Category Archives: Hypomyces lactifluorum (Lobster)

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.

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 . . .

A progression of lobster

Stages of Hypomyces parasitization
Stages of Hypomyces parasitization

If it seems like it’s been a while since I last posted . . . it has. Despite the dry summer, the mushrooms are coming out now, so most days we’re out scouting our favourite spots.

We discovered one particular patch of Lobsters (Hypomyces lactifluorum) two years ago and hadn’t been back since, but we decided to check it out this morning. Strangely enough, there were very few other mushrooms around, but our patch didn’t disappoint; we came home with a good ten pounds of the beauties, most of them already breaking apart. But that doesn’t matter to me—I’ll strip the coloured bits no matter how fragile or smelly their hosts might be.

And it was interesting to see the various stages of progression: from an uninfected Russula brevipes to one starting to show a bit of colour, to one in the full stages of orange.

My evening work is cut out for me—paring mushrooms! Now we’re certain to have a strong Lobster dyepot for next year’s Fungi & Fibre Symposium. (Have you marked your calendars yet? October 17-22, 2016, Madeira Park, BC.)

Playing with lobsters, Part IV

Lobster scarf_1
Lobster scarf_1

Lobster handprint scarf_2
Lobster scarf_2

Lobster dyepots are so magnanimous, and this was the last gift my most recent dyepot gave me before its colour was exhausted. The scarf started out a so-so shade of pink, so I had an idea to fold it loosely into diagonal accordion pleats and paint the edge of each fold with a solution of washing soda and water, to make a design of purple stripes. Yet another lesson: a solution painted onto damp silk will not stay put but will spread as far as it can into the fabric. But that was okay—the scarf, when dry, was an attractive shade of purply-pink, mottled with the original so-so pink.

But it still needed something. Having little to lose at this point, I decided to use a vinegar solution, at the other end of the pH scale, to paint some stylized handprints on the fabric. But this time I had my iron at the ready, and each “finger,” after being brushed on, was immediately cauterized. The effect was more pronounced when the design was still wet, but it’s still there, adding what I hope is a pleasing visual texture.

At that point it was time to stop. Thank you, Hypomyces lactifluorum.

Playing with lobsters, Part III

IMG_3769

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.

Playing with lobsters, Part II

1
This was interesting. I’d done triple rows of shibori stitching to create a design on the front of this camisole, but the Lobster (Hypomyces lactifluorum) dyebath didn’t give me the vivid red or orange I had hoped for. So I decided to try for graduated colour shifts by letting the bottom half of the camisole sit in the exhaust bath for a couple of days. Then I raised some of it out, leaving the lower part to sit and absorb colour a bit longer. I didn’t heat this up again, but I let the camisole dry without rinsing, then I ironed the whole thing, hoping the heat would help set the colour.

This method seemed to have worked; I rinsed the camisole the following week, and the colour gradations remained.

Playing with lobsters, Part I

Even though last year’s harvest of Lobster mushrooms (Hypomyces lactifluorum) was bounteous beyond belief, I’ve been careful about using up all the parings. These wonderful fungi could decide to take a year off this autumn, as has happened in the past, and I don’t want to deplete my supply. Having had success with the Tiger Camisole, I decided to do something similar with the Lobsters.

Camisole with lobster, front
Camisole in lobster, front

This was interesting: I’d wrapped and tied the silk piece around a stubby glass bottle, which I stood upright in the dyepot. Unbeknownst to me, the bottle had tipped over halfway through the process, leaving a half-dyed part exposed to the air—a happy accident indeed. The half-dyed bits were a brilliant orange, while the fabric that remained in the liquid dyed a deep red. I definitely need to play with this characteristic some more (assuming it will happen again).

Camisole with lobster, back
Camisole in lobster, back

This is the back view.

The Intervention

Ann . . .

I prefer to be called Mushroom Annie.

Alright, then—Mushroom Annie, we’re here today to discuss a matter of serious concern that has come to our attention.

Go ahead. But please make it quick. A cold front is coming in next week, signalling the approaching end of mushroom season.

Uh, yes . . . I see that you understand already.

Understand what?

Your family and friends are worried about you. Your studio floor is covered with drying fungi, your dehydrator is churning out dried fungi, your front steps are littered with all manner of disgusting fungi, yet you persist in going out every day for more mushrooms. Does this not seem a touch worrisome?

Not at all. Why should it?

Well, for one thing, what about your friends? Are you not concerned that you might be neglecting them?

I have friends in my mushroom club, the Sunshine Coast Society for the Hunting, Recognition and Observation of Mushrooms (that’s SHROOM for short). Silas, my dog who accompanies me on all my forays, is my good friend. Even the forest fungi are my friends.

