A walk in the woods on a beautiful Thanksgiving morning yielded a fresh cluster of Omphalotus olivascens mushrooms for the dye bath. I had learned from mushroom dye expert extraordinaire, Dorothy Beebee, that Omphalotus on alum mordanted fibers can yield a purple dye, and a lavender dye on unmordanted fibers.
After cutting up the mushrooms (which weighed 10.75 ounces), I put them in a stainless steel pot with a gallon of rain water, which is all I had collected in a bucket outdoors. I am planning to install a rain barrel soon, so that I have a bigger supply of rain water.
Since I had other plans for the rest of the day, I just let the mushrooms sit in water overnight, and when I checked the pot the next day, the liquid was a beautiful gold color. After simmering the mushrooms for an hour it became a wonderful maroon color.
Again, I had other obligations, so I set the covered dye pot aside and returned to my experiment that evening. I removed the mushrooms and set them aside in a glass jar, and then added one skein of unmordanted yarn, and one skein that had been mordanted in alum and cream of tartar, for a total yarn weight of approximately 2.6 ounces.
After 45 minutes in the dye bath on low heat (just below simmering), the unmordanted yarn had turned a beautiful lavender, and the mordanted a dark purple! I didn’t want the colors to get much darker. Ideally, I probably should have let the skeins cool in the dye bath, before removing them, but I was impatient (gotta work on that), and took them out about 15 minutes after turning off the heat. I put them directly into a bowl of warm tap water to rinse them, and let them sit for 15 minutes or so. In the water an odd thing happened… the purple yarn turned to dark gray. And then when I lifted the lavender yarn out of the water, it started becoming more gray! Oh no! Could it have been the chemicals in the tap water causing the change?
I asked Dorothy about this, and she suggested that letting the dyed yarn dry so that it sets before rinsing it may prevent color changes. I will definitely do this next time and see what happens. So many variables to learn about!
When I first lifted the skeins from the water, I cut off a yard of each and did a little experiment that I learned from the book Mushrooms for Dyes, Paper, Pigments & Myco-stix by Miriam Rice. I filled 3 glass jars with 1/2 cup of the dyebath liquid and put 1 tsp. of either baking soda, cream of tartar or vinegar in each of the jars. Then I added a piece of both mordanted and unmordanted yarn to each jar. After one hour I removed the pieces of yarn from the jars. The vinegar (acid) helped preserve some of the lavender color on the unmordanted yarn, while the baking soda (alkaline) caused it to turn a very light gray.
I am adding a note to this post two weeks later:
On December 12th, I collected some more mature Omphalotus olivascens (weighing 24 ounces) and made another dye bath.
Again, the yarn looked lavender or purple after 45 minutes in the dye bath, and gray in the final outcome. This time I didn’t rinse the yarn in tap water, but I put 5 cups of the after bath plus 2 Tbsp. of vinegar into a bowl and soaked the wet yarn for about 10 minutes. Then I gently squeezed the yarn and hung it to dry. The mordanted yarn is dark gray, and the unmordanted yarn (top right in photo below) is gray with a strong lavender cast to it. It some lights it looks very lavender, in others completely gray!
Well, gray yarn isn’t what I was hoping for, but I have learned a lot, which is part of the fun. I’ll be taking some more classes from Dorothy at the upcoming SOMA Wild Mushroom Camp in Occidental in January, and will report back with more mushroom dye adventures.
Note added January 6, 2012: This morning I made a small dye bath with 1 medium sized Omphalotus olivascens (forgot to weigh it). I just learned that the pH of the dye bath is the key to obtaining lavender and purple. In one of Miriam Rice’s books, she says an acidic dye bath of pH4 is required for lavender colors. I added a few splashes of vinegar (not measured) directly to the dye bath, and both alum mordanted and unmordanted yarn came out beautiful shades of lavender or purple depending on the time in the dye bath (from 5 to 10 minutes).
I also experimented with adding some iron water (from old rusty objects soaking in a jar of water with a splash of vinegar) to the dye bath and got some lovely shades of khaki on yarn and silk.