath (pH3) brings out the orange, while a ph11 gives more of a purple cast to the colour. I’ve added a Lobster Mushroom category to my blog to make it easier to find the post from last year where I show the results of changing the pH. I like using lobsters in public demonstrations – just a few minutes of boiling the parings brings out the rich colour, and the changes from shifting the pH are immediate.
I’m interested in the process you use to “mordant” the samples – I’m planning on doing some silk scarves.
Can you tell me if you use a particular amount of vinegar or washing soda in your process or if you use litmus paper (or another mechanism) to gauge the PH level?
For your boiling pots, how long do the mushrooms typically boil before they begin to release their color? Does the water require maintaining a particular temperature point to be successful?
The samples are beautiful – I can’t wait to try this out.
I mordant most of my samples with alum, typically 10% of the weight of the dry fibre. You can also add a bit of cream of tartar (5%). When shifting the pH, I add small amounts of vinegar (to lower the pH) or washing soda/soda ash (to raise the pH) to a bucket of water, and I use litmus paper to check the level – I think a digital pH reader is in my future! Not every mushroom colour reacts to shifts in the pH level, so it’s best to experiment with small samples first. If you’re lucky enough to find some lobster mushrooms, they’ll give the most striking changes in colour.
When extracting the colour from the mushrooms, I bring the pot to a slow boil and keep it at a low simmer for about an hour, then I let the dyepot cool overnight before straining the mushrooms out. When dyeing the fibre, it’s best to keep it just under boiling, especially if dyeing wool – too much boiling is hard on the fibres.
This year I’ve been using an old Crockpot for smaller samples, as I can walk away and leave it for a few hours, without having to check frequently.
I belong to a Yahoo email forum called Natural Dyes, and in their archives you can find a great deal of information about mordanting.
Will you be teaching a workshop on mushroom dyeing this fall (2011) ? I would love to attend!
I’m thinking of doing another workshop this fall, but it would have to be in late October/early November, after our Mushroom Festival on October 15. Whereabouts are you? I’d holdl it here (Garden Bay on the Sunshine Coast), but I like to include a foray or two ahead of time so participants can learn what to look for and where. I’ll keep you posted.
Your site gives me hope that I too can learn enough about fungi to die my own yarn. I’m from Tacoma but live in St Louis right now, will be good to get back to the PNW in a few years!
Start with what you find around you – you might be surprised at the results! But living in the middle of a rainforest does help when it comes to finding mushrooms. And that’s where I’m headed right now . . .
Will you be going to the fungus among us festival in Whistler on Oct 13 (next weekend)? I would love to chat with you about mushroom dyes!
For many years I was the USA Rep. to the International Federation of Fungi and Fibre. Several Symposiums in the Scandinavian Countries, Australila, two in the USA, I was also in Mendicino, and would love to do more and might yet. The past nearly 6 years have been messed up by 11 surgeries to repair or replace body parts that had to have help. But pain never kept me from hunting for those mushrooms. Hopefully this year will see me able to head for mushroom country to find more to add to my books. Glad to have found your “blog” as it is always fun to find like minded people. Folks here in my little town have grown used to me, but most think I am still rather strange to spend time in the mountains looking for something to dye yarns with………….
So happy I stumbled across your blog, it was exactly what I was looking for! I’m currently living in Vancouver and am just getting into natural dyes (particularly excited about fungi dyes), so happy to have some local know how to guide me!
In fact, maybe you can help get going… I’m wondering what are some good colorful mushrooms to forage for at this time of year? I know October is typically the big mushroom month… Hopefully I’m not to late!
You’re work has enchanted me, thank you for the inspiration ❤
I’m happy to connect, too – how exciting that you’re discovering mushroom dyeing! At this time of year you can still find Dyer’s Polypore (Phaeolus schweinitzii), which grow on big firs (or on their roots) and on mossy stumps and logs. They’re starting to go brown now, but this year’s will still be fuzzy on the underside, whereas last years’s look dark brown and scurfy underneath.
This has been a good year for Hydnellum aurantiacum, and I’ve been finding them in mature forests. They also grow in rosettes, and the “leaves” are brown and can look papery. They have “teeth” on the underside, and the stems and flesh are orange. If you find any purple toothed fungi, you’ve hit the jackpot! With the hydnella, try tearing them into bits and soaking them in water that you’ved added a bit of soda or ammonia to, to bring the pH up to 10 or 11. When you’re on city water, it’s a good idea to use distilled water for these, or let the water sit for a day or two to get rid of the chlorine. And I’m learning that it’s best not to bring these up to a rolling boil, but keep it at about 160 degrees F.`
The Dermocybes are starting to appear in good numbers now. These are the Cortinarius that have bright orange, gold, or red gills, although they look brown on top. I find these in the moss beds where arbutus grow as well as in mossy areas surrounding mature Douglas fir, and occasionally on rotting logs. If you get a good number, you can separate the caps from the stems and do some comparison dyebaths, and they dry very well if you want to use them later.
