Mushroom Paper

Now that it’s warm enough to go without a fire in the woodstove for most of the day, I’m waiting for a good time to fire up my outdoor burner and see if there’s any colour left in the dyebaths from the November dye workshop.

With the mushroom dyeing season almost over, it’s time to get going on some more mushroom paper. Yes! – certain mushrooms can be processed into paper. (Or, to be technically correct, “paper-like sheets,” as apparently only paper processed from materials containing lignin can properly be called paper. But I’m going to call mushroom paper “paper,” because that’s how I think of it.)

To make mushroom paper, I use conk (Fotimopsis pinicola), dyer’s polypore (Phaeolus schweinitzii), and turkey tails (Trametes versicolor).

Mushroom paper bowls
Mushroom paper bowls

Here are some bowls I’ve made recently. Of the three mushrooms I use, conks make the strongest and most resilient paper, so that’s the tan base material in each of these bowls. I used a turkey baster to create the dark brown designs on the inside – that’s from dyer’s polypore (after I’ve used it to dye fibre, of course). The textured band on the bowl on the left is from the turkey tails. I do like the texture of turkey-tail paper, and I’m working on a way to make it less brittle – by adding a quantity of jelly fungus. I’ll have more to say about that in a later post.

Turkey Tails
Turkey Tails
I don’t have any good photos yet of a conk. Here’s an image of turkey tails (you’ll find an image of a young dyer’s polypore in my December 14 post). Turkey tails live up to their name – the “fans” that grow in tiers have subtle stripes in shades of brown, grey, or orange. They’re so ubiquitous they’re considered the crabgrass of the mushroom world, so they’re easy to find.

To make paper, the mushrooms have to be cut into small pieces and run through a blender with water until you get a pulp of the right consistency. After dyeing with the dyer’s polypore, the mushrooms will be in crumbly chunks that can be liquefied very easily. Turkey tails, after a bit of soaking, can be cut with scissors, then blended. Conks, on the other hand, have to be soaked until soft and rubbery – sometimes this takes months!

Once I have a nice pulp, I use standard papermaking screens to make thin sheets that can then be dried flat or molded to a shape. (I won’t go into the entire papermaking process here, but I’m going to have a workshop on April 26 for those who are interested in learning it.)

Dyeing on the wood stove

I finally brought in my containers of dyebath I’d prepared a couple of months ago. I’d stored the liquid in some hard plastic kitty litter containers – the kind with a handle – that I rescued from the recycling depot. Shortly after I filled them with fresh dyebath, we had a hard freeze that lasted for several weeks – most unusual for our temperate climate on the raincoast.

So I brought them in to warm up by the stove, then thought, Why not just put the dyepots on top of the stove? I have the fire going every day anyway, so let’s put the energy to good use.

Dyepots on the stove
Dyepots on the stove

And it worked perfectly. It took several hours for the dyebaths to heat up, then they sat at just below a simmer for several hours before cooling down for the evening. My wool and silk then cooled in the dyebaths overnight, giving me something exciting to pull out the next morning.

I’ll post photos of the results soon.

Cortinarius sanguineus – brilliant!

I did my mushroom dance in earnest the day I found eleven Cortinarius sanguineus while on a forest walk in late November. I’d never found any of these before, and wasn’t sure where to look for them. They were growing near a swampy area in moss, in deep shade. They were also smaller than the Cortinarius semisanguineus I’d been finding in such abundance earlier in November.
Small skeins dyed with 11 Cortinarius sanguineus
Small skeins dyed with 11 Cortinarius sanguineus
These eleven mushrooms went into a little dyepot of their own, and upon simmering, released a rich, red dye. The yarn shows more orange than I was expecting, but I’m thrilled with its vibrancy. The next two skeins resulted from the exhaust baths.
These colours are too precious to use up in something mundane, so I’m saving them for the Mushroom Vest I’m planning – with luck after another successful season next year!

Silk scarves dyed with Phaeolus

Scarves dyed with Dyer's Polypore
Scarves dyed with Dyer's Polypore

The scarf on the right went through the Dyer’s Polypore dyepot I described earlier. The pigment in this fungus is so strong, I decided to throw two more scarves into it the next day. These had already been through the young-Phaeolus dyepot and had come out gold, but I wasn’t happy with my tie-dyeing efforts, so I tied them up again (using elastic bands). When they came out of the dyepot, there were still some empty spaces, so I retied once more, and back they went into the dyepot for another hour.

Tie-dyed scarf, through the dyepot three times
Tie-dyed scarf, through the dyepot three times

This gives a better idea of the patterning that resulted from the tie-dyeing. I gathered up random bunches of the fabric and twisted elastic bands around until they were tight enough to hold.

Tie-dyed with elastic, once through the dyepot
Tie-dyed with elastic, once through the dyepot

This scarf went through the Phaeolus dyepot just once. I’d folded it several times vertically in such a way that the centre of the scarf (lengthwise) was exposed to more dye than the rest of the folds, ironing the folds in place as I went, then tied pieces of elastic along its length. I left a fair space in the middle of the scarf untied, so the expanse of rich brown contrasts with the decorated ends.

