Spring! (what a lovely thought)

The last few months have been a fallow time for me, planned and prepared for. A dear friend needed some space to be alone for a while, and I needed a push to get my studio space organized. The cottage where I do my dyeing and other stuff started out as a B&B (dog-friendly), so it was already set up for someone to stay there comfortably.

I started by packing up all the wool I’d accumulated over the years, and I was embarrassed to find that I had so much. So I adopted the mantra we use when looking through our closets: If I haven’t touched it in two years, it’s time for it to go. The timing was perfect, as my wonderful fibre group (Sunshine Cost Spinners and Weavers) has an annual Stash Day every January, when people bring things they no longer want or need. This is how I obtained much of my fibre when I was starting out.

I had so many bits and pieces of things I no longer wanted – for example, I had lovely wicker baskets throughout my space, filled with skeins of handspun, silk scarves, and wool waiting to be dealt with. The problem was, all of this had been sitting in baskets for too long and was starting to look tired, in my eyes anyway. Everything has now gone to good homes.

I packed away most of my dyeing supplies, and found I still had many little brown bags containing dye mushrooms, some from as long ago as 2014. I will use these over the next few months because I want to go into the 2018 mushroom season with a clean slate.

In the meantime, I have a confession to make. First, I must explain that at the International Fungi & Fibre Symposium (wonderful people, all), we keep the focus on mushroom colours because we are the only group anywhere that is dedicated to this pursuit. So it’s with some trepidation that I have to reveal this: I have been flirting with botanical printing, rusting, and – most exciting – making kombucha scoby into clothing (more to follow). And . . . I’m combining these fibre treatments with mushroom colours. I’m no longer a purist, but the lack of mushrooms in 2017 has forced me to look at other ways of using what Nature gives us, and it’s all good. Rest assured that anything I take for display at the next Symposium will have mushroom colours and no others.

But here’s how I justify these pursuits: everything we do relies on the presence of fungi in some capacity. The botanicals I use in eco-printing rely upon the fungi that work in our soils. There must be some role for fungi in the rusting process, and I know fungi play an important role in the production of kombucha. (Scoby stands for Symbiotic Combination Of Bacteria and Yeast—yeast belongs to the kingdom of fungi.) So I might be expanding my area of creative play, but in no way am I eliminating mushroom colours. I am so looking forward to Norway in August, and I can’t wait for what I believe will be a memorable mushroom season.

One consequence of The Big Clean was the realization that I had way too much handspun yarn. I had to find a way to deal with this, and here’s the result.

Wrap knitted from leftover mushroom-dyed handspun.


This garment—l’enveloppe, designed by Sally Melville and available on Ravelry— has to be seen at several different angles to understand its construction. The pattern was for a much smaller shrug in finer wool, but I decided to use a different handspun for each row (with the occasional row of silk cord tossed in) and just follow the instructions, knowing the final garment would be much larger than the pattern had intended.

It’s turned out to be very warm on these cool spring days (you’ll see that the tulips haven’t opened yet)—but I still have bags of leftover handspun to deal with!

Well, this is embarrassing!

The mushrooms on the Sunshine Coast decided that 2017 would be a fallow year, a time for them to take a complete rest, gearing up to return next year in amazing abundance. At least that’s what I’ve been telling myself.

A number of dyers didn’t even show themselves this year, at least not in my usual patches, including Dermocybes, Sarcodon fuscoindicus, Hydnellum aurantiacum and H. peckii, and Hypomyces lactifluorum. So I’m carefully using up most of last year’s stash while thinking of other ways I can make use of the few mushrooms I still have (as in eco-printing and, if I can figure out a way to make it happen, with kombucha—but more of that later).

All of this to say that I haven’t been in my studio lately as much as I’d like. From the evidence I found this week when I lifted the lid off what I thought was an empty dyepot sitting on my outside workbench . . .

Fuzzy dyepot!

. . . I’ve been away far too long! I went back to my notes and discovered I’d processed this Phaeolus pot with iron-mordanted roving over a month ago, and clearly a fungus of a different sort found the wool attractive, at least the parts exposed to air. I pulled the fibre out and found little black bits where the mould had found good resting spots.

I’m hoping to get a good supply of this lovely green, enough for a large spinning project, so I couldn’t bear to see this wool go to waste. As it turned out, after I washed the roving and pulled off the black bits, there seems to be no harm done.

I’m glad this is a forgiving medium.

