Red-gilled dermocybes
Red-gilled dermocybes

I have all kinds of fibre waiting to go into the dyepot, but the season for these little beauties (Cortinarius phoeniceus) is almost at an end, so I feel I have to be out in the bush every day I can, to find the last of the hangers-on.

The plum-coloured skein and pink silk scarf (left in the above header image) were dyed with these mushrooms. I’ve been finding them on the higher moss beds where arbutus (madrona) trees grow, often in full sun.

Just this week I found a little patch of Cortinarius sanguineus – these are a bit smaller, and their stipes are all red. I have only eleven of these, so I’ll have a small test dyepot in the next few days to see what they give. I found these in a lower moss bed not far from a swampy area, in deep shade.

I’ve also found dermocybes with yellow or rust-coloured gills (C. semisanguineus or C. californicus), but as long as they have yellow stalks, they seem to give some lovely colours – more into corals than reds. I’d meant to separate the yellow from the rust, but they got mixed up, so I’m letting all of them dry together, and I’m starting to cook them up now, in small batches on my mud-room hotplate.

I learned from a friend with a knowledge of chemistry (thanks, Laurie!) that water in a dyebath can hold only so much pigment, in the same way that a cup of water can dissolve only so much sugar, so when my little dyebath seems it can get no darker, I strain the liquid into a waiting container and return the mushrooms to the pot for another boiling. I always put a little strand of white yarn in the pot, to monitor how the colour’s going, and I usually get three or four boil-ups before the mushrooms are spent.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell if a dermocybe’s gills are rust-coloured or if they’re just a nice mushroom brown. I’ve found that if the stalk is also brown, the colour won’t be very exciting. If the stalk is yellow, I have a dye mushroom.


Mushroom dyeing workshop

Rainbow of colour
Rainbow of colour

These results of a mushroom dyeing workshop I gave in early November inspired me to create this blog as an easy way to share how we arrived at these gorgeous hues.

Over the next few weeks I plan to post images showing colours from the different mushrooms we used, along with more results of my own dyepots I’ve cooked up in the meantime.