Dyer’s Polypore

Dyer's Polypore - Phaeolus schweinizii
Dyer's Polypore - Phaeolus schweinizii

Named Dyer’s Polypore with good reason, this beautiful bracket fungus is filled with pigment – good, strong, gold pigment. It’s an annual, meaning it grows for one season, then dries up, only to come back in the same place next year. It looks like this when it’s young, when the white edges appear almost fuzzy. As they get older, they become a rich, reddish brown.

Young phaeolus give a rich gold colour, while the older ones give a darker golden brown.

Phaeolus dyepot in the winter
Phaeolus dyepot in the winter

I found a huge, sodden Phaeolus in the forest last week, so I boiled it for an hour or so, then strained the bits out for the dyebath.  This is what resulted – the skeins were mordanted (l to r) with copper, alum, and iron. That’s a silk scarf (tie-dyed) in the middle, and at the bottom are silk noil and a piece of unknown silk, both unmordanted (added as an afterthought).

Skeins dyed with Dyer's Polypore
Skeins dyed with Dyer's Polypore

I love the rich, rich gold of the top skein in this image. That one I dyed with a young Phaeolus, still with the band of white at its edge, and I couldn’t believe the colour! The three skeins at the bottom are from the dyepot I talk about above – the light gives a better rendition of their colour in this image, but now the mordants are (l to r) alum, copper, and iron. The small skeins are from November’s mushroom workshop; the three on top from a fresh mushroom, and the three on bottom from old mushrooms, whose  colour wasn’t very intense, for some reason.

On my walk through the woods today, I found another little patch of pink coral mushrooms, so they’re simmering away in the mud room – perhaps this is the one that will give me a real Purple!

Mushroom purple . . . if you squint!

Pink coral mushroom
Pink coral mushroom

These little guys can still be found in the winter forest, and – wait for it! – they actually give purple of a sort, but only on fibre that’s been mordanted with iron.

"Purple" yarn from pink coral mushrooms
"Purple" yarn from pink coral mushrooms

So here’s an undoctored image (I say that because I was tempted to shift the digital image a bit more to the purple side!) of the purple that came out of my little dyepot this week. At first glance, one would think it’s grey, but truly, when I hold it up to my colour charts, there really is some purple in there!

These mushrooms won’t last much beyond the first frost/snowfall, but I’ll be keeping them in mind for next year, for sure.

Lobster dyepot

Lobster mushroom with coin for perspective
Lobster mushroom (with quarter to indicate size)

I’m fortunate that I know of several patches of lobster mushrooms just minutes from our back door, and I also have friends who are happy to collect them for me.

Parings of lobster mushrooms, dried and ready to use
Parings of lobster mushrooms, dried and ready to use

I pare off the orange bits and eat the white flesh if it’s still fresh. However, I found that the older lobsters that were already going mushy had even more red in their parings. All the peeled bits went into a pan that was set next to our woodstove, adding a most fishy aroma to our house for as long as it took for them to dry. Could this be why they’re called lobster mushrooms?

Lobster mushroom dyepot
Lobster mushroom dyepot

Once I had enough parings (one and a half 750-ml yogurt containers), it was time to put them into the dyepot.  To keep the bits from getting into my fibre, I put them into sections of old pantyhose (does anyone wear these anymore?), tied the ends up, and boiled them for a short while. It doesn’t take long for the colour to appear.

Scarf dyed with lobsters straight out of the dyepot
Scarf dyed with lobsters straight out of the dyepot

Here’s a silk scarf (premordanted with alum) that came out of this dyepot – a brilliant peachy orange colour.

Lobster scarf with alkaline/acid pH shift
Lobster scarf with alkaline/acid pH shift

And here’s the same scarf after I had some pH fun with it: I set up two  squirter bottles, one with a vinegar solution at pH3, the other with a washing soda solution at pH11. Then I spritzed the ends of the scarf. The vinegar enhanced the orange, while the washing soda brought out the purple in the colour.

Lobster-dyed roving with vinegar and soda afterbaths
Lobster-dyed roving with vinegar and soda afterbaths

I did the same with some merino roving (also premordanted with alum). The vinegar bucket is on the left; the washing soda on the right.

Rovings from the lobster dyepot
Rovings from the lobster dyepot

Here are the colours that resulted from this glorious dyepot. I really liked the effect of the washing soda afterbath, so I dipped an entire piece of roving (top left) into that bucket.

This skein was premordanted with iron.
This skein was premordanted with iron.

This is  a skein I’d premordanted with iron, and I dipped each end in the pH buckets.

Finished lobster scarf
Finished lobster scarf

An interesting discovery: I submerged a silk scarf in the washing soda bucket with the intention of  “decorating” it with some vinegar spritzes. My first attempt at spritzing was less than desirable, so with a what-do-I-have-to-lose gesture, I threw the scarf back into the washing soda bucket. Surprise! It turned purple again! It took me three successive tries before I finally achieved some results I was happy with.

CELEBRATING THE BEAUTY OF SUNSHINE COAST MUSHROOMS