Category Archives: Mushroom dyeing

Results of dyeing fibre with mushrooms I’ve found in the surrounding rainforest

A Happy Accident

And that’s how we wish all our accidents to be, right?

The colours that resulted on this wool roving were not at all what I expected, and at first inexplicable. After all, this came out of a Hydnellum aurantiacum dyepot, a mushroom I usually rely on to give a pleasant bluish green. And I had done everything right: a generous 2:1 ratio of mushrooms to fibre (1:1 will usually suffice, but this year I can afford to be generous), cooked at pH 10 (raised with the addition of ammonia) from which the sample strands emerged beautifully green, left to cool overnight, strained, then wool added, temperature brought up slowly to 160 degrees F, then cooled overnight with the wool still in the dyebath.

Mystified, I went through the mental dyeing process again, until the Aha moment struck. I like to contain the dye mushrooms in a mesh bag, my favourite being a fine nylon lingerie bag because the nylon doesn’t pick up the colour. Except . . .

In May of this year, I finally screwed up the courage to use the small bag of Cortinarius sanguineus I had obtained at the 2018 Fungi & Fibre Symposium in Norway. These are such precious little guys, and I was saving them until I finished spinning some local grey wool into yarn. I popped the lovely dermocybes into my handy nylon bag, then into the pot. I was surprised at the orange tones from the first and subsequent dyebaths, having expected a deep red in both the grey yarn and the white roving.

But I accepted this as one of the quirks of the trade, spun up the rest of the wool and made a little cape for my granddaughter, whose colouring can handle these orangey shades. I rinsed the bag (or so I thought) and put it away until fall and the next mushroom dyeing season.

The Hydnellum were everywhere this year, and were my first dyepot of the season. Without thinking, I popped the mushrooms into the yellow bag . . . well, you know the story from there. The roving that was in contact with the nylon must have picked up its colour, while the part that wasn’t kept the green I was expecting. And while it’s not what I would have chosen, it should make for an interesting variegated yarn when I do spin it up, and I’m thinking it will ply nicely with some Phaeolus green wool that I’ve been wondering what do do with.

And that’s why I never tire of dyeing with fungi.

Temperamental Tapinella

Tapinella atrotomentosa

We were blessed this spring and summer with a lot of rain (not everyone in this community felt blessed, thus labelling themselves non-mushroomers), which led to an abundance of Tapinella atrotomentosa in late July. Embarking on a quest for a sturdy purple, I discovered that this beautiful velvet-footed mushroom may or may not choose to release the royal colour so many of us are fond of.

Tapinella mauve, pH3

I must confess I had forgotten the advice of Miriam Rice (a pioneer of mushroom dyeing and ever my mentor) to throw a splash of vinegar into the Tapinella dyepot to lower the pH. So this time I did, remembering to use unmordanted wool, with a most pleasing result. Because I was using fresh mushrooms, I just eyeballed the amount of wool to use, erring on the side of caution to get a strong colour. It’s important when dyeing with Tapinella to watch the temperature carefully, bring the heat up slowly, and to pull the fibre out when you have the colour you want, usually between 140º and 150ºF. If you allow to reach higher temperatures, you run the risk of ending up with brown or grey.

The next sample started off purple, but I hung it out in the sun to dry, so the outer layer of the roving turned a light brown. This also happened when I hung a sample out to be rained on; from now on I’m letting these dry inside in the shade.

Disappointing Tapinella purple

Green with iron dyebath

Another disappointing dyebath gave only a dull grey, which I cooked again in an iron bath to get an acceptable green.

Tapinella purples and grey

Over several subsequent dye sessions I did get some lovely deep purples and a strong grey that can hold its own in the purple category (nothing wrong with a good neutral, right?)

My dyeing partner, Muriel, found similar inconsistencies with her Tapinella dyeing, so now we’re more than ready for some predictable results. We’re just waiting for the fall rains to bring the dyers out.

Crazy lobster colour

This was an unintended experiment with unintended—and happy!—results. I’m not yet finished with it, but since many mushroom dyers are finding and dyeing with Hypomyces lactifluroum (Lobster mushrooms) right now, I wanted to pass this along.

