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 . . .
The mushrooms on the Sunshine Coast decided that 2017 would be a fallow year, a time for them to take a complete rest, gearing up to return next year in amazing abundance. At least that’s what I’ve been telling myself.
A number of dyers didn’t even show themselves this year, at least not in my usual patches, including Dermocybes, Sarcodon fuscoindicus, Hydnellum aurantiacum and H. peckii, and Hypomyces lactifluorum. So I’m carefully using up most of last year’s stash while thinking of other ways I can make use of the few mushrooms I still have (as in eco-printing and, if I can figure out a way to make it happen, with kombucha—but more of that later).
All of this to say that I haven’t been in my studio lately as much as I’d like. From the evidence I found this week when I lifted the lid off what I thought was an empty dyepot sitting on my outside workbench . . .
. . . I’ve been away far too long! I went back to my notes and discovered I’d processed this Phaeolus pot with iron-mordanted roving over a month ago, and clearly a fungus of a different sort found the wool attractive, at least the parts exposed to air. I pulled the fibre out and found little black bits where the mould had found good resting spots.
I’m hoping to get a good supply of this lovely green, enough for a large spinning project, so I couldn’t bear to see this wool go to waste. As it turned out, after I washed the roving and pulled off the black bits, there seems to be no harm done.
This extremely dry season yielded me a handful, literally, of coral mushrooms—a clump of Clavulina coralloides (a white coral) and two of an orange coral, Ramaria (R.carnata, I believe). With nothing to lose and a desire to dye with something other than Phaeolus, I decided to put the two clumps together and see what happened.
The corals went into a fine-mesh bag, then into the dyepot with a silk chiffon scarf previously mordanted with iron (and tied with a few loose knots for mottled colour). I initiated my new induction burner, which I found to be perfect for heating the dyebath slowly. Determined not to lose any chance of obtaining the fragile purple (in the natural dye world, purple is known to lose its colour if cooked above 160 degrees F), I hovered over the dyepot as any good witch would, monitoring the temperature carefully.
To my surprise, the silk began to darken at 110 degrees. and I let it heat to 130 before pulling it. You can see, a bit off centre, the little bundle of yarn samples I also threw into the pot. These are mordant samples—a strand each with no mordant, alum, iron, and copper—that I put into every dyepot to monitor its progress. With these, the iron strand was also developing a purple cast, while the other mordants were pretty much doing nothing.
Here’s how the iron yarn sample turned out, though perhaps not as obviously purple in real life. Below is the scarf.
I tried an exhaust dyepot with a piece of silk roving, but the corals had been truly exhausted. I got no further colour.
I have every hope that next year the forest will produce mountains of coral, and I plan to have all manner of silk mordanted and waiting to be transformed by this royal colour.
Last week I found a cluster of these striking mushrooms on a fallen alder just steps from my studio. I took this image four years ago when the tree was still standing and the mushrooms more photogenic. I’m not bothering to make a dyepot with these this year—they cook up into a thick stew that requires serious straining, and once when I left them a bit before cooking, the strained bits included many little white maggoty things—but because I’m still waiting to find that amazing flush of exciting dyers this year, I thought I’d post these Pholiota squarrosoides samples from 2014 and 2015—a pleasant gold—should any of you be curious enough to give them a try. (The four sample strands on the card, from top to bottom and ignoring the knot at the top: no mordant, copper, iron, alum.)
Mind you, I have nothing against pleasant gold, but an over-abundance of Phaeolus schweinitzii, now drying on my studio floor, promises more gold this year than I really care to think about just now.
I feel blessed to be living with a rainforest just outside my door, never more so than during mushroom season. Even though this year has been terribly dry and the season late, with few mushrooms to be seen so far, the Phaeolus schweinitzii, or Dyer’s Polypore, have proved the exception, guaranteeing some golden dyepots this year, at least.
I can always count on one old, mossy stump near a swampy area to come through with a beautiful specimen, and this year it surprised me with twins on its top surface. This provided the perfect opportunity to photograph how their growth progressed over the three weeks after I spotted them, by which time they were in prime condition and fairly begged to be harvested.
Amazing what they accomplished in three short weeks!
I went back to a spot where I’ve found Hydnellum caeruleum in previous years, but since I didn’t see any last year or the year before, I wasn’t expecting to find anything, especially with the extremely dry weather this year. So imagine my delight when I found five of these little beauties!
I normally find these earlier in the season—late August/early September. This little cluster clearly started earlier, probably after the day of heavy rain we had in mid-August, and have been sitting and waiting ever since. Now, following another day of rain a couple of weeks ago, they’re sending out new, pastel blue growth, which will soon age to brown as the caps open up. (A measure of the severity of this drought: we can remember every day of rain since June—two by my count, plus a few inconsequential showers.)
Last year I left a growth of Hydnellum aurantiacum to mature in place, and when I got back to them they were a slimy, black mass. I put them through the dyepot anyway and got the usual lovely green, so I plan to leave these for a while before I harvest. Except for one specimen that will go to the Sunshine Coast Mushroom Festival October 14, where any and all specimens will be welcome.
This was one of the driest summers ever on the Sunshine Coast (I’m so grateful it wasn’t like this last year, leading up to the Fungi & Fibre Symposium!). The long-range weather forecasts keep teasing us with promises of good, long rains, then amend their predictions downward until, as is happening today, we end up with a few sporadic showers.
So I’ve been biding my time by spinning from what’s left of last year’s dyeing. These colours came from Cortinarius semisanguineus (Dermocybes—the pink), Phaeolus schweinitzii (Dyer’s polypore—the green, premordanted with iron), and Gymnopilus luteofolius (the pale yellow), which I carded together, then spun into a singles lace-weight. It contains a fair bit of silk and should knit up beautifully. (This skein just went home this morning with an avid knitter from Edmonton—Kyle, if you’re reading this, could you send me a photo of what you decide to do with it?)
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.
CELEBRATING THE BEAUTY OF SUNSHINE COAST MUSHROOMS