Spinning a few yarns

Every aspect of mushroom dyeing and fibre preparation is a joy, and I could always use more time at these pursuits, but the ultimate pleasure, the end goal of all of this, is the spinning. I love to feel the smooth fibres slipping through my fingers as the wheel works its magic and twists them into a thread that winds onto the bobbin. If I’ve blended colours or fibres, it’s exciting to see how they come together into a single strand, and then how plying two or more strands results in a balanced yarn. As I wind the yarn onto my niddy-noddy, the length of it again slides through my hands, and when I’ve tied it into a skein, I get to fondle it once more. Who knew yarn could be so tactile, so sensual?

Two- and three-ply yarns
Two- and three-ply yarns

This yarn was the result of carding some blah colours into batts, which I then brightened up with some leftover bits of orange and gold. I spun this deliberately chunky and used two plies of this with one ply of straight Hydnellum green—the result ended up not blah at all. When I ran out of one strand of the chunky, I plied the other with what was left of the green; hence the smaller, greener skein that sits on top.

Dermocybe rose
Dermocybe rose

I love this colour, and until I fire up a few more dermocybe dyepots, this is all I have of it. I added texture by”stacking” a thin ply over the soft texture of a thick-and-thin ply.

Phaeolus gold
Phaeolus gold

I made this yarn from the results of several Phaeolus dyepots, combining shades of gold and green. The “icicle,” a synthetic product, picks up colours wonderfully and adds a bit of zing to the finished yarn.

Thrice-dipped yarn
Thrice-dipped yarn

I had fun with these skeins. I spun them from a soft white roving, my reliably go-to fibre, then dipped parts of them in each of three dyepots: dyer’s polypore (Phaeolus schweinitzii), lobster (Hypomyces lactifluorum), and Hydnellum aurantiacum. The colours overlapped quite nicely.

Now my spinning wheel is calling me.

Hydnellum of Many Colours

Hydnellum aurantiacum
Hydnellum aurantiacum

This beautiful little mushroom, which grew in such abundance last year, has given me some lovely soft greens, but I wanted to see if I could encourage it to give some of the blues I know it’s capable of achieving. So our mushroom interest group—about ten interested members of the Sunshine Coast Spinners and Weavers Guild—focused on this one at our last session.

I’ve had good results by soaking the mushrooms overnight in water with the pH raised to 12 with ammonia, but this time I decided to use washing soda because we’d be cooking the mushrooms indoors, and the odour of washing soda is decidedly less caustic than that of ammonia. I also wanted to try other methods of bringing out the colour, along with a few mordants for each method.

Hydnellum colours
Hydnellum colours

In this image, each group of three skeins represents a different mordant, from left to right: no mordant, alum, iron, and copper

The three skeins in each group were processed as follows, again from left to right:

Mushrooms were soaked overnight in well water (pH 5.8). The following day, the skeins were added to the dyebath, which was brought to a slow simmer until the skeins were fully dyed.

Mushrooms were soaked overnight in well water brought to a pH of 12 with the addition of washing soda. The following day, the skeins were added, then the dyebath brought to a slow simmer until the skeins were fully dyed.

Mushrooms were soaked overnight in well water, then brought to a temperature of 170 degrees F. The dyebath was held at this temperature for 15 minutes, at which time the skeins were added and simmered until fully dyed.

We were pleased with the beauty of all of these colours, and I think I’ve convinced a few more potential mushroom dyers to enter this “dark hole”!


Spreading the word

Just recently I’ve noticed a lot of interest in mushroom dyeing in my community, so I’m excited about getting other people excited!

An art class of eight- and nine-year-old girls invited me to show them what it involves. Most of them had been told by their parents (as was I, many years ago) that you should never, ever touch a mushroom because it could kill you. I understand the fear behind that admonition, but we don’t tell our children to never, ever touch any leaves or wild berries, even though some of those can be pretty dangerous, too. We teach them not to eat anything in the wild without first knowing what it is, and that’s how it should be with mushrooms, as well.

The dried mushroom
The dried mushroom

So I put the class to work breaking up a good selection of dried Phaeolus schweinitzii and putting the pieces into fine lingerie bags—this polypore had acquired a bit of fuzzy fungus of its own, but that didn’t seem to affect the end colour.

Getting comfortable with mushrooms
Getting comfortable with mushrooms

And it wasn’t long before everyone was right into it.

Mordanted samples
Mordanted samples

We talked about mordants and how they work, and everyone prepared samples. I follow the practice of giving each sample a different number of knots, depending on its mordant. Traditionally, this was:

No mordant: no knot; Alum: 1 knot;  Chrome: 2 knots ; Tin: 3 knots ; Copper: 4 knots;  Iron: 5 knots.

