I feel blessed to be living with a rainforest just outside my door, never more so than during mushroom season. Even though this year has been terribly dry and the season late, with few mushrooms to be seen so far, the Phaeolus schweinitzii, or Dyer’s Polypore, have proved the exception, guaranteeing some golden dyepots this year, at least.
I can always count on one old, mossy stump near a swampy area to come through with a beautiful specimen, and this year it surprised me with twins on its top surface. This provided the perfect opportunity to photograph how their growth progressed over the three weeks after I spotted them, by which time they were in prime condition and fairly begged to be harvested.
Amazing what they accomplished in three short weeks!
My dear friend and wonderfully creative fibre artist behind the Ruby Slippers blog has made some beautiful fabric pieces by eco-dyeing—rolling flowers and leaves into little bundles, then steaming them. She has to leave these bundles alone for several weeks to ensure that the colours are imprinted, and when she can finally open them, the results are marvelous.
Eco-dyeing with mushrooms presents its own challenges, but when I noticed a layer of “dust” in the bottom of a box holding a bunch of dried Dyer’s Polypore (Phaeolus schweinitzii), a tiny light bulb sparked an idea. I dyed some silk scarves in a Phaeolus dyepot and removed them before the colour became too intense. Then I put them immediately into a pot of simmering water—a stop bath—to set the colour. Then I got to play, and here’s what happened.
I scooped up a few handfuls of Phaeolus bits—as the fungus dries, it seems to shed its layer of pores, which have turned dark brown, but I reasoned these bits would still contain pigment.
My search for something handy to use as a “stencil” took me to the kitchen utensil drawer. My dearest, who does all the cooking, probably wouldn’t have condoned my taking this up to my studio to be covered in inedible fungus dust, but in matters of mushroom dyeing, it’s always safer to follow the “ask forgiveness” rule. I sprinkled the bits into the slots with a liberal hand, then gave the whole thing a good spritz of water to keep everything in place. With care, I lifted the slotted spoon off the fabric, pleased to see that the design had stayed in place. I soon discovered, though, that the mushroom bits had minds of their own and were scattering themselves outside the design area. So I went along and sprinkled bits over the scarf’s surface, hoping for a speckled background.
I’d laid the scarf out on a long piece of plastic (cut from one of those ubiquitous shopping bags that I swear procreate under the kitchen sink) and began rolling, taking care not to disturb my designs.
Then it was a simple matter of tying the scarf tightly in three places . . .
. . . and putting it into a bamboo steamer where it steamed for thirty minutes one day and thirty minutes the next. (I did that because of timing—ordinarily I would have steamed it for an hour the first time.)
I decided not to wait three weeks to see the results. I figured the bits of Phaeolus would impart their colour quickly and permanently . . .
Just recently I’ve noticed a lot of interest in mushroom dyeing in my community, so I’m excited about getting other people excited!
An art class of eight- and nine-year-old girls invited me to show them what it involves. Most of them had been told by their parents (as was I, many years ago) that you should never, ever touch a mushroom because it could kill you. I understand the fear behind that admonition, but we don’t tell our children to never, ever touch any leaves or wild berries, even though some of those can be pretty dangerous, too. We teach them not to eat anything in the wild without first knowing what it is, and that’s how it should be with mushrooms, as well.
So I put the class to work breaking up a good selection of dried Phaeolus schweinitzii and putting the pieces into fine lingerie bags—this polypore had acquired a bit of fuzzy fungus of its own, but that didn’t seem to affect the end colour.
And it wasn’t long before everyone was right into it.
We talked about mordants and how they work, and everyone prepared samples. I follow the practice of giving each sample a different number of knots, depending on its mordant. Traditionally, this was:
Although some dyers use chrome and tin, I prefer not to, so I couldn’t see myself tying four and five knots in my copper and iron samples when I didn’t have to. So I’ve devised my own easier system: No mordant: no knot; Alum: 1 knot; Iron: 2 knots; Copper: 3 knots. (The word iron has fewer letters than the word copper, my way of remembering the knots.)
The dyepots had been simmering while we got the samples ready, then everyone watched with interest as the samples went into the hot liquid, along with some pieces of wool batt. The anticipation built as the pots simmered and the classroom filled with the unmistakable odour of cooking mushrooms.
At last, the wool was ready! I understand everyone went home with some good dinner-table stories, and in a few weeks we’ll get together again and use this wool to make little felted bowls.
Then the following week, a few members of the Sunshine Coast Spinners & Weavers Guild got together for the first of three mushroom workshops. We’re focusing on one mushroom per session, which gives everyone a chance to learn what to look for and where to find it, and we also have more opportunity to experiment with that mushroom. In this case, I wanted to see if we’d get much difference between well water and chlorinated water, so one of the members who’s on a city system brought a couple of containers of her water.
Our samples were premordanted with alum, iron, and copper, and we also put some alum-mordanted samples in iron and copper afterbaths. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the bright gold of the children’s dyepot, but we did find that using chlorinated water made only a marginal difference in the colours. More images of that day can be found at the blog of the Sunshine Coast Fibreshed, a new affiliate of the larger Fibreshed movement promoting local fibres, local dyes, and local artisans. We’re excited to see how this is taking shape, and mushroom dyeing certainly fits within this idea.