Lobster red

These brilliant reds are actually from an exhaust bath . . . really! Here’s how they came about:

In the spring of 2018 I gave a dye workshop on Vancouver Island. The previous two mushroom seasons had been very poor because of extremely dry summers, and I didn’t have a lot of dried mushrooms to play with, but still had a few lobster parings on hand. I set aside 25 grams of these for the workshop and, as usual, put them in an old nylon stocking for the dyebath.

The workshop got some good results, and when none of the participants wanted to take the spent lobster parings home with them (probably put off by the fishy aroma), I took them home myself. The first exhaust gave a pale orangey pink; the second exhaust a disappointing beige. I had heated these in a makeshift double boiler (the dyebath in a large glass jar that sat in a pot of boiling water), and I just left the disappointing parings where they were, to be dealt with later. This is a bad habit, I know, because so often those spent mushrooms can be most unpleasant to deal with later, but the jar got left, ignored, over the winter and into the spring (we’re now talking spring of 2019).

Lobster dyebath one year later

In my pre-dyeing-season cleanup, I rediscovered the jar, only to find that the liquid (in which the pared bits were still steeping), now much reduced through evaporation because I’d left it outside uncovered, had turned a brilliant deep red!

Into a small dyepot it went, with just enough water to cover a generous piece of wool roving.

The colour in the rovings in the image at the top of this post is uneven because I didn’t want to agitate the wool in such a small amount of liquid. The wool at the bottom of the basket is actually the fourth exhaust, and there’s more to go. The wool was mordanted with alum; no modifiers were used, although in the end I might dip them in a high-pH solution to shift to a more purply red.

So hang onto those Lobster parings, fellow dyers! You never know what might result.

Firing up the dyepots

Last year’s mushroom season was poor, by our rainforest standards anyway, with the result that I felt more inclined to spend my studio time repurposing thrift-shop clothing treasures than standing over dyepots. But now, with the promise of generous autumn rains and the emergence of some of my favourite dye mushrooms, it’s time to get the dyepots going again and to use up some of the mushrooms and lichens from last year, in preparation for a bumper harvest this year.

I found a small patch of Boletopsis grisea last year (except I learned that in this area these are now considered part of the Boletopsis leucomelaena group) not far from my house. I had actually left those mushrooms until I could return with a larger bag and stronger knife (lesson here: never leave the house unprepared), only to discover that one of them had been nibbled away. Readers of my blog will remember that I lost an entire harvest one year when I left a large harvest of this mushroom outside to dry, so I should have known better this time. Anyway, I returned with several specimens, including one with a hugely long stem that, unfortunately, I didn’t take a picture of. Here’s what they looked like before picking, some already having started to “melt”:

Boletopsis leucomelaena gp

I cut these up into smaller pieces and put them in a large Ziploc bag, covering them with water before I sealed it. It didn’t take long for the liquid to turn dark, and surprisingly, they never became stinky—in fact, the odour was quite pleasant throughout the process.

I left these to soak for a few months before a dye session with them, at which time the liquid all went into the pot, along with enough water to just cover the alum-mordanted fibre I had prepared. The result: a lovely, deep forest green. A couple of exhausts gave a light green, a perfect complement.

Boletopsis green

I had enough of the dark green to almost fill a bobbin. I’m not yet sure what I’ll do with the yarn, but the two shades of green will definitely go together into something.

And it feels good to be dyeing again.

One Sarcodon dyepot

This might have been a good year for Sarcodon fuscoindicus—Violet Hedgehog—had the spot where I can usually hope to find a dozen or more good specimens (which happens to be at the side of a logging road) not been covered by two feet of gravel when the road was graded to make the area more accessible to logging trucks. That, combined with what seems to be a disturbing trend toward longer, dryer summers, led to my having just six smallish ones to play with this year.

Colour from Sarcodon fuscoindicus

And play I did last week. The dyebath, using equal parts dried mushroom to fibre (in this case wool roving), yielded a lovely blue. This time something interesting occurred: I cooked the mushrooms for an hour in a fine mesh bag, let them sit in the dyebath overnight, strained them out, added the fibre, brought the temperature up slowly to 80 degrees C (about 180 degrees F) and held it there for about 45 minutes. When the wool came out of the dyebath the next day, I was surprised to find several spots of a much deeper blue. This might well have happened had I cooked mushrooms and fibre together, but here I can only surmise that a fine residue had settled to the bottom of the pot to create those darker splotches. If I had an unlimited supply of these Sarcodon, I’d make a highly concentrated dyebath and attempt to achieve that beautiful rich colour!

