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Omphalotus adventure

Posted on Dec 2, 2010 by in mushroom dyes, natural dyes | 7 comments

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.

Omphalotus olivascens can yield a variety of dye colors, ranging from green to purple to gray, and sometimes even blue!

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.

Omphalotus olivascens in the dye pot, ready to be simmered

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.

Omphalotus olivascens dye bath after simmering the mushrooms for one hour

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.

Omphalotus olivascens

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!

The two skeins on the top are dyed with mature Omphalotus olivascens, the two skeins on the bottom are dyed with younger Omphalotus olivascens. The two skeins on the left are mordanted with alum. Not sure if the age of the mushrooms has anything to do with the dye color; more likely it’s the strength of the dye bath.

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).

By adding vinegar to create an acidic dye bath, I was able to obtain purple dye on unmordanted wool yarn with Omphalotus olivascens. Difficult to capture the color with a camera.

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.

By adding some water in which rusty objects had been soaking to the dye bath, I got shades of khaki on wool and silk. (Again, it’s difficult to capture this with a camera.)


  1. this is so interesting. when i was in the throes of fungi dyeing, i scored a lovely lavender from what i thought was a red polypore (i have no idea if i was right–working from bad field guide) and that color has haunted me. i wish i had seen the yarns before they grayed out.

    • Hi Velma. I wished that I had taken a photo of the skeins in the dyepot. The colors were wonderful! Your lavender from the red polypore sounds intriguing. So much to discover…

  2. Can’t wait to see your photos of the dried yarn. Keeping my fingers crossed for the lavender and grey tones to last!

  3. Lovely pictures! I thought that we had trouble making purple because our mushrooms were young, but it looks like you used young ones without a problem. Last year we got a rich purple (with alum mordanted yarn) using a mushroom that was almost rotten. Bummed we didn’t have the same result this time around.

    • Hi Myra, The purple yarn shown at the bottom of the post was from a different dye bath than the young mushrooms pictured at the top. The mushrooms that yielded the purple yarn were older, as I recall, so it could be that your theory is correct. Always a learning process, isn’t it?

  4. Great job! Have you tried using iron as a mordant? I just started getting into dyeing so I’m curious about all of the possibilities. I recently used the stems of Gomphidious oregonensis to yield a beautiful buttery yellow dye wit Alum mordant. Cheers!

    • Yes, I have, Troy. I got some beautiful greens with Omphalotus on iron-mordanted yarn. Good luck with your dyeing projects!


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