In 2003, my dearest and I decided to move to and build in an area surrounded by rainforest on BC's Sunshine Coast. So I thought it would be wise to learn about mushrooms. Little did I know that this new interest, combined with my joining the local spinners' and weavers' guild, would lead to a new passion: dyeing fibre with mushrooms. I was lucky enough to attend the 13th International Fungi & Fibre Symposium in Mendocino, California, in 2008, and from the good people there, I learned a great deal and was inspired to come home and learn even more. The story has just begun . . .
Mushroom season won’t be long now—I’ve found a few early Tapinella already, although most will appear later—so I’ve been playing on my spinning wheel with some of the colours I got last year. This batt contained Phaeolus gold and green, Pycnoporellus peach, and a bit of Sarcodon blue.
With quite a lot of the blue already in my stash, I decided to ply the single, spun from the batt, with a blue single, resulting in this pleasant combination:
As usual, I’m ending up with more yarn than I have time to do something with; perhaps this yarn will end up in someone else’s stash, someone who can put it to good use.
The activity in my dyepots has slowed down lately, as my deck workspace is open to the afternoon sun, and my Nordic blood doesn’t take kindly to intense summer (well, almost-summer) heat. So I’m concentrating my efforts on combining mushroom colours, which always seem to go well together no matter which ones I choose.
I ran these colours through my drumcarder in lengthwise stripes: the yellow and bright gold (not all that visible, but it’s there) are from Dyer’s Polypore (Phaeolus schweinitzii), as is the forest green (resulting from an iron mordant). The blue is from a successful Hydnellum aurantiacum dyepot, while the peach colour resulted from overdyeing a not-so-vibrant Phaeolus exhaust with the exhaust from a Lobster (Hypomyces lactifluorum) dyepot.
I won’t get to the spinning for a few weeks—I’m off to Toronto in early June to teach a one-day workshop at the Contemporary Textile Studio Co-op, where I’m looking forward to comparing mushroom notes with students from that part of Canada.
I still find it hard to believe that this luxurious purple comes from a mushroom, Hapalopilus rutilans. This is a small, brown, unassuming shelf fungus found on birch trees, trees that don’t grow in our coastal rainforest—this dyepot was the result of a gift from Sweden.
I like to throw a handful of angelina, a sparkly synthetic fibre, into dyepots to see what colour it will pick up—it’s not always what I expect. (The angelina is sitting on the lighter bundle of roving, which came from the exhaust bath.)
The roving didn’t dye evenly, as I didn’t move it around much in the dyepot—the variation makes for some interesting spinning. I used a ratio of two parts mushrooms to one part fibre.
The mordants on the bundle of test strands, left to right: no mordant, alum, iron, and copper. The sample bits of fibre threaded onto the card, from top to bottom: alum first bath, angelina, alum exhaust bath, iron from a second cooking of the mushrooms.
The copper strand came out a rich, coppery brown. I have enough dried mushrooms for another dyepot, and I think I may have to do that one with a copper mordant.
A cousin to this mushroom, H. nidulans, has been found in northern British Columbia, so I think a trip to the birch forests of the Cariboo would be in order later this year. Two dyepots are clearly not enough!
The batt I described in my last post spun up into three good-sized bobbins. I had added a handful of silk noil, then spun thick and thin to get a nubbly texture. Then I spun thinner ply yarns from these two colours:
The green (the light on the lower part of this images makes it appear browner than it was) has to be my favourite mushroom green: Phaeolus schweinitzii on iron-mordanted fibre. The yellow came from a 2:1 ratio of Gymnopilus luteofolius alum-mordanted wool. (I collected a bonanza harvest from a neighbour’s wood chip pile last spring. You can be sure I’m keeping a close eye on it this year.) With these I made three slightly different skeins:
On the left, a bobbin plied with the yellow; in the middle, a bobbin plied with the green; on the right, a three-ply skein using both ply colours.