Even if I did, however, it’s unlikely the blue would retain its intensity forever. The little sample of greenish yarn on the left is some that I spun two years ago from wool that started out the same blue as the coil of fibre I have here. I’ve noticed this before with pieces I’ve knit from Sarcodon handspun— it’s best to savour the blue while it lasts, in expectation that it will eventually evolve into a pleasant, earthy green.

Hydnellum caeruleum, harvest of two

The 2018 mushroom season here on the Sunshine Coast was adequate—certainly better than last year’s—but some species were noticeably lacking, particularly Hydenellum. However, I did spot two H. caeruleum in an area where I can usually count on finding a few, and I’ve been watching them grow over the months. Today, after a few nights of light frost, it was time to bring them in.

I thought it would be interesting to document their progress, particularly since they can resemble their dyeing cousins, H. aurantiacum and H. peckii, as they age. Here’s how my little blue dolls (affectionately titled No.’s 1 and 2) grew:

August 27, 2018

No. 1

No. 2

September 27, 2018

No. 1

No. 2

December 7, 2018

No. 1

No. 2

I have a few of these I saved from last year, so together they should make a fair dyepot; I’ll keep you posted.

While waiting for the mushrooms . . .

Tarting up the vest

The mushrooms are late this year, thanks to another extremely dry summer when the forest floor was scarily crunchy and the community held its collective breath, aware of the devastating wildfires happening elsewhere. But the rains did come in early September, at times with a vengeance, and now I’m feeling hopeful that this could be a banner year for the dyers.

In the meantime, a friend gave me a brown vest (handspun wool, handwoven in Guatemala) around the same time that I was wondering whatever I should do with a huge bag of mushroom-dyed roving. So I put the two together, using felting needles, to tart the vest up a little in time to wear it foraying. Each mushroom is felted with the colours it gave in the dyepot.

I’m not as happy with the front—I need to pull out the little bag of Cortinarius sanguineus that I’ve been hoarding so I can make those little guys red instead of pink. The other one is meant to represent Hydnellum aurantiacum (I took some liberties with the colour on this one because these little guys give a soft green while the mushroom in real life is brown with white edges), and I decided that’s the best I can do.

Now I see why people get hooked on needle felting—and I’ve only scratched the surface of that huge bag of wool.

Hapalopilus, ever abundant

A while ago I was presented with a lovely gift: 150 grams of dried Hapalopilus rutilans from Sweden. I’ve never seen one of these in situ, but they look as if they would be easy to miss—they’re small, brown bracket fungi that grow on dead deciduous trees (preferring oak, beech, and birch), and the casual observer would never guess their amazing dye properties. I’ve been making dyebaths with this precious treasure for several months now—I think I’m on boil-up number 29 or 30 now. I haven’t posted about this miraculous dye fungus yet because I was going to wait until it was completely exhausted, but it looks as if that could take some time. Here’s what I have to work with so far—each ball of yarn represents a separate dyepot:

Handspun yarns from one batch of Hapolopilus rutilans

I dyed each batch by first cooking up the mushrooms in just enough water to cover (it releases its brilliant purple in just 15 or 20 minutes), then putting the dyebath and wool roving in a large glass jar and simmering that in a pot of water, effectively creating a double boiler. This eliminates the risk of overheating and felting the wool.

Double boiler method for dyeing wool

I used mainly alum-mordanted wool for this, with the occasional bit of roving mordanted with iron (the steel grey yarn in the image) and copper (that’s the rich copper colour). I hope to have completed a scarf using all the colours given by these amazing little fungi in time to take to the 2018 Fungi & Fibre Symposium coming up in August in Oslo. All spots at that event were booked up in the spring— I’m so looking forward to seeing all my mushroom-dyeing friends again!

To change things up a bit, I experimented with an ecoprinted silk scarf that I felt needed a bit of colour. I have to say I’m pleased with the result.