Listen, Ann . . . I mean Mushroom . . . oh, dammit, you know who I mean! You’re obsessed! You’re living a one-track life! You’ve allowed mushrooms to assume an importance beyond their worth! I’ve learned that you’re not even spinning in the evenings anymore! That time in front of your spinning wheel used to be sacrosanct—can’t you see what’s happening to you?

I miss spinning, I really do. But I keep finding Lobster mushrooms, and people keep giving me more, and they have to be pared before they go rotten. And speaking of Lobsters, I’ve already made concessions. My husband banned me from cooking the parings inside, because it made the house smell like, well, rotten lobsters. That was a major factor in my decision to turn our guest cottage into a mushroom studio.

You gave up B&B-ing in favour of mushrooms? This is more dire than I thought. How have you let it come to this?

All I can say is . . . well, consider my latest foray into what I call my backyard: acres and acres of forest where Silas and I can hike for hours without any human contact.

Do tell.

At the start of the trail was this intriguing photo op—how could I pass it up? And it’s a dyer—a bonus!

Sulfur tuft flowers
Sulfur tuft flowers

Once we reached the day’s foraging spot, as I clambered over logs and squeezed under deadfall in search of Dermocybes, I saw this Lobster peeking through the duff, tantalizing me to inspect a bit closer. I picked it, of course, and looked around carefully, only to find five more of these beauties, all ready to offer up their pigment. Do you know how hard it is to obtain red from natural dye sources?

Hint of lobster
Hint of lobster

And all this before I reached my goal: Dermocybes! The satiny finish! The scarlet gills! The siren song! Irresistible.

Red-gilled Dermocybe
Red-gilled Dermocybe

I’ll admit to a surfeit of Dyer’s Polypore, but this little one was exhibiting such generosity! I’d already cut it back to the ground a couple of weeks earlier, and here it was, creating yet more opportunity, just asking for another chance to give of itself. I couldn’t bear to disappoint it now, could I?

Phaeolus schweinitzii, second growth
Phaeolus schweinitzii, second growth

That’s all very well, but if you must look for mushrooms, have you never thought about turning your attention to something useful? I’m talking about the ones chefs covet, the ones foodies rhapsodize about.

I have nothing further to say.

Matsutake
Matsutake

A bun dance of lobsters!

lobster-parings

At last, a grand year for Hypomyces lactifluorum! We’re finding them in all the old locations (some of which had been bereft of lobsters since 2009) and in some new spots as well. And members of the Sunshine Coast SHROOM have been more than generous in sharing some of their finds, so we’re assured of having some brilliant dyepots at our forthcoming Mushroom Festival and show on October 19

It’s taken me several evenings to pare off the orange “skins” from several bags’ worth of these wonderful fungi, and here they are, spread out to dry in my studio, youngest to oldest, left to right. As they dry, the ones that were wet and soggy at picking have developed an even richer colour, promising some exciting results. I do notice a peculiar aroma on entering the space, but I consider that just one of the hazards of the job.

And the season has only just begun!

Yet another Aaaargh! moment

Lobster samples
Lobster samples

This has been a week of surprises from the dyepots, and surprises are good, right? They keep us on our toes, right? It’s just that, well, why did the surprise have to occur with my lobster mushrooms?

The last two years were not conducive to lobsters (Hypomyces lactifluorum), with prolonged dry spells and later than usual autumn rains. Added to that, three of my prime lobster patches—three!—were smack in the middle of the logging road when part of our backyard forest was clearcut three years ago.

I use just the outer orange parings of these mushrooms for dyeing, as the inner flesh is white and will simply absorb the pigment (plus, it’s good to eat if you know which mushroom has played host to the parasitical Hypomyces). So I saved up the parings from the three or four stunted specimens I found in the fall, then was overjoyed to find a paper bag of more parings that I’d evidently tucked away a few years ago. This was going to be one very special dyepot!

Indeed, the dyebath turned a beautiful orange-red within minutes of starting to simmer, and my sample yarns turned just the colour I wanted. I planned to dye a silk scarf that had taken me hours to stitch a complicated shibori design into, but I hadn’t yet mordanted many of my silks . . . never mind, thought I, I’ll just add some alum to the dyepot.

Note to self: take the time to pre-mordant, even if you don’t think you have the time for it.

I measured out a couple of spoonsful of alum, dissolved it in boiling water, then added it to the dyebath. And then . . . another moment of helpless, hyperventilating horror as I watched the red disappear before my very eyes! Thankfully I’d already removed the first sample strands (so at least I know what I missed out on) and hadn’t added the shibori scarf; a second set of samples turned out to be a lovely peach, with little distinguishable difference from one mordant to the next. (My samples are: no mordant, alum, iron, and copper.)

So now I have two silk scrunchies in a lovely peach (after which the dyepot was exhausted) and a hard-earned lesson to apply to this year’s certain (I remain optimistic) bumper harvest of lobsters.

In the meantime, I’m still looking for any chemists out there who can tell me what happened!