I don’t know what I’m going to do with this—my colouring doesn’t like yellow, so it will definitely have to be something for someone else.
Dyepots! I finally have time to hover over my dyepots again! They sat more or less unused during the year leading up to the Symposium, and I’m sure they are just as happy as I am to be coaxing colour from my mushroom stash once again. This year I want to focus on combining several colours of wool, then spinning them into yarns, on the principle that mushroom hues all go together well.
Here, ready for carding, are the colours going into this set of batts:
Blue/green wool on the left, with a bit of angelina: Mystery lichen (more about this later);
Gold, dark green: Phaeolus schweinitzii;
Warm yellow: Gymnopilus luteofolius;
Blue-green: Hydnellum aurantiacum.
I put bits of roving through my (new-to-me Louet!) drumcarder in no particular order, but rather divided all the colours into four roughly equal quantities in the hope of getting four roughly similar batts. Mikey seems to approve of the combination.
Now for the story of the mystery lichen.
Some ten years ago, when I learned of lichen dyeing but before I had heard about mushroom dyeing, I experimented with whatever lichens I could find, with varying results. One batch of unidentified lichen went into its ammonia soak, but the results didn’t appear very promising, and the jar got tucked away somewhere, to be neglected for the next ten years. Last year, in a fit of tidying, I found the jar and almost dumped the brown liquid, but decided I should first give it a test run. And here’s what resulted:
I should mention that the underside of the metal jar lid was seriously corroded, to the point I had to struggle to unscrew it. Might this corrosion have worked its way into the ammonia solution, to give this vibrant blue? The exhausts were a grey-green and pale green. The fibre at the bottom is silk noil, which went through the first dyepot.
These surprises are what make the dyepots magic . . .
This has to be the longest project I’ve ever undertaken, but at least I can say it’s done, close to four years from the day I first announced my impulsive decision to make the Petals Wrap (featured on the cover of Crochet So Fine by Kristin Omdahl).
I certainly didn’t work on it every day of those four years (but the thought of working on it crossed my mind every day), and I don’t want to think of the number of hours I spent on this, but now that it’s done, I can crumple it up and toss it into the back of a drawer (just joking—but I could do so and pull it out a year later to find it unwrinkled).
I ended up adapting the pattern considerably. By the time I reached the point where the sleeves were to be added, I was getting worried about my supply of mushroom-dyed handspun silk. That’s when I looked at the pattern reviews on Ravelry, only to read that a bottom section I had yet to add looked disturbingly like a flounce—dare I say in many cases like a ruffle? Plus, that and the sleeves would take as much fibre as I’d alreadys used in the front and back sections. That information, along with the fact that it was only two months until Symposium week, led to my choice to forget sleeves and flounce and turn it into a tunic/vest instead. I’m pleased with that decision.
And I finally found a use for the bear hair I found all those many years ago and, sadly, ruined by steaming. I was concerned about germs, but I would have had such long, strong fibres if I hadn’t worried about a bit of poo getting under the fingernails. Anyway, I’ve been hanging on to a little pile of tiny broken fibres, wondering if I should try spinning from a toothpick-sized puni. Instead, I decided to mold it with white glue into the shape of a mushroom to embellish the crocheted button I added at the neckline. Problem is, the stem broke off somewhere during the Symposium, so now all I’m left with is something that looks for all the world like a little plop of black, shiny . . . bear poo.
My mom was a weaver, and watching her set up the warp and get everything ready to actually weave was enough to make me decide I didn’t want to follow that path. As a result, I have great admiration for the talented weavers who can take fibre and turn it into lovely fabric and garments.
This Rainforest Wrap was made by a Deanna Pilling, a most talented weaver and, incidentally, the driving force behind the Sunshine Coast Fibreshed. Deanna used mushroom-dyed yarns against a black background and created this gorgeous wrap, inspired by the rain and the lush forest growth that results.
Truly inspired, wouldn’t you agree?
CELEBRATING THE BEAUTY OF SUNSHINE COAST MUSHROOMS