Category Archives: Tapinella atrotomentosa (Velvet Pax)

The earliest of the dye mushrooms, its colour varies from grey to green to a rich brown.

Temperamental Tapinella

Tapinella atrotomentosa

We were blessed this spring and summer with a lot of rain (not everyone in this community felt blessed, thus labelling themselves non-mushroomers), which led to an abundance of Tapinella atrotomentosa in late July. Embarking on a quest for a sturdy purple, I discovered that this beautiful velvet-footed mushroom may or may not choose to release the royal colour so many of us are fond of.

Tapinella mauve, pH3

I must confess I had forgotten the advice of Miriam Rice (a pioneer of mushroom dyeing and ever my mentor) to throw a splash of vinegar into the Tapinella dyepot to lower the pH. So this time I did, remembering to use unmordanted wool, with a most pleasing result. Because I was using fresh mushrooms, I just eyeballed the amount of wool to use, erring on the side of caution to get a strong colour. It’s important when dyeing with Tapinella to watch the temperature carefully, bring the heat up slowly, and to pull the fibre out when you have the colour you want, usually between 140º and 150ºF. If you allow to reach higher temperatures, you run the risk of ending up with brown or grey.

The next sample started off purple, but I hung it out in the sun to dry, so the outer layer of the roving turned a light brown. This also happened when I hung a sample out to be rained on; from now on I’m letting these dry inside in the shade.

Disappointing Tapinella purple
Green with iron dyebath

Another disappointing dyebath gave only a dull grey, which I cooked again in an iron bath to get an acceptable green.

Tapinella purples and grey

Over several subsequent dye sessions I did get some lovely deep purples and a strong grey that can hold its own in the purple category (nothing wrong with a good neutral, right?)

My dyeing partner, Muriel, found similar inconsistencies with her Tapinella dyeing, so now we’re more than ready for some predictable results. We’re just waiting for the fall rains to bring the dyers out.

Now this is strange . . .

Thanks to an abundance of spring rains, we’re seeing mushrooms a few weeks earlier than usual this year—we can only hope this bodes well for an exceptional season later in the year!

Tapinella atrotomentosa
Tapinella atrotomentosa

This gorgeous Tapinella atrotomentosa caught me quite by surprise a few weeks ago. The slugs had already nibbled on it a bit, so I cut off the largest cap, then tucked ferns and the spiky leaves of Oregon grape around the remaining little ones to give them a chance to grow. I took my treasure home, cut it into slices, and put it on the sunny deck to dry. My dearest used the oven that evening when making dinner (he cooks all our meals, which pleases me no end), so I popped the tray of almost-dry mushrooms into the still-warm oven after dinner.

Much to my dismay, my little strips of Velvet Pax looked over-dark the next morning; not exactly burned, but darker than I’d expected. What had I done? I usually don’t find enough of these to treat them so recklessly and callously! There was nothing for it but to put the sorry little bits in a test dyepot with a few strands of mordanted yarn, to gauge the damage.

Clearly I need to get back into the routine—I’d used a little glass pot, and even though I’d set the heat on medium-low, I turned my back for what seemed just a minute, only to turn back and find my little pot almost boiling over. I was sure I’d screwed it up completely.

Tapinella burned then boiledFB

But look what came out of the pot (from left to right: no mordant, alum, iron, copper)—does that not look blue to you?

The dye liquid, although a small amount, was still quite dark, so I popped in another test bundle and watched it this time, careful not to let it get over-hot. And this time the colours were more like what I would expect from a Tapinella pot allowed to overheat.
Tapinella burned exhaustFB

I hesitate to try and repeat these results on a larger scale, but if I find a good number of Tapinella this year, I may just have to.

There’s hope yet . . . another mushroom season begins

Like the rest of North America’s West Coast, we’ve had an exceptionally dry spring and early summer. Flowers, birds, berries—they’ve all been a few weeks early this year, and everything is scarily dry.

I’ve been away for three weeks and on my return was hesitant to go out into my Back 40, knowing the moss would be crunchy and the ground dry. But I needed my forest therapy (after a glorious but noisy and crowded holiday in Sicily), so out I went with Rica, my fantastic flying puppy.

And what should I find, in a spot where I’ve never found this mushroom before:

Velvet Pax - first of the year
Tapinella atrotomentosa – first of the year
Drying already
Velvet Pax – drying already










(I did find a few of these Velvet Pax at this time last year, but we’d had a cool, rainy June. I certainly didn’t expect to find it in our current conditions. Usually they appear in late July through September.)

This was on its own in open sun (growing out of wood under the moss), already getting parched. Down the hill, at the base of a shady stump where I’ve found these mushrooms in previous years, was another clump that still looked as if they had some growing to do, so I’ll keep an eye on them for now. My other usual spots haven’t revealed anything yet.

Along the trail, farther along, is my nurse log for Pycnoporellus fulgens. Even though I don’t get a striking colour from these, and I usually need two years’ worth of collecting to make one dyepot, I’m always happy to see them, as they are (usually) the first harbingers of mushroom season.

