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.
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.
Proving once again that mushroom dyes sit well together.
“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.
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.)
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.
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:
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?
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.
When 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?
CELEBRATING THE BEAUTY OF SUNSHINE COAST MUSHROOMS