Although some dyers use chrome and tin, I prefer not to, so I couldn’t see myself tying four and five knots in my copper and iron samples when I didn’t have to. So I’ve devised my own easier system: No mordant: no knot; Alum: 1 knot; Iron: 2 knots; Copper: 3 knots.  (The word iron has fewer letters than the word copper, my way of remembering the knots.)

Into the dyepot
Into the dyepot

The dyepots had been simmering while we got the samples ready, then everyone watched with interest as the samples went into the hot liquid, along with some pieces of wool batt. The anticipation built as the pots simmered and the classroom filled with the unmistakable odour of cooking mushrooms.

Mushroom colour!
Mushroom colour!

At last, the wool was ready! I understand everyone went home with some good dinner-table stories, and in a few weeks we’ll get together again and use this wool to make little felted bowls.

Then the following week, a few members of the Sunshine Coast Spinners & Weavers Guild got together for the first of three mushroom workshops. We’re focusing on one mushroom per session, which gives everyone a chance to learn what to look for and where to find it, and we also have more opportunity to experiment with that mushroom. In this case, I wanted to see if we’d get much difference between well water and chlorinated water, so one of the members who’s on a city system brought a couple of containers of her water.

Phaeolus dye samples
Phaeolus dye samples

Our samples were premordanted with alum, iron, and copper, and we also put some alum-mordanted samples in iron and copper afterbaths. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the bright gold of the children’s dyepot, but we did find that using chlorinated water made only a marginal difference in the colours. More images of that day can be found at the blog of the Sunshine Coast Fibreshed, a new affiliate of the larger Fibreshed movement promoting local fibres, local dyes, and local artisans. We’re excited to see how this is taking shape, and mushroom dyeing certainly fits within this idea.

Out, damned squirrel!

Or rather, out with it, damn Squirrel—where did you stash all my Boletopsis?

Only once in the last six years did I see a Boletopsis: a mushy blob another dyer had found and frozen in a glass jar. But I saw the beautiful colour resulting from its dyepot, so I resolved to find one of my own someday. That day took a long time to arrive.

Last fall, a record mushroom season in this area, a fellow SHROOMer found a couple of Boletopsis grisea on one of our club forays. He didn’t recognize it, and it didn’t take much convincing for him to decide he didn’t want to eat it (technically they’re edible, but apparently they’re very bitter). I took the mushrooms back to my studio and soaked them in a 50:50 water/ammonia solution, which resulted, after cooking, in some lovely sage-y green samples.

So imagine my delight when I came upon a mass of these mushrooms a few weeks later! Actually, it was my dearest who found them, and it took me several minutes to scramble through the mossy windfall to their location—I could tell by the excitement in his voice that it had to be something worth scrambling for.

And this is just a part of what he’d found:

Boletopsis grisea
Boletopsis grisea

Once again, I was beside myself with joy at the mushroom’s capability of producing in huge abundance . . . not every year, necessarily, and not every mushroom, but when conditions are right, fecundity is the word. I harvested carefully and with gratitude, then took them home to dry.

Ordinarily these fungi would have hit the dyepot the next day, but did I mention that 2013 was a particularly amazing year for mushrooms? We were out in the forest every day, coming home with piles and piles of fungal beauties, so I had no choice but to spread them out to dry on my studio floor while I was out gathering more . . . and more . . . and more.

I ran out of floor space, so I started laying mushrooms out in the space underneath my studio: a latticed enclosure on a fairly steep slope. I can stand at the lower end, but have to stoop to get to the upper end. The mushrooms found this space to their liking and began to dry quite nicely.

The season done, I was ready to fire up the dyepots, and of course I wanted to see what colour all of these Boletopsis would give me. I went down to get the cardboard tray they’d been drying on, only to find it mostly empty! What?!

In disbelief, I poked around among the crates and boxes occupying most of the under-studio space, and found some other dried mushrooms (Phaeolus schweinitzii and Hydnellum aurantiacum) had been scattered haphazardly around the space. But no Boletopsis . . . I can only assume that the squirrels sensed their edibility and squirreled them away, as is their wont, to nosh on over the winter.

And we have seen some very chubby squirrels around the property this spring.

Colour from Boletopsis grisea
Colour from Boletopsis grisea

They did leave me with a few, though, and these gave me a really wonderful green, enough for one of the plies in a three-ply chunky yarn, with what was left going into a smaller skein of two-ply.

Handspun, one ply Boletopsis green
Handspun with one ply Boletopsis green

I live in the forest. I am happy to share with the forest. Squirrels are creatures of the forest. Damn them.

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.

Study in purple

Orange coral
Ramaria largentii

“Study” implies lessons to be learned, and that’s certainly the case with this mushroom, an orange or pink coral (Ramaria gelatinosa).

