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!
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 . . .
My dyepots have been cool for several months now—fall is the time for collecting dye mushrooms, and it was a fairly good season, all in all—so here’s a photo of something else I made in the summer. These were in response to a call for entries for an exhibit, “Under My Feet,” put on by my fibre mentor and textile artist extraordinaire, Yvonne Stowell, in her lovely space, FibreWorks Gallery, in Madeira Park.
Papermaking takes second place to dyeing and spinning, but occasionally I get the urge to mix up a vat of mushroom pulp, pull out the molds and deckles, and make a right good mucky mess. Yvonne’s call for entry came at a time when I decided I needed some slip-on shoes specifically for my studio (the bright orange Crocs just don’t do it for me), so I used a pair of almost-falling-apart house slippers as molds.
I first made the soles (using pulp made from red-belted conk, or Fomitopsis pinicola), cutting several layers of paper around an outline of the slipper soles and pressing them together—”laminating” sounds more sophisticated, doesn’t it? Then I draped more cut-to-shape pieces over the tops, again pressing several layers together. I hadn’t planned how to secure the various parts to the soles, but my hands naturally went into piecrust mode, and that seemed to work, so for continuity, I continued that pattern around the backs of the soles. The shoes needed some embellishment, and I had lots of leftover Dyer’s Polypore (Phaeolus schweinitzii) pulp on hand, and I used that to make some brown diagonal bands. Phaeolus pulp is quite crumbly, and I had to be careful to keep it from falling apart.
I covered everything loosely with plastic wrap, to keep the shoes from warping, but after a few weeks I noticed bits of white mold were taking root. I removed the slippers and stuffed the openings with crumpled newspaper, placed them on a mesh screen to encourage the bottoms to dry, and left them under a very loose tent of plastic. When everything had dried, the dark brown bands were still crumbly, so I gave everything a waterproofing coating.
Mushroom paper being what it is, I didn’t expect to come up with anything dainty or delicate; “robust” is probably a better word to describe these (although they weigh almost nothing). However, they’ll end up being for display only—these thick soles have absolutely no capacity to bend, and stomping around flat-footed is a bit ungainly!
Don’t expect me to create a line of fashionable paper shoes—not in the immediate future, anyway.
Every aspect of mushroom dyeing and fibre preparation is a joy, and I could always use more time at these pursuits, but the ultimate pleasure, the end goal of all of this, is the spinning. I love to feel the smooth fibres slipping through my fingers as the wheel works its magic and twists them into a thread that winds onto the bobbin. If I’ve blended colours or fibres, it’s exciting to see how they come together into a single strand, and then how plying two or more strands results in a balanced yarn. As I wind the yarn onto my niddy-noddy, the length of it again slides through my hands, and when I’ve tied it into a skein, I get to fondle it once more. Who knew yarn could be so tactile, so sensual?
This yarn was the result of carding some blah colours into batts, which I then brightened up with some leftover bits of orange and gold. I spun this deliberately chunky and used two plies of this with one ply of straight Hydnellum green—the result ended up not blah at all. When I ran out of one strand of the chunky, I plied the other with what was left of the green; hence the smaller, greener skein that sits on top.
I love this colour, and until I fire up a few more dermocybe dyepots, this is all I have of it. I added texture by”stacking” a thin ply over the soft texture of a thick-and-thin ply.
I made this yarn from the results of several Phaeolus dyepots, combining shades of gold and green. The “icicle,” a synthetic product, picks up colours wonderfully and adds a bit of zing to the finished yarn.
I had fun with these skeins. I spun them from a soft white roving, my reliably go-to fibre, then dipped parts of them in each of three dyepots: dyer’s polypore (Phaeolus schweinitzii), lobster (Hypomyces lactifluorum), and Hydnellum aurantiacum. The colours overlapped quite nicely.
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.
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.
This was one of the more fun yarns I’ve spun recently—I combined on my drumcarder several colours that resulted from my various Dyer’s Polypore (Phaeolus schweinitzii) dyepots over the season (samples are taped to the white paper). Then as I spun, I added bits of “icicle,” a shiny synthetic fibre that really pops the colour, to give the yarn a bit of glint. It doesn’t show up that well in the photos, but it’s just enough to add some sparkle.
The wool is all merino, leaving the two-ply yarn with a lovely, soft hand. Another skein to fondle!
My Phaeolus dyepots are all done now, so while I move on to the mushrooms that have been drying for the last few months, I’m spending my evenings spinning these beautiful gold fibres.
I dyed some llama rovings in a Phaeolus dyepot (the three strands of fibre on the right—mordanted in copper, iron and alum, left to right)—and I love the gentle way they picked up the colour.
The llama was beautiful to spin, but very slippery. I blended the three hues into one yarn, then used two plies of that with one ply of thick-and-thin merino, to give the final yarn some body. This skein feels lovely and soft.
Then I carded together several shades (in merino) and got an interesting heather effect.
I also had some mohair locks that just soaked up the brilliant gold. I cut these into manageable bits, which I encased between plies of the merino. Unfortunately, it didn’t go very far—next year I’ll have to dye much more than a couple of handfuls—but this little skein is magic and would be good to use in combination with the merino yarn.
Even though my dyepots are still going strong, it’s time to start spinning the mass of fibre accumulating around the house. The first yarn of the season, which I’m spinning now, will be a blend of these three colours.
I’m preparing the fibre on my handcarders as I go, making some rolags of one colour and some with two colours blended. This merino cards up so beautifully—it’s a dream to spin.
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!
CELEBRATING THE BEAUTY OF SUNSHINE COAST MUSHROOMS