Pycnoporellus fulgens
Pycnoporellus fulgens


Pycnoporellus fulgens
Pycnoporellus from above








I’ve never seen this fungus in such a huge cluster before—this one is about four inches wide. Usually it appears as a single fan, perhaps in tiers (see my post from 2009 when I first realized what it was). As always, I’ll leave this to dry over the summer and start a new stash until I have enough for another pastel dyepot.

Peach from Pycnoporellus fulgens
Peach from Pycnoporellus fulgens

I feel mushroom fever creeping into my brain!

Mushroom colours go together

Bobbin of mushroom colours
Bobbin of mushroom colours

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.
mixed colours2

Proving once again that mushroom dyes sit well together.

Unpredictable but beautiful colours

Velvet Pax colours

My first mushroom dyepot of the season, using Tapinella atrotomentosa (Velvet Pax) yielded the colours on the left. I’d seen some nice purple from this mushroom on unmordanted wool, and that’s what I was hoping to get on the large (unmordanted) sample at the left; it turned out to be more brown than purple. The lighter sample to its right was the exhaust bath, while the lovely purple was a small piece mordanted with alum.

(Confession: I’ve begun putting my fibre inside a very fine mesh lingerie bag so I can extract colour and dye the fibre at the same time. When this batch began to heat up, I smelled the distinct odour of washing soda, leaving me to think I hadn’t rinsed the bag completely at the end of last year’s season. My next batch with this mushroom will get a pinch of washing soda to see how that affects the colour.)

Proceeding to another batch of fresh mushrooms (and a thoroughly rinsed mesh bag), I put a large piece of alum-mordanted wool into the dyepot, and instead of purple, I got this great olive green! The alum-treated silk scrunchy also went through that dyebath, while the sample on the far right was mordanted with copper.

I wonder if the phases of the moon, or the way I crinkle my eyebrows, has anything to do with the unpredictable results from this mushroom.

Vulnerable Velvet Pax

Vulnerable velvet pax

I believe all forest creatures, including myself, must learn to live together, but dammit! I’m not prepared to let the squirrels have my dye mushrooms when they already have plenty of forest food to munch on and store away at this time of year.

These little buttons were just starting out when I found them on top of a mossy stump early in August, so I set up a twiggy-branch protection system for them (see my August 13 post) and hoped for the best.

Velvet pax untouched

Sixteen days later, here’s what I found (after removing the twigs): beautiful, untouched specimens, fresh and perfect for the dyepot. And into the pot they went, that very same day. I’ll post pictures of the results soon.

And the cycle continues . . .

Squirrels like Velvet Pax

Our latest foray into the back and beyond proved exciting—the Tapinella atrotomentosa (which I still want to call Paxillus atrotomentosus, or Velvet Pax) are beginning to appear in the usual spots, on mossy old stumps and decaying logs. I even found a few in the roots of an old cedar—I usually see them on Douglas fir. I’m not the only one attracted to these beauties, however. These little gnaw marks are clear evidence that I’m in competition with squirrels.

Protecting the button mushroom

Because I’m selfish with my dye mushrooms, I decided to try a trick I’ve employed in my vegetable garden, to keep cats out of my freshly dug garden beds: I gathered up a bunch of twiggy branches and made a protective little cage over this button in the hope it can grow intact to a usable size.

In the meantime, my first dyepot of the season, using the bits of Velvet Pax the squirrels decided to leave for me, is now under way, along with marathon mordanting sessions. Bring on the dye mushrooms!

Velvet Pax dyepot

Velvet Pax dyepot

Moving on from the seemingly non-stop gold dyepots, I’ve now finished dyeing with all the Velvet Pax (Tapinella atrotomentosa) that I’ve been saving and drying since the summer. For this dyepot, I used equal weights of dried mushroom and fibre—330 grams of each—and dyed half the fibre at a time. The dark green roving on the right was mordanted in iron. (Note to self: next year, premordant more wool with iron, to get more dark green!). It’s interesting how the “Icicle” on the left picked up golden tones, while the Tencel (the shiny brown at the top and the shiny beige to its left) picked up the browns.

I probably could have done one more exhaust from this pot, but to be frank, I’m tired of the browns, especially when I all my lovely dermocybes are waiting for me to do something with them.

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.

Tapinella atrotomentosa (Velvet pax)

Velvet pax

Now I know it’s going to be a great mushroom season—I joined a friend this afternoon for a hike to Ambrose Lake, and right beside the trail we found a stump just overloaded with Velvet pax. (Note the fuzzy brown stems befitting its name. This mushroom is very easy to identify—it grows on old, mossy fir stumps or on the sides of mossy logs.) Unfortunately, my camera announced that its battery was gone, so I had to wait until I got home to take this picture.

The dried mushrooms on the right are from an earlier hike in our own back forest; the fresh ones on the left are from today’s hike. I counted twelve specimens, all from the same tree!

I’ll dry all the Velvet pax I find until the season is finished. This should be a marvellous dyepot!