A happy accident

After a break of several months—not a bad thing—I’m back in my cottage studio and the dyepots are heating up.

I’ve been playing with ecoprinting and decided it was time to commit to a finished piece rather than continue making small samples. So I retrieved from my stash an alum-mordanted wool/silk square, large enough to be a pocket square, and made a bundle using leaves collected on my daily dog walk: lupine, maple, blackberry, ginko, and something I have yet to identify. I had a little net bag of Lobster parings (Hypomyces lactilfuorum) left over from a workshop in April, so I decided to simmer them while at the same time (with the help of a wire sieve placed over the dyepot) steaming the wool/silk bundle.

I let the little dyepot simmer (Lobsters can handle boiling) outside. When I went to check it after half an hour or so, I found the dyebath bubbles reaching up into the sieve. The colour on the fabric looked pretty intense, so I turned the bundles over to expose another side to the steam.

This is what resulted.

I was surprised by the intensity of the color, and disappointed to see only the merest suggestion of an ecoprint. That particular fabric is woven fairly loosely, which I believe is more difficulty to print on.

I let the fabric dry, then ironed it, then rinsed it in warm water, then ironed it again. I see some interesting playtime with this process . . .

Spring! (what a lovely thought)

The last few months have been a fallow time for me, planned and prepared for. A dear friend needed some space to be alone for a while, and I needed a push to get my studio space organized. The cottage where I do my dyeing and other stuff started out as a B&B (dog-friendly), so it was already set up for someone to stay there comfortably.

I started by packing up all the wool I’d accumulated over the years, and I was embarrassed to find that I had so much. So I adopted the mantra we use when looking through our closets: If I haven’t touched it in two years, it’s time for it to go. The timing was perfect, as my wonderful fibre group (Sunshine Cost Spinners and Weavers) has an annual Stash Day every January, when people bring things they no longer want or need. This is how I obtained much of my fibre when I was starting out.

I had so many bits and pieces of things I no longer wanted – for example, I had lovely wicker baskets throughout my space, filled with skeins of handspun, silk scarves, and wool waiting to be dealt with. The problem was, all of this had been sitting in baskets for too long and was starting to look tired, in my eyes anyway. Everything has now gone to good homes.

I packed away most of my dyeing supplies, and found I still had many little brown bags containing dye mushrooms, some from as long ago as 2014. I will use these over the next few months because I want to go into the 2018 mushroom season with a clean slate.

In the meantime, I have a confession to make. First, I must explain that at the International Fungi & Fibre Symposium (wonderful people, all), we keep the focus on mushroom colours because we are the only group anywhere that is dedicated to this pursuit. So it’s with some trepidation that I have to reveal this: I have been flirting with botanical printing, rusting, and – most exciting – making kombucha scoby into clothing (more to follow). And . . . I’m combining these fibre treatments with mushroom colours. I’m no longer a purist, but the lack of mushrooms in 2017 has forced me to look at other ways of using what Nature gives us, and it’s all good. Rest assured that anything I take for display at the next Symposium will have mushroom colours and no others.

But here’s how I justify these pursuits: everything we do relies on the presence of fungi in some capacity. The botanicals I use in eco-printing rely upon the fungi that work in our soils. There must be some role for fungi in the rusting process, and I know fungi play an important role in the production of kombucha. (Scoby stands for Symbiotic Combination Of Bacteria and Yeast—yeast belongs to the kingdom of fungi.) So I might be expanding my area of creative play, but in no way am I eliminating mushroom colours. I am so looking forward to Norway in August, and I can’t wait for what I believe will be a memorable mushroom season.

One consequence of The Big Clean was the realization that I had way too much handspun yarn. I had to find a way to deal with this, and here’s the result.

Wrap knitted from leftover mushroom-dyed handspun.


This garment—l’enveloppe, designed by Sally Melville and available on Ravelry— has to be seen at several different angles to understand its construction. The pattern was for a much smaller shrug in finer wool, but I decided to use a different handspun for each row (with the occasional row of silk cord tossed in) and just follow the instructions, knowing the final garment would be much larger than the pattern had intended.

It’s turned out to be very warm on these cool spring days (you’ll see that the tulips haven’t opened yet)—but I still have bags of leftover handspun to deal with!