Mushroom Dyes Part 2 – Dyeing Process

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Ramaria sp. found in the spring.

by Erin Raymond

In the last post, we talked about getting ready to dye with mushrooms.  Now that all the prep work is done, we can start getting into the actual dyeing process!  Remember, don’t be discouraged if your results are mixed, especially at first.  Many dye mushrooms are quite prolific and you can no doubt solicit some of your mushroom hunting friends to collect for you to bulk up your supplies.  It is also worth noting once again, as in the first article to label all dye mushrooms as such and keep away from edible mushrooms you may have stored.  It is also recommended that you use separate pots and grinders (coffee grinder) than what you would use for food.

Dried mushrooms are typically used because you can accurately measure the weight of the mushrooms. Fresh mushrooms can also be used, but it can be hard to reproduce results because you do not know the water content of the fresh mushrooms. Typically a 1:1 ratio of fiber to dried mushroom weight is used.  Some mushrooms require you to use more or less, but a 1:1 ratio is a good place to start.

Break up the mushrooms as much as you can and cover with plenty of water.  For small amounts, grind and use a large tea bag.  Heat mushrooms just to boiling and then simmer for about an hour.  Some books/resources say to strain mushrooms before adding yarn.  I have never done this.

Before adding the yarn to the dyebath, you will want to soak it in warm water. This ensures  an even uptake of color. It is very important that you do not add cold wool to hot liquid. This will cause your wool to felt. Any dramatic temperature changes will damage the wool. Once your wool has been soaked squeeze out the excess water and slowly add the yarn to your dyebath. Do not let your dyebath boil. For most mushrooms you can leave the yarn in for a long time, even overnight (without heat of course, NEVER leave stoves on unattended). Rinse the wool in matched temperature water. Swing vigorously to remove excess water and hang to dry.

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Make sure you add the yarn slowly and try not to agitate it too much

You can save the dye bath for future use if it hasn’t been exhausted.  If I get a nice, dark color the first time around, I will typically add more yarn to see how much additional color I can get.  If it doesn’t dye much, or not at all, I’ll just save the yarn and dye it again later.

Here is a video that also talks about the dye process, Mushroom Dye Class from SOMA Mycology and shows some of the amazing colors you can get from various mushrooms.

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If you have a small amount of dye mushrooms, you can use half gallon mason jars in a large canning pot filled with water.  Make sure the glass does not come into direct contact with the bottom of the pot by using a canning rack.

Easy to Find Mushrooms and Lichens

Phaeolus schweinitzii

Also called the Dyer’s Polypore, P. schweinitzii is a particularly good dye mushroom.  You can typically dye more yarn per ounce than the usual 1:1 ratio.  Dye baths from this mushroom seem to go on and on, dyeing multiple skeins of yarn loosing intensity of color much more slowly than other mushrooms.  This is also a great mushroom because you can get 2 distinct colors using alum and iron as mordants.  P. schweinitzii can be found in the fall and is easy to ID.  It is a large mushroom so if you find one, you will probably have enough to dye with.

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Color variations possible from P. schweinitzii.  Green shades are achieved by the use of iron as a mordant, gold colors are obtained through the use of alum.

The pictures below are both pictures of P. schweinitzii at different stages.  The top picture is of a young specimen.  You can see the yellow color, particularly around the edges.  The mushroom at this stage will give you more vibrant colors.  Drying when young will preserve these color results.  The second picture is an older specimen.  It will still dye, but the colors will not be as bright.

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P. schweinitzii can be found in the fall at the base of dead and living conifers.  It favors Douglas Fir and pine.

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P. schweinitzii is common and can even be found occasionally in the city.  If you find an old one, make sure to look all around the tree for a younger one.

Ramaria sp.

This is an example of a mushroom that I have not found much information about in the dye books I have.  There are a number of people doing experiments with Ramaria sp. that have been kind enough to share their process and results online.

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Various shades of Ramaria sp. from spring and fall mushrooms.

This is a fun mushroom to experiment with because of the variety in color you can get.  I have gotten everything from grey to deep purple.  Iron is the only mordant I have used with this.  Precise  ID is not needed and various species can be found in the spring and fall.  Ramaria sp. are also an exception to the drying rule.  You do NOT want to dry this mushroom.  It is best to use fresh or, if you can’t use it right away, you can freeze it.

Here are links to 2 websites describing some experiments with Ramaria sp.

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Exact ID of Ramaria sp. can be difficult, but fortunately, it is not required for dyeing.

Letharia vulpina

letharia yarnYou can also get some great, vibrant colors from lichens.  One in particular, Letharia vulpina, is a good one to get started with.  It does not need any mordant or additional dye extraction process, as is the case with some other lichens.

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Image from Wikipedia

L. vulpina is also easy to identify, abundant here in the PNW and can be found year round.  One important note about gathering lichens is that you only want to collect them from the ground.  They are slow-growing and should not be picked off trees.  For this lichen, all you need is some wool yarn, a pot of water, heat and the lichen.

The picture below shows examples of all three of the mushrooms/lichen described above.  The entire top row are from Ramaria sp. found in the spring, all mordanted with iron.  The green and yellow on the lower left are from dried P. schweinitzii (iron and alum mordants) and the yellow on the bottom left is from Letharia vulpina using no mordants.

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Results from a successful day of dyeing