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Hydnellum of Many Colours

April 3, 2014
Hydnellum aurantiacum

Hydnellum aurantiacum

This beaul little mushroom, which grew in such abundance last year, has given me some lovely soft greens, but I wanted to see if I could encourage it to give some of the blues I know it’s capable of achieving. So our mushroom interest group—about ten interested members of the Sunshine Coast Spinners and Weavers Guild—focused on this one at our last session.

I’ve had good results by soaking the mushrooms overnight in water with the pH raised to 12 with ammonia, but this time I decided to use washing soda because we’d be cooking the mushrooms indoors, and the odour of washing soda is decidedly less caustic than that of ammonia. I also wanted to try other methods of bringing out the colour, along with a few mordants for each method.

Hydnellum colours

Hydnellum colours

In this image, each group of three skeins represents a different mordant, from left to right: no mordant, alum, iron, and copper

The three skeins in each group were processed as follows, again from left to right:

Mushrooms were soaked overnight in well water (pH 5.8). The following day, the skeins were added to the dyebath, which was brought to a slow simmer until the skeins were fully dyed.

Mushrooms were soaked overnight in well water brought to a pH of 12 with the addition of washing soda. The following day, the skeins were added, then the dyebath brought to a slow simmer until the skeins were fully dyed.

Mushrooms were soaked overnight in well water, then brought to a temperature of 170 degrees F. The dyebath was held at this temperature for 15 minutes, at which time the skeins were added and simmered until fully dyed.

We were pleased with the beauty of all of these colours, and I think I’ve convinced a few more potential mushroom dyers to enter this “dark hole”!

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Spreading the word

March 22, 2014

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.

The dried mushroom

The dried mushroom

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.

Getting comfortable with mushrooms

Getting comfortable with mushrooms

And it wasn’t long before everyone was right into it.

Mordanted samples

Mordanted samples

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:

No mordant: no knot; Alum: 1 knot;  Chrome: 2 knots ; Tin: 3 knots ; Copper: 4 knots;  Iron: 5 knots.

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.)

Into the dyepot

Into the dyepot

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.

Mushroom colour!

Mushroom colour!

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.

Phaeolus dye samples

Phaeolus dye samples

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.

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Out, damned squirrel!

March 16, 2014

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.

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Mushroom colours go together

February 10, 2014
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.

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Study in purple

January 3, 2014
Ramaria flavigelatinosa

Ramaria flavigelatinosa

“Study” implies lessons to be learned, and that’s certainly the case with this mushroom, Ramaria flavigelatinosa, an orange or pink coral.

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 Corridale 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 Ramaria flavigelatinosa

Purple from Ramaria flavigelatinosa

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?

PS I’m currently setting up an Etsy shop, and the purple camisole will be one of the first items on the market. Dharma Trading’s size medium doesn’t work for me—but I’m keeping the scarf for myself!

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Is this blue, or is this blue?

December 11, 2013
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 . . .

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The Intervention

November 5, 2013

Ann . . .

I prefer to be called Mushroom Annie.

Alright, then—Mushroom Annie, we’re here today to discuss a matter of serious concern that has come to our attention.

Go ahead. But please make it quick. A cold front is coming in next week, signalling the approaching end of mushroom season.

Uh, yes . . . I see that you understand already.

Understand what?

Your family and friends are worried about you. Your studio floor is covered with drying fungi, your dehydrator is churning out dried fungi, your front steps are littered with all manner of disgusting fungi, yet you persist in going out every day for more mushrooms. Does this not seem a touch worrisome?

Not at all. Why should it?

Well, for one thing, what about your friends? Are you not concerned that you might be neglecting them?

I have friends in my mushroom club, the Sunshine Coast Society for the Hunting, Recognition and Observation of Mushrooms (that’s SHROOM for short). Silas, my dog who accompanies me on all my forays, is my good friend. Even the forest fungi are my friends.

Listen, Ann . . . I mean Mushroom . . . oh, dammit, you know who I mean! You’re obsessed! You’re living a one-track life! You’ve allowed mushrooms to assume an importance beyond their worth! I’ve learned that you’re not even spinning in the evenings anymore! That time in front of your spinning wheel used to be sacrosanct—can’t you see what’s happening to you?

I miss spinning, I really do. But I keep finding Lobster mushrooms, and people keep giving me more, and they have to be pared before they go rotten. And speaking of Lobsters, I’ve already made concessions. My husband banned me from cooking the parings inside, because it made the house smell like, well, rotten lobsters. That was a major factor in my decision to turn our guest cottage into a mushroom studio.

You gave up B&B-ing in favour of mushrooms? This is more dire than I thought. How have you let it come to this?

All I can say is . . . well, consider my latest foray into what I call my backyard: acres and acres of forest where Silas and I can hike for hours without any human contact.

Do tell.

At the start of the trail was this intriguing photo op—how could I pass it up? And it’s a dyer—a bonus!

Sulfur tuft flowers

Sulfur tuft flowers

Once we reached the day’s foraging spot, as I clambered over logs and squeezed under deadfall in search of Dermocybes, I saw this Lobster peeking through the duff, tantalizing me to inspect a bit closer. I picked it, of course, and looked around carefully, only to find five more of these beauties, all ready to offer up their pigment. Do you know how hard it is to obtain red from natural dye sources?

Hint of lobster

Hint of lobster

And all this before I reached my goal: Dermocybes! The satiny finish! The scarlet gills! The siren song! Irresistible.

Red-gilled Dermocybe

Red-gilled Dermocybe

I’ll admit to a surfeit of Dyer’s Polypore, but this little one was exhibiting such generosity! I’d already cut it back to the ground a couple of weeks earlier, and here it was, creating yet more pigment, just asking for another chance to give of itself. I couldn’t bear to disappoint it now, could I?

Phaeolus schweinitzii, second growth

Phaeolus schweinitzii, second growth

That’s all very well, but if you must look for mushrooms, have you never thought about turning your attention to something useful? I’m talking about the ones chefs covet, the ones foodies rhapsodize about.

I have nothing further to say.

Matsutake

Matsutake

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