Category Archives: Lobster mushroom

This easy-to-find mushroom gives brilliant oranges and reds.

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 . . .

Mega pax and polypore

Mega pax and polypore

I obtained these huge specimens on the weekend (see the quarter for perspective) at the  Sunshine Coast Mushroom Festival here in Pender Harbour. A friend brought in the huge Velvet Pax on the left (Tapinella atrotomentosa) for the ID table. This is in my dyepot at the moment, and I have high hopes for the greens, greys and maybe even mauves that it’s going to give me.

Then on our foray with Larry Evans Sunday, I found the biggest Dyer’s Polypore (Phaeolus schweinitzii) I’ve ever seen, at the base of  a very, very old Douglas fir. The tree stood no more than eight feet tall, but it stood straight. Woodpeckers and birds had taken their toll, and it was devoid of bark, ready to collapse soon.  I saw the remains of several old Phaeolus around its trunk, and peering out from a hollow under a giant old root, this fabulous beauty caught my eye.

This lovely one deserves a dyepot of its own.

Getting ready for Dunbar

Getting ready for Dunbar

The house is filling up with all manner of mushroom-dyed yarns, rovings, fleece and silk scarves, all in preparation for the annual craft sale at the Dunbar Community Centre in Vancouver on Saturday, November 27. I still have a few dyepots to go, most notably the lobster dyepot (Hypomyces lactifluorum), which I’ve been putting off because most of the lobsters people have given me are starting to get a bit . . . shall we say . . . ripe. That doesn’t affect the colour, but it probably means I’ll be peeling off the orange layers outside.  I’ll have to take advantage of the next dry day to do so.

Our own lobster patches – those that survived the logging behind us – haven’t produced anything this year, sadly enough. I like to think the mushrooms are protesting the fact that their space is within site of the clearcut areas. I have no doubt they’ll be rested and ready to resume normal mushroom behaviour next year.

The amazing lobster pot

First dyebath from my lobster pot

I found lobster mushrooms (Hypomyces lactifluorum) in such great abundance this year that even after setting aside enough parings to get good colour for the dyeing workshop, I had enough left for a strong dyepot of my own.

This is the brilliant red that resulted from my first dyebath, while the images below show the exhausts that came out of that same pot – all the skeins, as well as all the scarves.

A hike up Pender Hill yesterday resulted in yet another bag of lobsters, totally unexpected, and even though they’ve gone mushy, I hope to get another dyebath of equal strength.

Skeins from one lobster dyepot
Lobster scarves

Colours from the workshop dyepots

Hypomyces lactifluorum
Lobster mushroom, different pH
Hypomyces lactifluorum
Lobster - Hypomyces lactifluorum

At last I’ve had a chance to take some photos of the finished skeins showing the lovely colours we got from the dyepots at our October 16 workshop.

I usually leave this particular dyepot to the end of the workshop because the colours are so beautiful and the changes so dramatic when you shift the pH by putting the skeins in different afterbaths – in this case, the skein on the left was put into a pH3 solution (water and a bit of vinegar), while the one on the right was soaked in a pH11 solution (water and washing soda). The skein in the middle was left as it was right out of the dyepot.

We had an abundance of lobster mushrooms in this area this year. As you can imagine from looking at the image, they aren’t hard to spot when they’re emerging from the moss or the forest duff.  I’m just now getting ready to fire up my own dyepots with the lobster parings I’ve been gathering over the past month or two.

More colours to follow.

Lobster dyepot

Lobster mushroom with coin for perspective
Lobster mushroom (with quarter to indicate size)

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.

Parings of lobster mushrooms, dried and ready to use
Parings of lobster mushrooms, dried and ready to use

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?

Lobster mushroom dyepot
Lobster mushroom dyepot

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.

Scarf dyed with lobsters straight out of the dyepot
Scarf dyed with lobsters straight out of the dyepot

Here’s a silk scarf (premordanted with alum) that came out of this dyepot – a brilliant peachy orange colour.

Lobster scarf with alkaline/acid pH shift
Lobster scarf with alkaline/acid pH shift

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.

Lobster-dyed roving with vinegar and soda afterbaths
Lobster-dyed roving with vinegar and soda afterbaths

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.

Rovings from the lobster dyepot
Rovings from the lobster dyepot

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 skein was premordanted with iron.
This skein was premordanted with iron.

This is  a skein I’d premordanted with iron, and I dipped each end in the pH buckets.

Finished lobster scarf
Finished lobster scarf

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.