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 . . .
I finally brought in my containers of dyebath I’d prepared a couple of months ago. I’d stored the liquid in some hard plastic kitty litter containers – the kind with a handle – that I rescued from the recycling depot. Shortly after I filled them with fresh dyebath, we had a hard freeze that lasted for several weeks – most unusual for our temperate climate on the raincoast.
So I brought them in to warm up by the stove, then thought, Why not just put the dyepots on top of the stove? I have the fire going every day anyway, so let’s put the energy to good use.
And it worked perfectly. It took several hours for the dyebaths to heat up, then they sat at just below a simmer for several hours before cooling down for the evening. My wool and silk then cooled in the dyebaths overnight, giving me something exciting to pull out the next morning.
I did my mushroom dance in earnest the day I found eleven Cortinarius sanguineus while on a forest walk in late November. I’d never found any of these before, and wasn’t sure where to look for them. They were growing near a swampy area in moss, in deep shade. They were also smaller than the Cortinarius semisanguineus I’d been finding in such abundance earlier in November.
Small skeins dyed with 11 Cortinarius sanguineus
These eleven mushrooms went into a little dyepot of their own, and upon simmering, released a rich, red dye. The yarn shows more orange than I was expecting, but I’m thrilled with its vibrancy. The next two skeins resulted from the exhaust baths.
These colours are too precious to use up in something mundane, so I’m saving them for the Mushroom Vest I’m planning – with luck after another successful season next year!
The scarf on the right went through the Dyer’s Polypore dyepot I described earlier. The pigment in this fungus is so strong, I decided to throw two more scarves into it the next day. These had already been through the young-Phaeolus dyepot and had come out gold, but I wasn’t happy with my tie-dyeing efforts, so I tied them up again (using elastic bands). When they came out of the dyepot, there were still some empty spaces, so I retied once more, and back they went into the dyepot for another hour.
This gives a better idea of the patterning that resulted from the tie-dyeing. I gathered up random bunches of the fabric and twisted elastic bands around until they were tight enough to hold.
This scarf went through the Phaeolus dyepot just once. I’d folded it several times vertically in such a way that the centre of the scarf (lengthwise) was exposed to more dye than the rest of the folds, ironing the folds in place as I went, then tied pieces of elastic along its length. I left a fair space in the middle of the scarf untied, so the expanse of rich brown contrasts with the decorated ends.
Named Dyer’s Polypore with good reason, this beautiful bracket fungus is filled with pigment – good, strong, gold pigment. It’s an annual, meaning it grows for one season, then dries up, only to come back in the same place next year. It looks like this when it’s young, when the white edges appear almost fuzzy. As they get older, they become a rich, reddish brown.
Young phaeolus give a rich gold colour, while the older ones give a darker golden brown.
I found a huge, sodden Phaeolus in the forest last week, so I boiled it for an hour or so, then strained the bits out for the dyebath. This is what resulted – the skeins were mordanted (l to r) with copper, alum, and iron. That’s a silk scarf (tie-dyed) in the middle, and at the bottom are silk noil and a piece of unknown silk, both unmordanted (added as an afterthought).
I love the rich, rich gold of the top skein in this image. That one I dyed with a young Phaeolus, still with the band of white at its edge, and I couldn’t believe the colour! The three skeins at the bottom are from the dyepot I talk about above – the light gives a better rendition of their colour in this image, but now the mordants are (l to r) alum, copper, and iron. The small skeins are from November’s mushroom workshop; the three on top from a fresh mushroom, and the three on bottom from old mushrooms, whose colour wasn’t very intense, for some reason.
On my walk through the woods today, I found another little patch of pink coral mushrooms, so they’re simmering away in the mud room – perhaps this is the one that will give me a real Purple!
These little guys can still be found in the winter forest, and – wait for it! – they actually give purple of a sort, but only on fibre that’s been mordanted with iron.
So here’s an undoctored image (I say that because I was tempted to shift the digital image a bit more to the purple side!) of the purple that came out of my little dyepot this week. At first glance, one would think it’s grey, but truly, when I hold it up to my colour charts, there really is some purple in there!
These mushrooms won’t last much beyond the first frost/snowfall, but I’ll be keeping them in mind for next year, for sure.
I’m fortunate that I know of several patches of lobster mushrooms just minutes from our back door, and I also have friends who are happy to collect them for me.
I pare off the orange bits and eat the white flesh if it’s still fresh. However, I found that the older lobsters that were already going mushy had even more red in their parings. All the peeled bits went into a pan that was set next to our woodstove, adding a most fishy aroma to our house for as long as it took for them to dry. Could this be why they’re called lobster mushrooms?
Once I had enough parings (one and a half 750-ml yogurt containers), it was time to put them into the dyepot. To keep the bits from getting into my fibre, I put them into sections of old pantyhose (does anyone wear these anymore?), tied the ends up, and boiled them for a short while. It doesn’t take long for the colour to appear.
Here’s a silk scarf (premordanted with alum) that came out of this dyepot – a brilliant peachy orange colour.
And here’s the same scarf after I had some pH fun with it: I set up two squirter bottles, one with a vinegar solution at pH3, the other with a washing soda solution at pH11. Then I spritzed the ends of the scarf. The vinegar enhanced the orange, while the washing soda brought out the purple in the colour.
I did the same with some merino roving (also premordanted with alum). The vinegar bucket is on the left; the washing soda on the right.
Here are the colours that resulted from this glorious dyepot. I really liked the effect of the washing soda afterbath, so I dipped an entire piece of roving (top left) into that bucket.
This is a skein I’d premordanted with iron, and I dipped each end in the pH buckets.
An interesting discovery: I submerged a silk scarf in the washing soda bucket with the intention of “decorating” it with some vinegar spritzes. My first attempt at spritzing was less than desirable, so with a what-do-I-have-to-lose gesture, I threw the scarf back into the washing soda bucket. Surprise! It turned purple again! It took me three successive tries before I finally achieved some results I was happy with.
I have all kinds of fibre waiting to go into the dyepot, but the season for these little beauties (Cortinarius phoeniceus) is almost at an end, so I feel I have to be out in the bush every day I can, to find the last of the hangers-on.
The plum-coloured skein and pink silk scarf (left in the above header image) were dyed with these mushrooms. I’ve been finding them on the higher moss beds where arbutus (madrona) trees grow, often in full sun.
Just this week I found a little patch of Cortinarius sanguineus – these are a bit smaller, and their stipes are all red. I have only eleven of these, so I’ll have a small test dyepot in the next few days to see what they give. I found these in a lower moss bed not far from a swampy area, in deep shade.
I’ve also found dermocybes with yellow or rust-coloured gills (C. semisanguineus or C. californicus), but as long as they have yellow stalks, they seem to give some lovely colours – more into corals than reds. I’d meant to separate the yellow from the rust, but they got mixed up, so I’m letting all of them dry together, and I’m starting to cook them up now, in small batches on my mud-room hotplate.
I learned from a friend with a knowledge of chemistry (thanks, Laurie!) that water in a dyebath can hold only so much pigment, in the same way that a cup of water can dissolve only so much sugar, so when my little dyebath seems it can get no darker, I strain the liquid into a waiting container and return the mushrooms to the pot for another boiling. I always put a little strand of white yarn in the pot, to monitor how the colour’s going, and I usually get three or four boil-ups before the mushrooms are spent.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell if a dermocybe’s gills are rust-coloured or if they’re just a nice mushroom brown. I’ve found that if the stalk is also brown, the colour won’t be very exciting. If the stalk is yellow, I have a dye mushroom.
CELEBRATING THE BEAUTY OF SUNSHINE COAST MUSHROOMS