Friday, January 24, 2014

Mushroom Dyeing in January

I've been a bit lazy and not written any posts for this blog in the last few months.  September saw us traveling with Rick Steves Tours to the Baltic, in October I was back in Minnesota for a week for my mom's surgery, and in December we got a new puppy - life has not been the same since!  Oh, and then there's work...

But after attending a recent 'Dye Day', where several local spinners and dyers got together to jointly rent out an art center so we could make a mess in a warm place, I thought it was time to share again.

Violet Hedgehog mushrooms

 This fall in the Pacific Northwest we had the PERFECT weather for mushrooms.  I have not seen a year like this since I started hunting for these fungi!  One of the many finds this year was a mushroom known as the Violet Hedgehog or Sarcodon fuscoindicus/Hydnum fuscoindicum (depending on the taxonomy source).  Although it doesn't appear every year, this year it was very abundant.

It's a rather discreet tooth fungi that often grows in large clusters on the ground under salal, evergreen huckleberry, douglas fir and hemlock trees in our region.  When I went to identify my first find this year, I was surprised that it was missing from most of my mushroom ID books.  I had to head for the mushroom 'Bible' - Mushrooms Demystified by David Arora to find out more information.

The cap of these mushrooms ranges from 4-18cm, can be a bit depressed and is relatively dry.  The color ranges from a violet-black to raisin colored with a lighter colored margin. When you slice into them, the interior is almost black.  What helps to make this so distinctive - aside from the color - is the teeth on the underside of this mushroom.  When looking for them, they often blend nicely into the duff on the forest floor and unless you know what to look for, they are easy to miss.

Underside of the Violet Hedgehog mushroom

 I was able to collect about 3 pounds of these hedgehogs last fall.  I sliced them all up and dried them.  My three pounds was reduced to a scant 4 ounces!

This week, I got out my 4 ounces of dried mushrooms, soaked them in water and sat down with the book The Rainbow Beneath My Feet - A Mushroom Dyer's Field Guide by Arleen Rainis Bessette and Alan B. Bessette. I also reread a post from one of my favorite blogs by Finnish Dyer Leena Riihelä (Although she is not dealing with the exact same mushroom I am, they are closely related).

After all of my reading I proceeded to boil my mushrooms for about 2 hours in water, then I raised the pH of the dye bath with ammonia to about 8 1/2 and boiled them for another 2 hours.  (All of the sources I read suggested that in order to extract the blue color from hedgehog mushrooms the pH needs to be in the 8 to 9 range.)  I then let them cool overnight in the dye liquor to await 'Dye Day' the following day.

On 'Dye Day', I added water (and ammonia to keep the pH in the 8 1/2 range) to my dye liquor/mushroom combination and proceeded to bring it up to 185 F.  As the dye pot got closer to 185 F, the bubbles on top developed a bluish tinge.  At this point I strained out the mushrooms and started to add a sample skein to the dyepot.  The dyepot had lost it's blue tinge without the mushrooms in it and was only a dark brown/green. The sample skein stayed about the same color as when I added it to the dye pot. As any reasonable person would do, I panicked!  All this work and no blue!  After a consultation with some dyer friends, we added the mushrooms back into the pot and much to our pleasure the blue color started to reappear.  My sample skein immediately started to turn blue.

Using a dried dyestuff to yarn ratio of 1:1 (4 ounces of dried mushrooms to 4 ounces of total yarn), I added one skein of my handspun Shetland that was mordanted in a 10% alum, 5% cream of tartar solution prior to dyeing.  At about 20 minute intervals I added a second skein and then a third skein to the dye pot.  None of the skeins stayed in the dyepot for longer than half an hour.  When rinsed, the only color to rinse out was a brown/green color...not any of the blue.

As a further experiment, I removed some of the dye liquor without the mushrooms to a separate pot, added a small amount of a copper liquor solution I had made following Jenny Dean's recipe in Wild Color. This pot was held at 185 F for about half an hour.  The color of this skein was a very light green.

Blue skeins from the dyepot with hedgehog mushrooms and pale green skein from the dyepot with the copper liquor, mushroom dyepot liquor - but no mushrooms.

What I have concluded (which may or may not be accurate) is that the brown/green color that rinsed off and remained in the dyepot with the mushrooms may potentially be the brown spores of these mushrooms. There appeared to be some oxidation occurring in the dyepot (with mushrooms) when it was in the simmer temperature range and oxygen was being introduced to the solution.  At no other time did the surface of the dye liquor turn blue.  In my dyepot, I was only able to extract the blue dye when the mushrooms were in the pot.

I am looking forward to mushroom season next year in hopes that I will find more of these wonderful mushrooms.  I have also saved the mushrooms used in this dyepot (they are still a really dark blue-black) with the hope that I can extract more dye from them in the near future! 

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