Tag Archives: natural dyes

Spinning Omphalotus


After the usual seasonal hiatus, when mushrooms lie dormant and the garden takes priority, I’m back to dreaming of mushroom dyepots and all the potential therein: I’ve found the first early dye mushrooms in the back forest! More about those later, but for now I’ve started spinning the gorgeous violets I obtained from the Omphalotus olivascens (see my post of May 12). With a bit of experimenting, I’ve discovered that a mild vinegar rinse (pH3) seems to set the colour—rinsing in plain well water took some of the violet out and left a grey, and a rinse in pH9 did even moreso (good thing I tried it with just a small sample.)

I haven’t yet rinsed any of this dyed wool—I’ll spin them first, then set colour and twist at the same time.

I’ve taken each piece of dyed roving and divided it in half, spinning from darkest to lightest (the colours each successive exhaust dyepot gave me). I’ll spin two bobbins in this way, then ply them together, with the end result being one yarn that starts with the lovely dark violet and ends with the lightest purple-grey. In time, I’ll turn this into a scarf or a shawl, depending upon how much I end up with.

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!

It does grow back!

In an earlier post I described how I trimmed the young edges from a cluster of Phaeolus schweinitzii, to see if the fungus would grow back. That was on September 20; I went back to the same tree on October 13, to find that the polypore had indeed sent out new growth, although it was much thinner than the first growth and without the yellow fuzzy edges.

This is one tenacious mushroom!

Before trimming
After trimming

Awash in Phaeolus!

My dyepots—the large one on the propane burner outside under the deck, the small one on my hotplate in the mudroom, and my Crockpot—aren’t cooling down, and they’re all filled with Dyer’s Polypore. I keep finding beautiful young ones, still with their yellow fuzz—and people keep giving me ones they’ve found! I need to process them before they go brown, to get the best of their popping golds. I’m keeping the chunks of polypore after they’ve been through one boiling. Once mushroom season settles down (not that I’m wishing for that to happen), I’ll boil them up again and see what comes out of the exhausts.

In addition to wool rovings, I’m dyeing silk hankies, mohair, llama, Tencel, and even dog hair, which picked up the colour beautifully.

Before I forget . . . I want to see what it does to my own hair!

Immersed in golden dyepots

Phaeolus, three mordants

I’m finding so many beautiful dyer’s polypore this year, and the variations on gold are never-ending! I put these mordanted rovings in the dyepot together, knowing that the iron might affect the colours on the other two, which were mordanted with alum and copper. And it did, but not in a bad way. The colour produced by two good-sized clusters was so rich and strong that the iron’s “saddening” effect added some depth to the gold of the alum roving and to the rust brown of the copper one. (The iron roving is dark green.)

And then there’s the brilliant gold that took my breath away . . . this came from another two fresh clusters of dyer’s polypore, with enough pigment left over to have an exhaust dyebath (the wool on the right).

The best time of the year, without a doubt.

First dyebath, exhaust bath

Hydnellum caeruleun

Blue-gray Hydnellum

This image is a bit fuzzy, but it does show the Hydnellum “teeth” clearly. This is the first H. caeruleum I’ve ever found—the distinctive blue-gray border gave it away. It was a real surprise, given how dry it’s been lately, but these were growing in a shady spot near a stream.

These were in the same area as a good number of H. aurantiacum, so I’ll be able to do some comparison dyepots later in the season. For now, I’m mordanting as much fibre as I can, to get ready for the great mushroom pop-out that’s sure to happen soon. (Rain is predicted for later this week, so I have high hopes.)

Tapinella atrotomentosa (Velvet pax)

Velvet pax

Now I know it’s going to be a great mushroom season—I joined a friend this afternoon for a hike to Ambrose Lake, and right beside the trail we found a stump just overloaded with Velvet pax. (Note the fuzzy brown stems befitting its name. This mushroom is very easy to identify—it grows on old, mossy fir stumps or on the sides of mossy logs.) Unfortunately, my camera announced that its battery was gone, so I had to wait until I got home to take this picture.

The dried mushrooms on the right are from an earlier hike in our own back forest; the fresh ones on the left are from today’s hike. I counted twelve specimens, all from the same tree!

I’ll dry all the Velvet pax I find until the season is finished. This should be a marvellous dyepot!