Tag Archives: mushroom dyeing

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 . . .

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!

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!

Six shades of . . . purple

Omphalotus yarnWhen I sat down to spin the lovely Omphalotis purple, I decided to keep separate the six different shades that emerged from successive exhausts of the same dyepot. So I split the wool of each shade in two and, working from darkest to lightest, spun two plies of about the same length and with the same gradations of colour. These I plied together into one skein.

As these special colours flowed through my hands and onto the bobbin, I realized that I’d put two different types of wool into the dyepots, one a bit coarser than the other. Not to worry—whatever I make with this will be for myself, and with sich royal hues upon my person, what possible complaints could I have?

Omphalotus olivascens

Omphalotus ready to go
Omphalotus ready to go

I was fortunate enough to obtain a quantity of these mushrooms (dried) from the amazing Alissa Allen (see mycopigments link at the side), who’d collected them in December around Arcata, California. I was swooning in anticipation, because these beauties are purported to give a violet colour, and they don’t grow this far north. So here they are, having soaked overnight in my well water, ready to be cooked up.

Here, then, the results, from left to right: First dyepot, unmordanted wool; first dyepot, mordanted with iron; second dyepot, mordanted with iron; third dyepot, mordanted with copper; fourth dyepot, mordanted with iron; fourth dyepot, mordanted with copper.

As an experiment, I took a bit of wool from the first violet sample and placed it in an ammonia solution (pH9) to see if that might bring out even more of the violet. To my dismay, the sample (seen at the left, under the first violet sample) quickly turned grey. A striking grey, but grey nonetheless. Next to that grey sample is a bit of synthetic “icicle” that picked up the violet colour without a problem.

Being unwilling to let go of this potential colour, I tried yet another exhaust with my little samples, but it was clear the pot had nothing more to give than an uninteresting beige, so I was forced to return what was left back to the forest.

This has been a very exciting dyepot, and I still have half ot the dried Omphalotus to play with again!

Hydnellum green

Hydnellum Green
Hydnellum Green

Hydnellum aurantiacum

My first dyepot after a long winter hiatus! I was trying for blue, using a good lot of Hydnellum aurantiacum and following directions provided by my mushroom dye mentor, Susan Hopkins.

I broke the dried fungus into small pieces, soaked them overnight in plain water, then the next day brought them up to ~170-180 degrees F and held that for an hour. The fibre and silk went into the dyepot the next day, when I added enough ammonia (neither sudsy nor flavoured) to raise the pH to 9. Another hour at the same not-quite-boiling temperature, and I was hoping beyond hope to see the lovely blues that are possible from this toothed fungus.

The one thing I didn’t do: I didn’t use distilled water. Our own well water is neutral in almost every way, except that it’s high in calcium. I wonder if that might have made the difference.

I won’t say I’m disappointed with this soft sage green, because I’m not, and I have another variety of Hydnellum yet to try—hope springs eternal!

Close-ups of the handspun

Thick ‘n thin: Hydnellum
Coils: Dermocybe

I had the good fortune to attend a spinning workshop by the amazing and inspiringJacey Boggs last summer, where she opened my eyes about the possibilities in handspun yarn. Here are some close-ups of a couple of the mushroom-dyed skeins I posted about a few days ago. The pink one, dyed with dermocybes (the darker shade was mordanted with iron), is spun with coils, while the green yarn, dyed with Hydnellum, is one thin strand plied with a thick-and-thin strand.

Now I have even more reason to fondle my handspun!