Early on in my mushroom dyeing [buzzword alert] “journey,” I did all of my experiments with commercial yarn, as I wanted to see how many different colours I could obtain in one season. I played with random combinations of three different colours; no matter which colours I put side by side, they always went well together. (I posted about this on January 19, 2011, and again on January 24).
Now I’m playing with colours again, this time in my handspun yarns. In this case, I blended three stripes on my drumcarder, putting them through once. (The colours came from Phaeolus schweinitzii, Tapinella atrotomentosa, and dermocybe dyepots.) Then I drafted the entire batt into a roving the right size for spinning. The colours remained as separate stripes in the roving and into the yarn.
Proving once again that mushroom dyes sit well together.
Most of my available mushroom time this season is being spent out in the forest, searching for—and finding—dye mushrooms. But I did put together one Phaeolus dyepot, just to get back into the groove and limber up the senses. I’ve tried “bottle shibori” with scarves before, so this year I decided to try the technique on a silk camisole. I found a suitable bottle (emptied of its original contents, Peat Project scotch, highly recommended) and wrapped the camisole diagonally, starting at the bottom of the bottle. I followed the silk with wrappings of dental floss, spacing it fairly tightly and scrunching it down toward the bottom of the bottle until the entire camisole was tied on.
I like this short, stout bottle because when I stood it upright in the dyebath (having filled it with plain water for stability), the camisole was completely submerged. After a good simmer in the rich colour of a few fresh buttons, I removed the bottle and immediately painted the outer folds with a concentrated copper solution.
I might have removed the camisole as soon as the silk was cool, but the forest called out to me, repeatedly, and it was several days before I could return to this project. I wasn’t sure what to expect, and it took a few minutes to cut away the tightly wrapped dental floss (which had dyed a toothsome shade of yellow). Here’s what emerged:
I only wish the camisole was of a size I could wear!
I realize now just how blessed I’ve been in recent years to have such an abundant supply of Dyer’s Polypore (Phaeolus schweinitzii) in my backyard forest. This year, for a number of reasons, I was unable to process much of this wonderful fungus when it was fresh; I had to leave most of it to dry, and I’m now working my way through it.
My first discovery has been that the colour isn’t as bright with the dried mushrooms as when they’re fresh, although this dyepot would contradict that finding. This is one of the more brilliant golds I’ve ever had, and I know there was one smaller Phaeolus in the pot that had been picked fresh. It was still coming out of its button stage, and the inner flesh, when I cut it into chunks, showed some promising colour. However—and this is where I’ve been blessed, or some would say spoiled—one dyepot was all I got. The silk scarf on the right also went into this bath, scrunched down and tied around a wine bottle, and the colour barely registered.
Also, I’m having to use more mushrooms per dyepot, four or five dried mushrooms versus one or two fresh. I tried boiling up this dyepot again, with just the mushrooms and no fibre in the pot, to see if I could squeeze out a bit more gold, but to no avail—my samples came out a tired tan.
But never mind—while moving buckets and things up to my studio, I came across this batt of Corriedale, which did go through a fresh Phaeolus dyepot last fall and came out a beautiful, deep green. It had been mordanted with iron, and after several rinsings to remove any traces of the mordant, I left it in a bucket of water and promptly forgot about it. What a bonus find! I think this will card up nicely with some of the less striking golds and browns, and I should have a nice tweedy yarn in the end.
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.
This was one of the more fun yarns I’ve spun recently—I combined on my drumcarder several colours that resulted from my various Dyer’s Polypore (Phaeolus schweinitzii) dyepots over the season (samples are taped to the white paper). Then as I spun, I added bits of “icicle,” a shiny synthetic fibre that really pops the colour, to give the yarn a bit of glint. It doesn’t show up that well in the photos, but it’s just enough to add some sparkle.
The wool is all merino, leaving the two-ply yarn with a lovely, soft hand. Another skein to fondle!
My Phaeolus dyepots are all done now, so while I move on to the mushrooms that have been drying for the last few months, I’m spending my evenings spinning these beautiful gold fibres.
I dyed some llama rovings in a Phaeolus dyepot (the three strands of fibre on the right—mordanted in copper, iron and alum, left to right)—and I love the gentle way they picked up the colour.
The llama was beautiful to spin, but very slippery. I blended the three hues into one yarn, then used two plies of that with one ply of thick-and-thin merino, to give the final yarn some body. This skein feels lovely and soft.
Then I carded together several shades (in merino) and got an interesting heather effect.
I also had some mohair locks that just soaked up the brilliant gold. I cut these into manageable bits, which I encased between plies of the merino. Unfortunately, it didn’t go very far—next year I’ll have to dye much more than a couple of handfuls—but this little skein is magic and would be good to use in combination with the merino yarn.
CELEBRATING THE BEAUTY OF SUNSHINE COAST MUSHROOMS