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.
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 . . .
So many learning experiences, all of them valuable. This coil yarn emerged from a dyepot of lobster mushrooms (Hypomyces lactifluorum) a lovely strong orange, just what I wanted for my next experiment: I planned to “highlight” each individual coil with a washing soda solution, which turns the orange into a shade of magenta. Wouldn’t that be striking, I thought—orange yarn with evenly spaced magenta coils.
I towel-dried the yarn as soon as it had cooled and set about painting each coil with a tiny brush dipped in the soda solution. And the results were immediate: magenta coils strung together by an orange yarn. But there was one thing I hadn’t taken into account. A solution painted onto wet fibre will bleed into said fibre—the wicking principle. So when I returned to my studio the next day to admire my results, I was greeted by a beautiful almost-entirely-magenta yarn, punctuated here and there by a few orange strands.
Oh, well . . . that gives me an excuse to spin another coiled yarn and try all over again.
Or rather, out with it, damn Squirrel—where did you stash all my Boletopsis?
Only once in the last six years did I see a Boletopsis: a mushy blob another dyer had found and frozen in a glass jar. But I saw the beautiful colour resulting from its dyepot, so I resolved to find one of my own someday. That day took a long time to arrive.
Last fall, a record mushroom season in this area, a fellow SHROOMer found a couple of Boletopsis grisea on one of our club forays. He didn’t recognize it, and it didn’t take much convincing for him to decide he didn’t want to eat it (technically they’re edible, but apparently they’re very bitter). I took the mushrooms back to my studio and soaked them in a 50:50 water/ammonia solution, which resulted, after cooking, in some lovely sage-y green samples.
So imagine my delight when I came upon a mass of these mushrooms a few weeks later! Actually, it was my dearest who found them, and it took me several minutes to scramble through the mossy windfall to their location—I could tell by the excitement in his voice that it had to be something worth scrambling for.
And this is just a part of what he’d found:
Once again, I was beside myself with joy at the mushroom’s capability of producing in huge abundance . . . not every year, necessarily, and not every mushroom, but when conditions are right, fecundity is the word. I harvested carefully and with gratitude, then took them home to dry.
Ordinarily these fungi would have hit the dyepot the next day, but did I mention that 2013 was a particularly amazing year for mushrooms? We were out in the forest every day, coming home with piles and piles of fungal beauties, so I had no choice but to spread them out to dry on my studio floor while I was out gathering more . . . and more . . . and more.
I ran out of floor space, so I started laying mushrooms out in the space underneath my studio: a latticed enclosure on a fairly steep slope. I can stand at the lower end, but have to stoop to get to the upper end. The mushrooms found this space to their liking and began to dry quite nicely.
The season done, I was ready to fire up the dyepots, and of course I wanted to see what colour all of these Boletopsis would give me. I went down to get the cardboard tray they’d been drying on, only to find it mostly empty! What?!
In disbelief, I poked around among the crates and boxes occupying most of the under-studio space, and found some other dried mushrooms (Phaeolus schweinitzii and Hydnellum aurantiacum) had been scattered haphazardly around the space. But no Boletopsis . . . I can only assume that the squirrels sensed their edibility and squirreled them away, as is their wont, to nosh on over the winter.
And we have seen some very chubby squirrels around the property this spring.
They did leave me with a few, though, and these gave me a really wonderful green, enough for one of the plies in a three-ply chunky yarn, with what was left going into a smaller skein of two-ply.
I live in the forest. I am happy to share with the forest. Squirrels are creatures of the forest. Damn them.
A couple of months ago, I rhapsodized about finding an unexpected treasure, an embarrassment of riches—Sarcodon fuscoindicus, or Violet hedgehog. A few weeks after that post, my dearest went out to the same spot and picked the buttons I’d left behind, resulting in about twenty pounds—twenty pounds!—of the fresh lovelies. I had no choice but to let them dry, given the bounteous mushroom season that required daily harvesting, so I only just got my dyepots fired up in earnest this week. And I couldn’t resist—I had to go for the blue first!
I selected five dried hedgehogs, broke them into pieces, and put them into a stainless steel bowl, to which I added water and enough ammonia to bring the pH up to 10. The mushrooms soaked there for several days, after which I poured off about half the liquid into a medium-sized dyepot. I’d already done a sample run, which revealed that fibre pre-mordanted with alum was most likely to pick up blue, so to the dyepot I added a good hunk of alum-mordanted wool roving and a piece of silk.
I brought the temperature up slowly, all the while half holding my breath, because nothing seemed to be happening: all I could see was a dingy grey. Then, as the temperature rose to 160, then 170 degrees F, I noticed some blue in the wool as I raised it out of the water with a plastic spoon. At 175 degrees, I decided it was time to pull the fibre out. I carried the hot wool to the bathtub (my studio used to be a B&B cottage), where I draped it over the edge of a large plastic bucket, to cool without rinsing.
The silk (the little curl in front of the wool roving) seemed to pick up the colour more quickly and with more intensity than did the wool, so my next dyepot will involve some silk garments. In the meantime, the exhaust of this first dyepot now contains some more wool— I ran out of time to bring it up to the full temperature, so I’ve left it overnight and will see if the mushrooms still had any magic to give.
More and more, thoughts of witchcraft are entering my mind—cauldrons, magic, obsessions . . .
CELEBRATING THE BEAUTY OF SUNSHINE COAST MUSHROOMS