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 . . .
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) :
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.
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.
More grey than purple, but clearly darker with more heat. Worth playing with some more? I don’t think so.
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.)
Doesn’t the air smell wonderfully fresh after a new rain following weeks of dry weather? That’s called petrichor, and I filled my lungs with it this morning after hearing the welcome sounds of rain on the roof overnight. We didn’t get enough moisture to make much difference to the parched soil and dry moss, but maybe the mycelia below soil level were also heartened by the promise of the rainy season’s return.
Now I’m spinning up what bits of yarn are left from last year’s dyepots, and finally decided to do something with the Pycnoporellus roving I showed in my previous post. I needed to pop up the colour a bit, so decided to use a bright piece of wool that came out of a Cortinarius cinnamomeus dyepot, along with a vibrant chunk of synthetic fibre that went through the dyebath at the same time (the two sections on the far left).
It didn’t take much time to run it all through my handcarders, then I spun two strands of thick-and-thin, to give the skein some texture. I normally don’t like orange—probably because I can’t wear anything resembling that colour—but blending it with the warm peach resulted in another skein I love to fondle.
Now I’ll take any amount of petrichor that wants to come our way, as long as it means some real rain in the near future.
Like the rest of North America’s West Coast, we’ve had an exceptionally dry spring and early summer. Flowers, birds, berries—they’ve all been a few weeks early this year, and everything is scarily dry.
I’ve been away for three weeks and on my return was hesitant to go out into my Back 40, knowing the moss would be crunchy and the ground dry. But I needed my forest therapy (after a glorious but noisy and crowded holiday in Sicily), so out I went with Rica, my fantastic flying puppy.
And what should I find, in a spot where I’ve never found this mushroom before:
(I did find a few of these Velvet Pax at this time last year, but we’d had a cool, rainy June. I certainly didn’t expect to find it in our current conditions. Usually they appear in late July through September.)
This was on its own in open sun (growing out of wood under the moss), already getting parched. Down the hill, at the base of a shady stump where I’ve found these mushrooms in previous years, was another clump that still looked as if they had some growing to do, so I’ll keep an eye on them for now. My other usual spots haven’t revealed anything yet.
Along the trail, farther along, is my nurse log for Pycnoporellus fulgens. Even though I don’t get a striking colour from these, and I usually need two years’ worth of collecting to make one dyepot, I’m always happy to see them, as they are (usually) the first harbingers of mushroom season.
I’ve never seen this fungus in such a huge cluster before—this one is about four inches wide. Usually it appears as a single fan, perhaps in tiers (see my post from 2009 when I first realized what it was). As always, I’ll leave this to dry over the summer and start a new stash until I have enough for another pastel dyepot.
I feel honoured and privileged to have been invited to teach a workshop on mushroom dyeing at Maiwa this year.
Maiwa (pronounced MAY-wah) supports traditional craft, through an ethical business model, in the trade of embroidered, block-printed, handwoven, and naturally dyed textiles (mainly with India, but also with several other areas). Their dedicated staff seek out quality workmanship, and they do what they can to educate the purchasing public about the cultures, co-operatives, and lives of the artisans.
Every year, beginning in September and carrying on into November, Maiwa holds its Textile Symposium, with lectures, exhibitions, seminars, and workshops covering all manner of topics related to the fibre arts. Their teaching facilities are first-rate (Classroom space! Dyepots of all sizes! Heated drying racks! Extractors to remove smelly fumes! Assistants!) and their staff exceptionally helpful and efficient.
If you get a chance, visit one of their locations in Vancouver: their main store and Maiwa Supply, both on Granville Island, and Maiwa East at 1310 Odlum. Not only will you find garments, fabrics, and accessories, it’s also the go-to place for dyeing supplies and information. The shop at Maiwa East is filled with furniture unlike anything you’ll find in a big box. You can purchase documentary DVDs through their website and download podcasts of many of their symposium presentations.
Registrations opens June 22 at 10:00 am. I’ll be teaching a two-day workshop November 2 and 3.
My dear friend and wonderfully creative fibre artist behind the Ruby Slippers blog has made some beautiful fabric pieces by eco-dyeing—rolling flowers and leaves into little bundles, then steaming them. She has to leave these bundles alone for several weeks to ensure that the colours are imprinted, and when she can finally open them, the results are marvelous.
Eco-dyeing with mushrooms presents its own challenges, but when I noticed a layer of “dust” in the bottom of a box holding a bunch of dried Dyer’s Polypore (Phaeolus schweinitzii), a tiny light bulb sparked an idea. I dyed some silk scarves in a Phaeolus dyepot and removed them before the colour became too intense. Then I put them immediately into a pot of simmering water—a stop bath—to set the colour. Then I got to play, and here’s what happened.
I scooped up a few handfuls of Phaeolus bits—as the fungus dries, it seems to shed its layer of pores, which have turned dark brown, but I reasoned these bits would still contain pigment.
My search for something handy to use as a “stencil” took me to the kitchen utensil drawer. My dearest, who does all the cooking, probably wouldn’t have condoned my taking this up to my studio to be covered in inedible fungus dust, but in matters of mushroom dyeing, it’s always safer to follow the “ask forgiveness” rule. I sprinkled the bits into the slots with a liberal hand, then gave the whole thing a good spritz of water to keep everything in place. With care, I lifted the slotted spoon off the fabric, pleased to see that the design had stayed in place. I soon discovered, though, that the mushroom bits had minds of their own and were scattering themselves outside the design area. So I went along and sprinkled bits over the scarf’s surface, hoping for a speckled background.
I’d laid the scarf out on a long piece of plastic (cut from one of those ubiquitous shopping bags that I swear procreate under the kitchen sink) and began rolling, taking care not to disturb my designs.
Then it was a simple matter of tying the scarf tightly in three places . . .
. . . and putting it into a bamboo steamer where it steamed for thirty minutes one day and thirty minutes the next. (I did that because of timing—ordinarily I would have steamed it for an hour the first time.)
I decided not to wait three weeks to see the results. I figured the bits of Phaeolus would impart their colour quickly and permanently . . .
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.
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.
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.
And it wasn’t long before everyone was right into it.
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:
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
I live in the forest. I am happy to share with the forest. Squirrels are creatures of the forest. Damn them.
CELEBRATING THE BEAUTY OF SUNSHINE COAST MUSHROOMS