Tag Archives: mushroom dyeing

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 happy accident

After a break of several months—not a bad thing—I’m back in my cottage studio and the dyepots are heating up.

I’ve been playing with ecoprinting and decided it was time to commit to a finished piece rather than continue making small samples. So I retrieved from my stash an alum-mordanted wool/silk square, large enough to be a pocket square, and made a bundle using leaves collected on my daily dog walk: lupine, maple, blackberry, ginko, and something I have yet to identify. I had a little net bag of Lobster parings (Hypomyces lactilfuorum) left over from a workshop in April, so I decided to simmer them while at the same time (with the help of a wire sieve placed over the dyepot) steaming the wool/silk bundle.

I let the little dyepot simmer (Lobsters can handle boiling) outside. When I went to check it after half an hour or so, I found the dyebath bubbles reaching up into the sieve. The colour on the fabric looked pretty intense, so I turned the bundles over to expose another side to the steam.

This is what resulted.

I was surprised by the intensity of the color, and disappointed to see only the merest suggestion of an ecoprint. That particular fabric is woven fairly loosely, which I believe is more difficulty to print on.

I let the fabric dry, then ironed it, then rinsed it in warm water, then ironed it again. I see some interesting playtime with this process . . .

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.

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?)

Summer spinning

Mushroom season won’t be long now—I’ve found a few early Tapinella already, although most will appear later—so I’ve been playing on my spinning wheel with some of the colours I got last year. This batt contained Phaeolus gold and green, Pycnoporellus peach, and a bit of Sarcodon blue.

Mushroom batt ready to spin

With quite a lot of the blue already in my stash, I decided to ply the single, spun from the batt, with a blue single, resulting in this pleasant combination:

The yarn

As usual, I’m ending up with more yarn than I have time to do something with; perhaps this yarn will end up in someone else’s stash, someone who can put it to good use.

Rethinking Ramaria

Ramaria largentii
Ramaria largentii

My freezer has been home to masses of frozen Ramaria collected for the Fungi and Fibre Symposium dyepots, but I wanted to be sure it would give some good colour after being frozen for nine months. My earlier experiments with the frozen version of this mushroom resulted in a decent purple, but I didn’t want to take a chance on seeing a dozen international visitors hovering over a dyepot, watching and waiting for purple. And ending up with a blah beige.

So this lovely orange coral appeared in my Back Forty at the perfect time, when plans for the event are ticking along nicely and when my hands really needed to get into some dyepots. The coral came home with me and went straight into my sample dyepot along with a few strands of iron-mordanted yarn.

The results amounted to a revelation. I recant my previous musings about frozen Ramaria and about keeping the dyepot temperature on the low side. Here’s what happened (laid out on grey cardstock—the colours are true, at least on my screen) :

Ramaria samples, fresh and frozen

First, it doesn’t appear that the purple from Ramaria is quite so finicky as the other purple-bestowing mushrooms when it comes to temperatures (specifically Tapinella atrotomentosa and Omphalotus olivascens, which need to be watched carefully and pulled at ~160° F). Clearly the dyebath shouldn’t be allowed to reach boiling, but 170° F was the optimum for the first two sets of samples.

My second discovery: freezing Ramaria works if done for a short time but not for the nine months I subjected my stash to. So I returned the Symposium orange coral to the forest floor, and now I’m hoping for an outstanding harvest this year so our registrants won’t be disappointed.

At the same time as I found the Ramaria, I also found Clavulina coralloides in various stages of infection with Helminthosphaeria clavariarum, a fungus that routinely parasitizes this little coral.

Clavulina Coralloides 3pics
Since I was planning on doing some sampling anyway, I decided to try this one too—with the darkest of the infected coral—on the off chance the deep purple of the parasite might translate into the dyepot, again with an iron-mordanted test strand.

Clavulina samples

More grey than purple, but clearly darker with more heat. Worth playing with some more? I don’t think so.

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.)

Phellodon blue . . . with a wrinkle

Blue from Phellodon atratus
Blue from Phellodon atratus

Some friends came over this week to do a couple of dyepots with some dried mushrooms still in my stash. I pulled out a bag of dried toothed fungi that had been sitting in a drawer for a couple of years. When I picked them, I thought they were some sort of Hydnellum, not realizing that in fact I’d collected a good bagful of Phellodon, probably P. atratus, given the amazing blue they gave to the silk scarves in the dypeot. (The mushrooms had soaked overnight in an ammonia solution, which brought the dyepot up to a pH of 10 when we were ready to cook.)

But something interesting happened in the dyepot: Where elastic bands had been used to do some quick shibori, the silk was a coppery brown. At first we thought this might have been a reaction to the rubber in the elastic, but then we noticed this brown showed more faintly where the silk had been tied in loose knots. This warrants more experimenting, for sure. I still have enough of the dried mushrooms for another dyepot, so this is turning out to be an exciting way to start another season of mushroom colours—but first I have to exhaust what’s left in the first pot (these mushrooms seem to be very generous with their pigment; the dye liquor was rich and dark).

This is why I love mushroom dyeing—the learning never stops!