Category Archives: handspun yarn

Waiting for the rain

Summer singles yarn

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?)

Summer spinning

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.

Mushroom batt ready to spin

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:

The yarn

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.

Two ply colours, three different yarns

Colour mix
Colour mix

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.

Combining colours


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.

Mikey approves
Mikey approves

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:

Mystery lichen
Mystery lichen

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 . . .

Playing with lobsters, Part III


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.

Out, damned squirrel!

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:

Boletopsis grisea
Boletopsis grisea

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.

Colour from Boletopsis grisea
Colour from Boletopsis grisea

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.

Handspun, one ply Boletopsis green
Handspun with one ply Boletopsis green

I live in the forest. I am happy to share with the forest. Squirrels are creatures of the forest. Damn them.

Is this blue, or is this blue?

Blue from Sarcodon fuscoindicus - Violet hedgehog
Blue from Sarcodon fuscoindicus – Violet hedgehog

A couple of months ago, I rhapsodized about finding an unexpected treasure, an embarrassment of richesSarcodon 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 . . .

Six shades of . . . purple

Omphalotus yarnWhen I sat down to spin the lovely Omphalotis purple, I decided to keep separate the six different shades that emerged from successive exhausts of the same dyepot. So I split the wool of each shade in two and, working from darkest to lightest, spun two plies of about the same length and with the same gradations of colour. These I plied together into one skein.

As these special colours flowed through my hands and onto the bobbin, I realized that I’d put two different types of wool into the dyepots, one a bit coarser than the other. Not to worry—whatever I make with this will be for myself, and with sich royal hues upon my person, what possible complaints could I have?

Spinning silk . . . or, What was I thinking?


I saw the image on the cover of Crochet So Fine, a book of crochet patterns. I fell in love with it: a “wrap cardigan” of such exquisite lace, with a large pineapple motif centred on the back, three-quarter sleeves fashioned with intricate vertical designs, and a deep V-neck achieved by crossing one front over the other and tying wispy ties at the back.

I am not a maker of intricate crochet. I once (way, way back when) crocheted bulky toilet roll covers for everyone in the family for Christmas. I’ve crocheted mushroom tree ornaments. I tried to crochet cute little lacy strips meant to adorn the fronts of my kitchen shelves (in some sort of decorating madness) and ended up ripping everything apart and depositing the leftover crochet cotton in the thrift shop.

But when I first set eyes on that stunning crocheted wrap (“cardigan” just doesn’t do it justice), I knew I had to make it. And I had to make it with mushroom-dyed silk.

Silk comes in many forms, and I decided to dye and spin silk “hankies,” soft, fly-away bundles, each made up of eight to ten layers of gossamer. Each layer must be peeled gently from the stack, then carefully stretched, stretched, and stretched some more, until the long, weightless strand is just a few fibres thick. Then it’s time to spin.

As with most handspinning, preparing the fibre takes up the greater part of the time; once the wheel gets going, the silk fairly slides across my fingers, building up in fine layers on the bobbin. I divide each hankie into two bobbins, so that two fine strands of the same colour can be plied together into a balanced silk thread.

I then wind the silk thread into little skeins. I love to fondle these wee treasures in the sunlight, admiring the characteristic sheen imparted by true silk.

Each skein measures close to 50 yards.  I will need a little more than 2,000 yards to complete this garment. I don’t want to think of the time required to complete this garment. I am in denial that I will one day have to sit down with a crochet hook and create this garment..

Right now I’ll just enjoy spinning and fondling my silk in the sure and certain knowledge that one day, if nothing else, I’ll be laid out in a Phaeolus-dyed, handspun silk shroud.

Close-ups of the handspun

Thick ‘n thin: Hydnellum
Coils: Dermocybe

I had the good fortune to attend a spinning workshop by the amazing and inspiringJacey Boggs last summer, where she opened my eyes about the possibilities in handspun yarn. Here are some close-ups of a couple of the mushroom-dyed skeins I posted about a few days ago. The pink one, dyed with dermocybes (the darker shade was mordanted with iron), is spun with coils, while the green yarn, dyed with Hydnellum, is one thin strand plied with a thick-and-thin strand.

Now I have even more reason to fondle my handspun!