A bit of coral, a bit of purple

This extremely dry season yielded me a handful, literally, of coral mushrooms—a clump of Clavulina coralloides (a white coral) and two of an orange coral, Ramaria (R.carnata, I believe). With nothing to lose and a desire to dye with something other than Phaeolus, I decided to put the two clumps together and see what happened.

The corals went into a fine-mesh bag, then into the dyepot with a silk chiffon scarf previously mordanted with iron (and tied with a few loose knots for mottled colour). I initiated my new induction burner, which I found to be perfect for heating the dyebath slowly. Determined not to lose any chance of obtaining the fragile purple (in the natural dye world, purple is known to lose its colour if cooked above 160 degrees F), I hovered over the dyepot as any good witch would, monitoring the temperature carefully.

Coral dyepot

To my surprise, the silk began to darken at 110 degrees. and I let it heat to 130 before pulling it. You can see, a bit off centre, the little bundle of yarn samples I also threw into the pot. These are mordant samples—a strand each with no mordant, alum, iron, and copper—that I put into every dyepot to monitor its progress. With these, the iron strand was also developing a purple cast, while the other mordants were pretty much doing nothing.

Coral purple on yarn

Here’s how the iron yarn sample turned out, though perhaps not as obviously purple in real life. Below is the scarf.

I tried an exhaust dyepot with a piece of silk roving, but the corals had been truly exhausted. I got no further colour.

I have every hope that next year the forest will produce mountains of coral, and I plan to have all manner of silk mordanted and waiting to be transformed by this royal colour.

Pholiota, for lack of anything else

Pholiota squarrosoides

Last week I found a cluster of these striking mushrooms on a fallen alder just steps from my studio.  I took this image four years ago when the tree was still standing and the mushrooms more photogenic.  I’m not bothering to make a dyepot with these this year—they cook up into a thick stew that requires serious straining, and once when I left them a bit before cooking, the strained bits included many little white maggoty things—but because I’m still waiting to find that amazing flush of exciting dyers this year, I thought I’d post these Pholiota squarrosoides samples from 2014 and 2015—a pleasant gold—should any of you be curious enough to give them a try. (The four sample strands on the card, from top to bottom and ignoring the knot at the top: no mordant, copper, iron, alum.)

Pholiota samples

Mind you, I have nothing against pleasant gold, but an over-abundance of Phaeolus schweinitzii, now drying on my studio floor, promises more gold this year than I really care to think about just now.

(Am I sounding a touch disappointed?)

Time lapse Phaeolus

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!

Baby blue promises future green

Hydnellum caeruleum button
Hydnellum caeruleum, with new growth  budding out

I went back to a spot where I’ve found Hydnellum caeruleum in previous years, but since I didn’t see any last year or the year before, I wasn’t expecting to find anything, especially with  the extremely dry weather this year. So imagine my delight when I found five of these little beauties!

I normally find these earlier in the season—late August/early September. This little cluster clearly started earlier, probably after the day of heavy rain we had in mid-August, and have been sitting and waiting ever since. Now, following another day of rain a couple of weeks ago, they’re sending out new, pastel blue growth, which will soon age to brown as the caps open up. (A measure of the severity of this drought: we can remember every day of rain since June—two by my count, plus a few inconsequential showers.)

Last year I left a growth of Hydnellum aurantiacum to mature in place, and when I got back to them they were a slimy, black mass. I put them through the dyepot anyway and got the usual lovely green, so I plan to leave these for a while before I harvest. Except for one specimen that will go to the Sunshine Coast Mushroom Festival October 14, where any and all specimens will be welcome.

Waiting for the rain

Summer singles yarn

This was one of the driest summers ever on the Sunshine Coast (I’m so grateful it wasn’t like this last year, leading up to the Fungi & Fibre Symposium!). The long-range weather forecasts keep teasing us with promises of good, long rains, then amend their predictions downward until, as is happening today, we end up with a few sporadic showers.

So I’ve been biding my time by spinning from what’s left of last year’s dyeing. These colours came from Cortinarius semisanguineus (Dermocybes—the pink), Phaeolus schweinitzii (Dyer’s polypore—the green, premordanted with iron), and Gymnopilus luteofolius (the pale yellow), which I carded together, then spun into a singles lace-weight. It contains a fair bit of silk and should knit up beautifully. (This skein just went home this morning with an avid knitter from Edmonton—Kyle, if you’re reading this, could you send me a photo of what you decide to do with it?)