And you could possibly still find some Lobsters poking up through the duff like big orange fists. I started seeing them in September, so those that are left are getting soft, but their pigment is still good.
Good luck with your dyeing, and keep me posted. I’m glad you’ve caught the fungus-dyeing bug!
Hello there…I was just putting together a pinterest site based on all things woolly, including my love of dyeing with plants and mushrooms. I have a board dedicated to bloggers who spin and thought I’d add you to it. If you don’t want to be on there, please just let me know and I’ll take you off. My username on pinterest is woolmaiden. When I saw you here, I peeked at your About page and I also live in BC…in the Kootenays near Nelson. I have been out your way once before and it was beautiful. Happy mushroom hunting…
Hi, Jules, and thanks for asking. I’m quite happy to be on your pinterest site – I don’t spend too much time there myself (coordinating the upcoming Fungi and Fibre Symposium is taking up most of my free time now – maybe next year!) at the moment. You have a beautiful blog and beautiful children, who are fortunate to be growing up as they are. I’m sure they’re learning about mushrooms, too! Take care, and one day our paths will cross, no doubt.
Hello Ann I and my husband are going to Sunshine cost in October. SEE you !
Hi, Astrid. I’m so glad to hear that – you’re going to love it here! See you in a few months.
Hello Ann, I have taken a natural dye class last semester at the Kansas City Art Institute, and I am very very interested in fungi, do you by any chance need an intern?
It’s exciting that you’ve discovered dyeing with fungi – it’s a fascinating side of natural dyeing. It would certainly be nice to have an assistant, but my mushroom supply seldom takes me through the entire year because I always have to set some aside for any workshops I might be doing. And this year the mushroom harvest in this area has been minimal, so I plan to experiment with eco-printing and printing with the bits left after the mushroom dyepots are spent.
You might be interested in the International Fungi & Fibre Symposium, an event held every two years, somewhere different each time. I coordinated the event here last year (you can see photos here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2bdT91MWAHg&feature=youtu.be), and in 2018 it will be held in Norway, August 13-19. The organizers haven’t put any information out about it yet – I expect we’ll be hearing some time in the new year – but if you can possibly make it, it’s wonderful to spend the week with other mushroom dyers and the best way to learn. I’ll put it on my blog as soon as I hear anything. If you’re interested, you’ll want to register as soon as possible, as spaces will fill up quickly.
Haha thank you for the information! I am a Windgate nominee so I might have a opportunity to go! I am looking for opportunities to learn more on fungi and paper so I will definitely look into that!
oh no! I am sorry to here about the mushroom supply, however if you do need help, let me know! I would love to assist and/or work with you!
Then I hope to see you in Norway next year!
Hi! I’m wondering if you offer any classes. I’m in your area and would love to learn. Thank you
Just found your blog today and I am excited to learn more about using fungi as natural dyes. I live on a (mostly) self sustaining property in BC and am always looking for ways to get around “buying things” when there is the option of using naturally occurring things!
I will completely understand if you are too busy to respond, but do you know of any species in the Caribou region I could look for?
Thanks for contacting me. I always have time to talk about mushrooms!
I don’t know any specifics about Cariboo mushrooms (and it looks as if your area doesn’t have a mushroom club), but I would guess that you can find most of the mushrooms that I use here, but probably earlier in the season.
If you go to The Mushrooms page on my blog, you’ll see photos of the ones I expect to find every year and in more or less chronological order. I’ve been finding Tapinella atrotomentosa for about a month now, so if they’re to be found in your forests, they should be out now. Next is Phaeolus schweinitzii, and buttons of those are just starting to appear on our rotting logs and stumps.
If you have birch in your area, you may be in luck. I had occasion to dye with some Hapalopilus rutilans, a little polypore that grows on birch in the Nordic countries, and it gives a rich, long-lasting purple. They don’t grow here (on the Sunshine Coast).
Are you familiar with the Mushroom Observer? I find this very useful when I want to confirm an identification, and it’s a good open-source research website.
I also use the free Matchmarker software available from the South Vancouver Island Mushroom Society. It might not be completely relevant for your area, but I find it a useful adjunct to my old favourite, Mushrooms Demystified by David Arora.
I’m very curious to learn what mushrooms you’re finding up your way. And if you decide to do any dyeing experiments, please let me know of the results.
Ann Paulsen Harmer
Garden Bay BC
Colours from the forest, colours that are real
Magic in the Dyepot available at:shroomworks.com
Just found your blog and am so happy!! New to mushroom dyeing and wondering if you are planning any classes? I live in Powell River and will be traveling to Madeira Park soon to get your book. Very excited!
