Category Archives: Phaeolus schweinitzii (Dyer’s polypore)

Strong golds, browns and greens come from this mushroom abundant polypore.

Spinning silk . . . or, What was I thinking?


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.

The many shades of Phaeolus

The finished yarn
Yarn closeup

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!

Spinning gold

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.

Merino, llama

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.

2 plies llama, 1 ply merino

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.

2 plies merino

Then I carded together several shades (in merino) and got an interesting heather effect.

Mohair encased in merino

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.

Now for the spinning

Three Phaeolus colours
First bobbin, Phaeolus yarn

Even though my dyepots are still going strong, it’s time to start spinning the mass of fibre accumulating around the house. The first yarn of the season, which I’m spinning now, will be a blend of these three colours.

I’m preparing the fibre on my handcarders as I go, making some rolags of one colour and some with two colours blended. This merino cards up so beautifully—it’s a dream to spin.

It does grow back!

In an earlier post I described how I trimmed the young edges from a cluster of Phaeolus schweinitzii, to see if the fungus would grow back. That was on September 20; I went back to the same tree on October 13, to find that the polypore had indeed sent out new growth, although it was much thinner than the first growth and without the yellow fuzzy edges.

This is one tenacious mushroom!

Before trimming
After trimming

Awash in Phaeolus!

My dyepots—the large one on the propane burner outside under the deck, the small one on my hotplate in the mudroom, and my Crockpot—aren’t cooling down, and they’re all filled with Dyer’s Polypore. I keep finding beautiful young ones, still with their yellow fuzz—and people keep giving me ones they’ve found! I need to process them before they go brown, to get the best of their popping golds. I’m keeping the chunks of polypore after they’ve been through one boiling. Once mushroom season settles down (not that I’m wishing for that to happen), I’ll boil them up again and see what comes out of the exhausts.

In addition to wool rovings, I’m dyeing silk hankies, mohair, llama, Tencel, and even dog hair, which picked up the colour beautifully.

Before I forget . . . I want to see what it does to my own hair!

Immersed in golden dyepots

Phaeolus, three mordants

I’m finding so many beautiful dyer’s polypore this year, and the variations on gold are never-ending! I put these mordanted rovings in the dyepot together, knowing that the iron might affect the colours on the other two, which were mordanted with alum and copper. And it did, but not in a bad way. The colour produced by two good-sized clusters was so rich and strong that the iron’s “saddening” effect added some depth to the gold of the alum roving and to the rust brown of the copper one. (The iron roving is dark green.)

And then there’s the brilliant gold that took my breath away . . . this came from another two fresh clusters of dyer’s polypore, with enough pigment left over to have an exhaust dyebath (the wool on the right).

The best time of the year, without a doubt.

First dyebath, exhaust bath