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