When I first started playing with mushroom dyes, I’d read that this one would give purple if an iron mordant was used, so I popped a good handful of the mushroom into my little sample dyepot, along with my mordanted samples, and boiled the life out of it, only to find an interesting grey at the end of the process. I even blogged about it at the time. Despite my suggestion then that I’d try that one again the following year, there were so many more mushrooms to try that I walked on by the orange/pink coral . . . until this year.

The forest provided such an abundance of this coral mushroom this year, along with everything else, that I decided to collect what I could and try again. But since I was spending every available minute out collecting all kinds of mushrooms, I did with the coral what I did with all my other treasures: I spread it out on newspapers to dry.

ramaria samples burgundy_120

When it was time to fire up the sample dyepot again, I’d just brought in some more fresh coral, so that went in first, and I used a splash of ammonia to raise the pH of the dyebath to around 10—and the iron sample yarn came out a deep burgundy. (The samples, left to right: no mordant, alum, iron, copper.)

dried ramaria samples_120

Energized by this result, I tried another sample pot with a handful of dried coral (of which I had mountains by this time) . . . which resulted in an insipid grey. The mountains of dried coral went back to the forest, my gift to the mushroom fairies. Another lesson learned.

Ramaria colours_120

I had enough fresh coral left for a good-sized dyepot, from which I got these colours on some Corriedale batts.

As luck would have it, I found another good clump of coral a week or so later; it stayed outside in a paper bag, and by the time I got to it, it had frozen solid. Into the dyepot it went (again with ammonia to raise the pH), along with some premordanted (with iron) silk: a camisole, a scarf, and a silk “hankie,” which will be spun into a fine thread. I took to this dyepot some lessons already given to me by two of my dyeing mentors, Heather and Alissa: when trying for purple, don’t let the temperature of the dyebath rise much above 160 degrees F, and pull it out of the dyebath as soon as you have the desired colour (as opposed to leaving the fibre to soak overnight or longer). And here’s what resulted:

Purple from orange coral
Purple from orange coral (Ramaria)

I’m thrilled, of course, although the last lesson from this mushroom is the hardest to deal with: patience. I have no more Ramaria to play with this year—but that makes this purple all the more special, doesn’t it?

Is this blue, or is this blue?

Blue from Sarcodon fuscoindicus - Violet hedgehog
Blue from Sarcodon fuscoindicus – Violet hedgehog

A couple of months ago, I rhapsodized about finding an unexpected treasure, an embarrassment of richesSarcodon fuscoindicus, or Violet hedgehog. A few weeks after that post, my dearest went out to the same spot and picked the buttons I’d left behind, resulting in about twenty pounds—twenty pounds!—of the fresh lovelies. I had no choice but to let them dry, given the bounteous mushroom season that required daily harvesting, so I only just got my dyepots fired up in earnest this week. And I couldn’t resist—I had to go for the blue first!

I selected five dried hedgehogs, broke them into pieces, and put them into a stainless steel bowl, to which I added water and enough ammonia to bring the pH up to 10. The mushrooms soaked there for several days, after which I poured off about half the liquid into a medium-sized dyepot. I’d already done a sample run, which revealed that fibre pre-mordanted with alum was most likely to pick up blue, so to the dyepot I added a good hunk of alum-mordanted wool roving and a piece of silk.

I brought the temperature up slowly, all the while half holding my breath, because nothing seemed to be happening: all I could see was a dingy grey. Then, as the temperature rose to 160, then 170 degrees F, I noticed some blue in the wool as I raised it out of the water with a plastic spoon. At 175 degrees, I decided it was time to pull the fibre out. I carried the hot wool to the bathtub (my studio used to be a B&B cottage), where I draped it over the edge of a large plastic bucket, to cool without rinsing.

The silk (the little curl in front of the wool roving) seemed to pick up the colour more quickly and with more intensity than did the wool, so my next dyepot will involve some silk garments. In the meantime, the exhaust of this first dyepot now contains some more wool— I ran out of time to bring it up to the full temperature, so I’ve left it overnight and will see if the mushrooms still had any magic to give.

More and more, thoughts of witchcraft are entering my mind—cauldrons, magic, obsessions . . .

The Intervention

Ann . . .

I prefer to be called Mushroom Annie.

Alright, then—Mushroom Annie, we’re here today to discuss a matter of serious concern that has come to our attention.

Go ahead. But please make it quick. A cold front is coming in next week, signalling the approaching end of mushroom season.

Uh, yes . . . I see that you understand already.

Understand what?

Your family and friends are worried about you. Your studio floor is covered with drying fungi, your dehydrator is churning out dried fungi, your front steps are littered with all manner of disgusting fungi, yet you persist in going out every day for more mushrooms. Does this not seem a touch worrisome?

