These little guys can still be found in the winter forest, and – wait for it! – they actually give purple of a sort, but only on fibre that’s been mordanted with iron.
So here’s an undoctored image (I say that because I was tempted to shift the digital image a bit more to the purple side!) of the purple that came out of my little dyepot this week. At first glance, one would think it’s grey, but truly, when I hold it up to my colour charts, there really is some purple in there!
These mushrooms won’t last much beyond the first frost/snowfall, but I’ll be keeping them in mind for next year, for sure.
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.
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?
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.
Here’s a silk scarf (premordanted with alum) that came out of this dyepot – a brilliant peachy orange colour.
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.
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.
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 is a skein I’d premordanted with iron, and I dipped each end in the pH buckets.
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.
I have all kinds of fibre waiting to go into the dyepot, but the season for these little beauties (Cortinarius phoeniceus) is almost at an end, so I feel I have to be out in the bush every day I can, to find the last of the hangers-on.
The plum-coloured skein and pink silk scarf (left in the above header image) were dyed with these mushrooms. I’ve been finding them on the higher moss beds where arbutus (madrona) trees grow, often in full sun.
Just this week I found a little patch of Cortinarius sanguineus – these are a bit smaller, and their stipes are all red. I have only eleven of these, so I’ll have a small test dyepot in the next few days to see what they give. I found these in a lower moss bed not far from a swampy area, in deep shade.
I’ve also found dermocybes with yellow or rust-coloured gills (C. semisanguineus or C. californicus), but as long as they have yellow stalks, they seem to give some lovely colours – more into corals than reds. I’d meant to separate the yellow from the rust, but they got mixed up, so I’m letting all of them dry together, and I’m starting to cook them up now, in small batches on my mud-room hotplate.
I learned from a friend with a knowledge of chemistry (thanks, Laurie!) that water in a dyebath can hold only so much pigment, in the same way that a cup of water can dissolve only so much sugar, so when my little dyebath seems it can get no darker, I strain the liquid into a waiting container and return the mushrooms to the pot for another boiling. I always put a little strand of white yarn in the pot, to monitor how the colour’s going, and I usually get three or four boil-ups before the mushrooms are spent.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell if a dermocybe’s gills are rust-coloured or if they’re just a nice mushroom brown. I’ve found that if the stalk is also brown, the colour won’t be very exciting. If the stalk is yellow, I have a dye mushroom.