Tag Archives: Hypomyces lactifluorum (Lobster)

Crazy lobster colour

This was an unintended experiment with unintended—and happy!—results. I’m not yet finished with it, but since many mushroom dyers are finding and dyeing with Hypomyces lactifluroum (Lobster mushrooms) right now, I wanted to pass this along.

Lobster red

These brilliant reds are actually from an exhaust bath . . . really! Here’s how they came about:

In the spring of 2018 I gave a dye workshop on Vancouver Island. The previous two mushroom seasons had been very poor because of extremely dry summers, and I didn’t have a lot of dried mushrooms to play with, but still had a few lobster parings on hand. I set aside 25 grams of these for the workshop and, as usual, put them in an old nylon stocking for the dyebath.

The workshop got some good results, and when none of the participants wanted to take the spent lobster parings home with them (probably put off by the fishy aroma), I took them home myself. The first exhaust gave a pale orangey pink; the second exhaust a disappointing beige. I had heated these in a makeshift double boiler (the dyebath in a large glass jar that sat in a pot of boiling water), and I just left the disappointing parings where they were, to be dealt with later. This is a bad habit, I know, because so often those spent mushrooms can be most unpleasant to deal with later, but the jar got left, ignored, over the winter and into the spring (we’re now talking spring of 2019).

Lobster dyebath one year later

In my pre-dyeing-season cleanup, I rediscovered the jar, only to find that the liquid (in which the pared bits were still steeping), now much reduced through evaporation because I’d left it outside uncovered, had turned a brilliant deep red!

Into a small dyepot it went, with just enough water to cover a generous piece of wool roving.

The colour in the rovings in the image at the top of this post is uneven because I didn’t want to agitate the wool in such a small amount of liquid. The wool at the bottom of the basket is actually the fourth exhaust, and there’s more to go. The wool was mordanted with alum; no modifiers were used, although in the end I might dip them in a high-pH solution to shift to a more purply red.

So hang onto those Lobster parings, fellow dyers! You never know what might result.

A progression of lobster

Stages of Hypomyces parasitization
Stages of Hypomyces parasitization

If it seems like it’s been a while since I last posted . . . it has. Despite the dry summer, the mushrooms are coming out now, so most days we’re out scouting our favourite spots.

We discovered one particular patch of Lobsters (Hypomyces lactifluorum) two years ago and hadn’t been back since, but we decided to check it out this morning. Strangely enough, there were very few other mushrooms around, but our patch didn’t disappoint; we came home with a good ten pounds of the beauties, most of them already breaking apart. But that doesn’t matter to me—I’ll strip the coloured bits no matter how fragile or smelly their hosts might be.

And it was interesting to see the various stages of progression: from an uninfected Russula brevipes to one starting to show a bit of colour, to one in the full stages of orange.

My evening work is cut out for me—paring mushrooms! Now we’re certain to have a strong Lobster dyepot for next year’s Fungi & Fibre Symposium. (Have you marked your calendars yet? October 17-22, 2016, Madeira Park, BC.)

Playing with lobsters, Part IV

Lobster scarf_1
Lobster scarf_1
Lobster handprint scarf_2
Lobster scarf_2

Lobster dyepots are so magnanimous, and this was the last gift my most recent dyepot gave me before its colour was exhausted. The scarf started out a so-so shade of pink, so I had an idea to fold it loosely into diagonal accordion pleats and paint the edge of each fold with a solution of washing soda and water, to make a design of purple stripes. Yet another lesson: a solution painted onto damp silk will not stay put but will spread as far as it can into the fabric. But that was okay—the scarf, when dry, was an attractive shade of purply-pink, mottled with the original so-so pink.

But it still needed something. Having little to lose at this point, I decided to use a vinegar solution, at the other end of the pH scale, to paint some stylized handprints on the fabric. But this time I had my iron at the ready, and each “finger,” after being brushed on, was immediately cauterized. The effect was more pronounced when the design was still wet, but it’s still there, adding what I hope is a pleasing visual texture.

At that point it was time to stop. Thank you, Hypomyces lactifluorum.

Playing with lobsters, Part III


So many learning experiences, all of them valuable. This coil yarn emerged from a dyepot of lobster mushrooms (Hypomyces lactifluorum) a lovely strong orange, just what I wanted for my next experiment: I planned to “highlight” each individual coil with a washing soda solution, which turns the orange into a shade of magenta. Wouldn’t that be striking, I thought—orange yarn with evenly spaced magenta coils.

I towel-dried the yarn as soon as it had cooled and set about painting each coil with a tiny brush dipped in the soda solution. And the results were immediate: magenta coils strung together by an orange yarn. But there was one thing I hadn’t taken into account. A solution painted onto wet fibre will bleed into said fibre—the wicking principle. So when I returned to my studio the next day to admire my results, I was greeted by a beautiful almost-entirely-magenta yarn, punctuated here and there by a few orange strands.

Oh, well . . . that gives me an excuse to spin another coiled yarn and try all over again.

Playing with lobsters, Part II

This was interesting. I’d done triple rows of shibori stitching to create a design on the front of this camisole, but the Lobster (Hypomyces lactifluorum) dyebath didn’t give me the vivid red or orange I had hoped for. So I decided to try for graduated colour shifts by letting the bottom half of the camisole sit in the exhaust bath for a couple of days. Then I raised some of it out, leaving the lower part to sit and absorb colour a bit longer. I didn’t heat this up again, but I let the camisole dry without rinsing, then I ironed the whole thing, hoping the heat would help set the colour.

This method seemed to have worked; I rinsed the camisole the following week, and the colour gradations remained.

Playing with lobsters, Part I

Even though last year’s harvest of Lobster mushrooms (Hypomyces lactifluorum) was bounteous beyond belief, I’ve been careful about using up all the parings. These wonderful fungi could decide to take a year off this autumn, as has happened in the past, and I don’t want to deplete my supply. Having had success with the Tiger Camisole, I decided to do something similar with the Lobsters.

Camisole with lobster, front
Camisole in lobster, front

This was interesting: I’d wrapped and tied the silk piece around a stubby glass bottle, which I stood upright in the dyepot. Unbeknownst to me, the bottle had tipped over halfway through the process, leaving a half-dyed part exposed to the air—a happy accident indeed. The half-dyed bits were a brilliant orange, while the fabric that remained in the liquid dyed a deep red. I definitely need to play with this characteristic some more (assuming it will happen again).

Camisole with lobster, back
Camisole in lobster, back

This is the back view.

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.

A bun dance of lobsters!


At last, a grand year for Hypomyces lactifluorum! We’re finding them in all the old locations (some of which had been bereft of lobsters since 2009) and in some new spots as well. And members of the Sunshine Coast SHROOM have been more than generous in sharing some of their finds, so we’re assured of having some brilliant dyepots at our forthcoming Mushroom Festival and show on October 19

It’s taken me several evenings to pare off the orange “skins” from several bags’ worth of these wonderful fungi, and here they are, spread out to dry in my studio, youngest to oldest, left to right. As they dry, the ones that were wet and soggy at picking have developed an even richer colour, promising some exciting results. I do notice a peculiar aroma on entering the space, but I consider that just one of the hazards of the job.

And the season has only just begun!