Not at all. Why should it?

Well, for one thing, what about your friends? Are you not concerned that you might be neglecting them?

I have friends in my mushroom club, the Sunshine Coast Society for the Hunting, Recognition and Observation of Mushrooms (that’s SHROOM for short). Silas, my dog who accompanies me on all my forays, is my good friend. Even the forest fungi are my friends.

Listen, Ann . . . I mean Mushroom . . . oh, dammit, you know who I mean! You’re obsessed! You’re living a one-track life! You’ve allowed mushrooms to assume an importance beyond their worth! I’ve learned that you’re not even spinning in the evenings anymore! That time in front of your spinning wheel used to be sacrosanct—can’t you see what’s happening to you?

I miss spinning, I really do. But I keep finding Lobster mushrooms, and people keep giving me more, and they have to be pared before they go rotten. And speaking of Lobsters, I’ve already made concessions. My husband banned me from cooking the parings inside, because it made the house smell like, well, rotten lobsters. That was a major factor in my decision to turn our guest cottage into a mushroom studio.

You gave up B&B-ing in favour of mushrooms? This is more dire than I thought. How have you let it come to this?

All I can say is . . . well, consider my latest foray into what I call my backyard: acres and acres of forest where Silas and I can hike for hours without any human contact.

Do tell.

At the start of the trail was this intriguing photo op—how could I pass it up? And it’s a dyer—a bonus!

Sulfur tuft flowers
Sulfur tuft flowers

Once we reached the day’s foraging spot, as I clambered over logs and squeezed under deadfall in search of Dermocybes, I saw this Lobster peeking through the duff, tantalizing me to inspect a bit closer. I picked it, of course, and looked around carefully, only to find five more of these beauties, all ready to offer up their pigment. Do you know how hard it is to obtain red from natural dye sources?

Hint of lobster
Hint of lobster

And all this before I reached my goal: Dermocybes! The satiny finish! The scarlet gills! The siren song! Irresistible.

Red-gilled Dermocybe
Red-gilled Dermocybe

I’ll admit to a surfeit of Dyer’s Polypore, but this little one was exhibiting such generosity! I’d already cut it back to the ground a couple of weeks earlier, and here it was, creating yet more opportunity, just asking for another chance to give of itself. I couldn’t bear to disappoint it now, could I?

Phaeolus schweinitzii, second growth
Phaeolus schweinitzii, second growth

That’s all very well, but if you must look for mushrooms, have you never thought about turning your attention to something useful? I’m talking about the ones chefs covet, the ones foodies rhapsodize about.

I have nothing further to say.


Riches . . . embarrassment

Violet hedgehog
Violet hedgehog

Now I understand the meaning of the term, “embarrassment of riches.” Everyone’s talking about the abundance of mushrooms of all kinds this year, and we can certainly attest to that: our dehydrator is going non-stop, I have drying mushrooms spread all over my studio floor, and we continue to come home with piles of mushrooms after every hike in the forest. And the season isn’t over yet!

Sarcodon fuscoindicus

And this one—Sarcodon fuscoindicus, or Violet hedgehog—is a perfect example. Two years ago I was thrilled to find two or three specimens; last year I went back to the same spot and found none; this year I came home with 16 (yes, that’s one-six) pounds of them!

They weren’t all this size—in fact, I left quite a few buttons in case I get back to that area again—but I can’t wait to see what they do in the dyepot!

Dyer’s polypore + camisole = wow!

Most of my available mushroom time this season is being spent out in the forest, searching for—and finding—dye mushrooms. But I did put together one Phaeolus dyepot, just to get back into the groove and limber up the senses. I’ve tried “bottle shibori” with scarves before, so this year I decided to try the technique on a silk camisole. I found a suitable bottle (emptied of its original contents, Peat Project scotch, highly recommended) and wrapped the camisole diagonally, starting at the bottom of the bottle. I followed the silk with wrappings of dental floss, spacing it fairly tightly and scrunching it down toward the bottom of the bottle until the entire camisole was tied on. 

Bottle-tied shibori

I like this short, stout bottle because when I stood it upright in the dyebath (having filled it with plain water for stability), the camisole was completely submerged. After a good simmer in the rich colour of a few fresh buttons, I removed the bottle and immediately painted the outer folds with a concentrated copper solution.

camisole post dyeing

I might have removed the camisole as soon as the silk was cool, but the forest called out to me, repeatedly, and it was several days before I could return to this project. I wasn’t sure what to expect, and it took a few minutes to cut away the tightly wrapped dental floss (which had dyed a toothsome shade of yellow). Here’s what emerged:

bottle tied camisole

I only wish the camisole was of a size I could wear!