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wild mushroom camp adventures

Posted on Jan 20, 2011 by in mushroom dyes, natural dyes |

Mycophiles from far and wide convened in Occidental, California last weekend for the annual gathering sponsored by the Sonoma County Mycological Association. I attended in hopes of sharpening my mushroom identification and foraging skills, as well as my knowledge of mushroom dyes, and I was not disappointed!

During the weekend I attended two forays, a class on mushroom cultivation taught by Ken Litchfield, two mushroom dye classes taught by Dorothy Beebee, a very entertaining talk by mushroom expert Gary Lincoff, and a delightful feast featuring a variety of mushroom dishes. I also enjoyed socializing and sharing information with many of the interesting and creative people who were there.

Dorothy Beebee enlightens us on the use of Gymnopilus spectabilis for a buttery yellow dye.

The mushrooms and polypores that we used for dye making in the classes were Pisolithus tinctorius (tan to gold dye), several varieties of Dermocybe species (pink, salmon and red dyes), Gymnopilus spectabilis (butter yellow dye), and Omphalotus olivascens (gray, green and purple dyes).

The first step was to mordant some small skeins of wool yarn in alum and cream of tartar. Meanwhile, mushrooms were being broken into small pieces, added to stainless steel pots of water and simmered for about an hour. We then put our alum mordanted skeins along with some sample strips of unmordanted, iron mordanted and alum mordanted wool and silk into the dye pots, leaving them there for roughly 30 minutes. These small strips clearly show the variations of the different mordants, and I am now inspired to try iron mordant on some on my future dye projects.

The most popular dye bath in Dorothy’s classes tends to be the amazing red of the Dermocybe species (also called Cortinarius). Both fresh and dried Dermocybe mushrooms were added to the dye pot, yielding some spectacular reds.

mushroom dye samples, clockwise from top left: Pisolithus tinctorius, Democybe spp., Gymnopilus spectabilis, Omphalotus olivascens

I was delighted to find a few Dermocybe cinnamomea on one of my forays, and another student found a large patch of Dermocybe phoenicea to take back home to Alaska!

A few specimens of the highly sought after Dermocybe phoenicea, which yields a beautiful red dye

On the final day of classes the dye pots were refreshed with more mushrooms, but a larger number of items were being dyed, so the resulting colors were more pastel.

wool yarn mordanted with alum and dyed with mushrooms (left: Dermocybe spp., right: Gymnopilus spectabilis)

Felting expert Katharine Jolda hangs a finished piece on a drying rack filled with a few student samples

We also tried an experiment with 4 pounds of Gomphus clavatus that someone dropped off at the classroom after a foray. This mushroom can yield a lavender dye with iron mordant, but it takes a large quantity to produce much color. We didn’t have any iron mordanted yarn to try in the dye bath, so we added the iron and cream of tartar directly to the dye bath and put in about 4 ounces of wool and fabric. Unfortunately a light gray was all that resulted.

If you are interested in a very informative book on mushroom dyes, try Mushrooms for Dyes, Paper, Pigments & Myco-Stix by Miriam C. Rice, with illustrations by Dorothy M. Beebee.

I now have more beautiful samples of yarn, and inspiration to delve deeper into the world of mushroom dyes. Tomorrow I am going mushroom hunting on a nearby ranch in hopes of finding enough mushrooms to teach a small class to some of the artisans of the Fibershed Project. More on that later.

Meanwhile, I am just about finished with a scarf I am knitting that uses some of my hand-dyed yarn stash. The pinks are from both Dermocybe mushrooms and Toyon leaves; the tans and browns are from a variety of sources: Phaeolus schweinitzii, Pisolithus tinctorius and walnut hulls. The pattern is ideal for using up small skeins of yarn, and I will be making another one with some of my indigo dye samples, no doubt.

knitted scarf made of wool yarn dyed with mushrooms and plants