by Erin Raymond
Once you are comfortable with the dye process, starting to play around with changing colors is really fun and adds a whole new level of excitement when dyeing with mushrooms. Adjusting your mushroom dyes is most commonly achieved by altering the pH. This can be done directly in the simmering dye bath or after in a separate bath, in which case no simmering is needed. To do this, you will need pH paper (I got mine on Amazon) and something to make your dye more alkaline or acidic. To increase the pH, I use washing soda and to decrease the pH, I use white vinegar. Ammonia can also be used to make an alkaline bath, but you need to be sure not to breathe in any of the vapors and the dye bath tends to become more neutral faster than with washing soda. When using washing soda, be sure to only add 1/8th tsp at a time, checking the resulting pH.
Hypomyces lactifluorum – Lobster mushroom
This is a good mushroom to use when you want to start experimenting with altering pH. The lobster mushroom is easy to identify and abundant in the PNW. Hypomyces are fungi that parasitize and disfigure other fungi. Hypomyces lactifuorum parasitizes certain russulas and lactariuses. This is also a great mushroom because it is also edible. If you find a prime specimen and you can’t decide if you want to use if for dinner or the dyepot, you can peel off the skin for dyeing, as the pigment is only in the red part, and use the white interior to eat. The best mushrooms to dye with are actually the older ones beyond the point of edibility.
Tapinella atrotomentosa (formerly Paxillus atrotomentosus) – Velvet Pax
This can be a fun or frustrating mushroom to dye with (depending on how you look at it) because it is very hard to predict exactly what color to expect. While I have only got green and grey, it is also possible to get blue and violet from this mushroom, depending on mordants and pH. Alum-mordanted yarn with a pH of 4 gives violet. Iron-mordanted yarn with no pH modification will result in a moss green color. If you alter the pH to 3 with vinegar, the color will turn blue. It is important to note that the mineral content of the water used does play an influence in the resulting color for this mushroom. You also want to use a 6:5 mushroom to fiber ratio instead of the standard 1:1 ratio.
Many of the unexpected blue and purple dyes you can get from mushrooms come from those with teeth. When out mushroom hunting, I will collect any mushrooms I find with teeth and try to identify them later. I always get excited when I find these mushrooms because I love experimenting with changing the pH and not always knowing what color I’m going to get. Terphenolquinones are a group of pigments that produce blue, green and purple colors from mushrooms such as Sarcadons and Hydnellums.
Getting the most out of these mushrooms almost always requires adjusting the pH. You will want to bring the pH of your dye bath up to 9 when dyeing with tooth fungi, but do not exceed a pH of 10. An alkaline bath produces better blue colors.
A couple additional things to keep in mind:
- Blue color does not dye well on silk.
- Iron-mordanted wool can become brittle and break in a high alkaline bath.
These are just a few examples of mushrooms you can easily start experimenting with. There have been many dye days where I had hoped for an amazing color and the result was beige or a light grey, not necessarily what I was going for. If this happens to you, and it will at some point, don’t be discouraged. This is what makes the process fun and different every time. In case you missed the previous articles, here are Part 1 – Getting Started and Part 2 – Dyeing Process.