Last week, the small town of Cordova was obsessed with mushrooms. It’s prime mushroom hunting season, and the annual festival was held. Mycologists from all over the country made the trek and we had a “mycoblitz” to try and identify as many local mushrooms as possible. But the mushroom hunting wasn’t just about eating. One of the experts who visited was Dorothy Beebee, famed mushroom dyeing expert and illustrator of the new book Mushrooms for Dyes, Paper, Pigments and Myco-Styx. Dorothy flew in to teach a workshop on mushroom dyeing. In the days leading up to the workshop, those of us who had registered went on mushroom forays. Here’s a bit of what we found.

It turns out Cordova is the home to lots of color-producing mushrooms. We learned on our hikes that certain mushrooms need the right light, heat and plants around them–for instance, where blueberries and dogwood grow under spruce, you’re likely to find the mushroom (above) that makes a salmon colored dye. There’s a lichen that makes a great coppery brown and a shelf-mushroom that makes a cool yellow-y green.

On Sunday we all gathered for the workshop. We were divided into groups and went to work cooking our dyebaths. It was pretty much as simple as chopping up the mushrooms and putting them in some water. All of our fiber samples (we had wool and silk) had been pre-mordanted (i.e. treated with a metal solution that helps the dye adhere) with alum or iron. Lichens actually have mordants built in, so they don’t require it in the fibers.

The fiber samples stayed in the dye bath for 30-60 minutes. Meanwhile we snacked on mushroom pizza 😉

Here are a few of the samples.

After dyeing the samples we did a second round of dyeing with yarn we had pre-mordanted with Alum. I haven’t photographed my yarn yet, but I’ll post it here soon. The colors in the yarn are more subtle since they were dyed second.

You can see all my pictures from the week on flickr.

UPDATE: Theresa of the Bagatell blog has a great post about her own mushroom dyeing class with detailed samples–she was collecting many of the same mushrooms that we were.

Dyeing with Mushrooms

15 thoughts on “Dyeing with Mushrooms

  • September 6, 2008 at 9:56 am
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    I had no idea you could dye with mushrooms. That’s fascinating! You’ve moved to a fantastic part of the world, haven’t you?

  • September 6, 2008 at 2:56 am
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    I had no idea you could dye with mushrooms. That’s fascinating! You’ve moved to a fantastic part of the world, haven’t you?

  • September 6, 2008 at 2:35 pm
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    Amy, as usual, fascinated and amazed how you find so many who love the art of fiber where ever you are. I can’t find anyone around here for anything (quilters, but since I don’t quilt, well……)

  • September 6, 2008 at 7:35 am
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    Amy, as usual, fascinated and amazed how you find so many who love the art of fiber where ever you are. I can’t find anyone around here for anything (quilters, but since I don’t quilt, well……)

  • September 7, 2008 at 2:51 am
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    Oh, I can’t wait to see the yarns!!

  • September 6, 2008 at 7:51 pm
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    Oh, I can’t wait to see the yarns!!

  • September 7, 2008 at 6:39 am
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    I live in Finland and they are crazy about mushroom hunting here too. I suppose we have very similar flora and fauna to you guys. However, after mushroom hunting while pregnant last year and then eating some of the mushrooms I developed a strong dislike to them (damn pregnancy, I loved mushies beforehand). But now I have an alternate use for the millions of mushies we will no doubt collect next weekend when we go to countryside – excellent! We collect the blueberries too and they are delicious – last year’s crop lasted us right into the spring this year (we froze them).

  • September 6, 2008 at 11:39 pm
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    I live in Finland and they are crazy about mushroom hunting here too. I suppose we have very similar flora and fauna to you guys. However, after mushroom hunting while pregnant last year and then eating some of the mushrooms I developed a strong dislike to them (damn pregnancy, I loved mushies beforehand). But now I have an alternate use for the millions of mushies we will no doubt collect next weekend when we go to countryside – excellent! We collect the blueberries too and they are delicious – last year’s crop lasted us right into the spring this year (we froze them).

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  • September 8, 2008 at 1:16 am
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    Mushroom hunting and the ensuing mushroom omelettes loom large in my childhood memories (back in Belgium). Sadly, no mushroom season in sub-tropical Brisbane (Qld)! How I envy your wonderful experience in Alaska, until I remember how COLD it gets! I have had fun dying with turmeric, setting it with benign vinegar. I wonder if ‘ordinary’ mushrooms could be used for dying, and are there alternatives to metal mordants? Jacqueline

  • September 7, 2008 at 6:16 pm
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    Mushroom hunting and the ensuing mushroom omelettes loom large in my childhood memories (back in Belgium). Sadly, no mushroom season in sub-tropical Brisbane (Qld)! How I envy your wonderful experience in Alaska, until I remember how COLD it gets! I have had fun dying with turmeric, setting it with benign vinegar. I wonder if ‘ordinary’ mushrooms could be used for dying, and are there alternatives to metal mordants? Jacqueline

  • September 13, 2008 at 3:05 pm
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    Fascinating! I knew about lichen dyeing, but not mushrooms. We did a bit of it in grade school and I have a strong recollection of the earthy smell. That and all the rain seem so familiar (since I grew up in the specific northwest) and yet so strange. Not a lot of fungus here in the desert.

  • September 13, 2008 at 8:05 am
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    Fascinating! I knew about lichen dyeing, but not mushrooms. We did a bit of it in grade school and I have a strong recollection of the earthy smell. That and all the rain seem so familiar (since I grew up in the specific northwest) and yet so strange. Not a lot of fungus here in the desert.

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