Hi – welcome to the dark hole of mushroom dyeing! I don’t have any workshops planned at the moment, but my book should be enough to get you started. If you go to the About page on this blog, you’ll see images of the mushrooms you can expect to find, more or less in chronological order. I’ll be passing through Powell River on the 26th of this month, on my way to the Island, if there’s some place where I could drop the book off for you. Otherwise, let me know when you’re coming down this way.
Experimented with a lobster on Sunday and got some cool colours!! Have tried phoning and emailing Earthfair bookstore but no response. Will be driving down the Coast tomorrow morning and wondering if I can pick up a copy of your book directly from you? If not I can wait till the 26th when you are up this way. Many thanks Ann.
Earthfair isn’t open at the moment – they’re moving to another location in the village. What ferry are you planning on catching tomorrow? I’m about 7 km from the PetroCan so if it’s easier for you I could meet you there.
We’ll be on 9.25 from Saltery Bay and it would be great to meet at Petro Canada. . We’ll plan to be there at 10.45am. Thanks.
That sounds good – I’ll wait in front of the store, and I’ll put something purple on!
Hi Ann, Greetings fro Cortes. Can you tell me how you made your fomitopsis hat?
Hi Carrie. Ah, Cortes Island! I would love to visit some day, although it would be a four-ferry trip to get there.
Fomitopsis makes the strongest paper, compared to using turkeytails or Dyer’s Polypore. You need to start by collecting your fungi, and I’ve discovered that the small “marshmallow” ones are easier to cut up, and even then I put them in a bucket of water to soak for a few weeks first. Then you need to cut them up into small pieces (a strong pair of scissors is good for this) and run them through a blender. It’s best if you can find an old blender at a thrift store, and it has to be a really strong one – I’ve burned through a couple of them because they had to work so hard. Start with a few mushroom chunks and more water than you think you’ll need, and blend until you get the consistency of thick cream. You may need to add more water as you go along, when using Fomitopsis – the other ones don’t need so much water. Run your fingers through the mix to strain out any hard bits that may have resisted being liquefied.
If you’ve made paper before, the rest of the process is just the same. If you haven’t, I’d look it up on Youtube, as it’s probably easier to watch the process than to read a long description! If you want the sheets to dry flat, it’s best to put them between towels with a weight on top, and change the towels every day until they’re completely dry – otherwise they’ll warp. If you’re putting the sheets around a shaped mould (to make a hat or bowl, for example), put some oil on the mould first, then after you’ve shaped the paper around it, encase the whole thing loosely in a plastic bag so it doesn’t dry too quickly. When it seems dry enough to hold the shape, carefully run a knife under the paper to loosen it, but keep it on the mould so it will dry to that shape.
For the flat moulds (as in mould and deckle), I made mine with heat-shrink screen made specifically for papermaking, which is the best way to go, as the screen can be tightened with a hair dryer if it gets slack. (Although since my hair dryer stopped working, I’m not sure how I’d go about that now.) I have some extra heat-shrink screening if you’d like some – just tell me the size of your mould and I can pop it in the mail.
Turkeytails also make a very nice textured paper. I used to make tea from them first, then use them for paper. Dyer’s Polypore is more crumbly, and I found it difficult to make sheets with it, but it’s good for surface decoration. Any mushroom paper should be popped into the freezer for a couple of weeks after it’s completely dry – otherwise little mites can eat their way through and turn it into dust!
Good luck – I’d love to see what you make with mushroom paper!
Anne, I just tried to dye with Sulfer tufts that I froze in November ( not freeze dried, just put in the freezer). Nothing happened. Your thoughts!!
I was so pleased to discover your website! I am just discovering all the possibilities of dyeing with mushrooms too.
I live on Vancouver Island. Are there any active groups meeting outside during COVID?
Hi Keli – sorry to be so long in responding. Mushroom dyeing is a fascinating rabbit hole to wander down! I’m not aware of any groups on the Island, and with the hot summer and long dry period this past year, the mushroom season wasn’t too good.
You might be interested in the next International Fungi & Fibre Symposium, a group that usually meets every two years, but the event had to be postponed for a couple of years. They’re trying again for this year, when it will be in Port Townsend, Washington, October 16-22. The conferences are held somewhere different in the world each time, so it will be convenient to have it so close by. (We had it here on the Sunshine Coast in 2016.) Registration so far has been open only to those who registered for 2020 before it was postponed, but it will soon be open to everyone. You can find more about it on the Facebook page Mushroom and Lichen Dyers United, where you’ll also find an active group who share a lot of information, plus a lot of good information in their archives.
Let me know if you think you’d like to go in October. It would be nice to have a large Canadian delegation there! You can email me at email@example.com.