Tag Archives: mushroom

Local Fungi to Dye For

Everyone knows that some mushrooms are edible, but did you know that certain species of fungi and lichen can create dye for yarn and other materials in every spectrum of the rainbow?  When Bessette wrote her book “The Rainbow Beneath My Feet: A Mushroom Dyers Field Guide”, she was being quite literal! I had the unique opportunity to scout for local dyeing mushrooms as part of a workshop led by SE Alaska mycologist Karen Dillman. We used the newly acquired mushrooms to dye yarn and silks. There is no doubt that I look at the forest floor with a different level of detail now! I think I may be hooked on this unique form of creating color.

All of these colors and more can be produced by mushrooms and lichens. Colors vary on species and treatment of the fungi while boiling.

A Bit of History

Natural dyes extracted from plants, minerals, and even fungi and lichens have been used for more than 5,000 years. In Europe, Karen explained that classic tweed colors in Scotland were extracted from lichens (Parmelia saxatilis). In Southeast Alaska, the bright yellow colors for Tlingit Chilkat Robes were derived from a lichen now called wolf moss. Within the United States the formalization of the process  of dyeing with mushrooms and the resulting mushroom dyeing renaissance occurred when Miriam C. Rice began experimenting with and documenting the colors that each species of fungi and lichen created. Her resulting publications have inspired countless research studies since then and a wave of newborn mushroom dyeing enthusiasts.

The Fungi and Lichens of Dyeing

Picking the right fungi or lichen for the right color is a crucial first step in producing your dyes.  Fortunately the old growth forests in Southeast Alaska are ripe with many colorful species of fungi and lichens (a side fact – there are thousands of species of fungi and about 1000 documented lichen in Southeast Alaska).  For each of the species of fungi that we dyed with during the workshop I have included the color they produce and the general region they may be found.

  • Lobaria pulmanaria – browns (Southeast Alaska), sometimes called “lungwort”
  • Lobaria oregana – browns (Southeast Alaska), sometimes called “lettuce lichen”
  • Letharia vulpina – bright yellow and green (Idaho up through the Yukon)
  • Parmelia saxatillis – apricot and rusty browns (Southeast Alaska)
  • Orsalia (Umbillicaria genus) – purples (Nova Scotia), Rock Tripe (Umbellicaria) found in Southeast Alaska can produce purples as well.
  • Hydenellum peckii – blue (Southeast Alaska)
  • Hydnellum regium – black (Southeast Alaska)
  • Phaeolus schwinitzii – golds and greens (Southeast Alaska), sometimes called the dyer’s polypore
  • Dermocybes spp. – oranges and yellows (Southeast Alaska)

Fungi and Lichen are picky about the habitats they live in. Most species strongly associate with certain plant communities,  individual species of plants, or types of food (wood, bone, sphagnum, and many other things). For each of the fungi and lichen above you can increase the efficiency of your search by understanding their ecology. Dermocybe species are found at the bases of old growth spruces and hemlocks and the Rock Tripe (Umbella caria) lichen is associated with rock faces, and often grow in the alpine. Of course, mushroom diversity differs by region, so as you are walking around take note of the locations you find your dye mushrooms and look for similar features elsewhere.

Cortinarius, Dermocybe, Dye, Red, Orange
These two species of Dermocybe mushrooms (in the Cortinarius family) are found in Southeast Alaska. One provides vibrant reds and one provides a vibrant orange.
Cortinarius, Dermocybe, Dye, Red, Orange
These are both species of Dermocybe mushrooms found outside of Hoonah, Alaska. It’s pretty obvious which one produces red and which produces orange!

The Process of Dyeing With Fungi

Dyeing with mushrooms is actually quite easy – in many ways finding the mushrooms and getting them in enough quantity to dye with can be the difficult part! The most important thing is to add equal parts fiber (yarn, silks, grass, cedar bark) and mushrooms. The amount of water will not lighten the color of your dye because the dye is attracted to the mordanted yarn, so be sure to add enough water cover your fiber.  Once the mushrooms are in the water, bring the water to a boil. As it heats you’ll immediately see the colors extruded from the mushrooms. You can boil the mushrooms for various amounts of time, and the longer you boil the more intense the colors will become. Straining the mushrooms from the dye is optional. Add the fiber to the dye and simmer the fiber for awhile – it will transform from white to bright!

Fungi Dye, Mushroom, Red
Look at the intense reds that resulted from boiling red Dermocybe mushrooms! When dying with red Dermocybe, be sure to removed their stems or you will end up with an orange dye because the stems are yellow.

When you first begin you may be uncertain of which color will come from each species of mushrooms. To save some time and precious mushrooms you can boil up a bit of water and pour it over a mushroom sample. After 10-15 minutes the color should be evident if the mushroom is useful for dyeing. To test lichens, try adding them to a bit of bleach (be sure it’s newish bleach, old will not work) to extrude the colors.  If you like the colors produced by the test you can boil up the rest of your mushrooms right away or preserve them for later by drying or freezing.

Fungi Dye, mushroom, dye, yarn
Testing your mushroom for color is as simple as pouring some boiling water into it and waiting to see what colors emerge.

In order to derive the most vibrant colors and best results, you will need a bit of luck, some patience and a small knowledge of chemistry. Several of the mushrooms and lichens that we dyed with could be modified by adding alum or iron to the water. These two minerals are preferred because they are non-toxic and can be dumped out safely after the dye is used up. Adding iron to yellow dyes will generally make them turn brown. By changing the pH with soda ash to basic water (pH 9 or 10) you can transform the colors from black to blue when dyeing with Hydnellum suaveolens.  You can keep experimenting to find new chemistry that changes the color – just be sure to closely document what you did!

Most of the fiber materials are “raw” and need to be prepared to accept the dye. You can mordant wool yarn with iron or cream of tarter to achieve different colors. However, mordant is not necessary for lichen dyes, only mushrooms!

The Results

We used the dyes that we created to stain wool yarn and silk scarves. We also experimented with chiton shells from gumboots, and spruce roots. The results were incredible and stunning! Each skein of yarn extracted from the water baths  was draped over the back of a chair to dry and added to the spectrum of color created by it is predecessors.  We were pleased to see that some of the dyes were penetrating enough to color the bone-hard chiton shells and the tough, lignin of the spruce roots. I am a novice knitter, and the incredible vibrancy of the colors produced got me thinking about my next project – whatever that may be.

Fungi Dye, Yarn, Color, Red, Blue, Purple, Orange, Brown, Gray
All of these colors were made from mushrooms and lichens that we boiled during the workshop!
Fungi Dye, Yarn, Color, Red, Blue, Purple, Orange, Brown, Gray
Each of the colors were associated with the mushrooms that they came from on this sheet.
Chiton, Dye, Fungi, Musrhoom, Dermocybe
The red Dermocybe mushrooms were able to dye bone-hard chiton shells.

Thank you to Karen Dillman for introducing these techniques to us! Also thank you to Ron Hamill for his unwavering and undoutable knowledge of fungi. Karen attempted to pass on years of learning and experiments in a short day. To learn more about dyeing with fungi and lichen check out the resource books she recommended.This unique form of creating color is a learn-by-doing process. So, I hope you get out there and do it!

These books can provide a great resource for new and advanced dyers.

Oh My, Fungi!

There have been many times when I stooped during my meanders through the woods to look at fungi, often not considering that I was only seeing the fruiting body of a large underground network of “hyphae” – small root-like structures which interact with many species in woodlands. Most of the time I only contemplate the color, shape, or size of the mushroom, and move on without ever being able to identify the species. I believe that experience is the same for many others. However, as I stood on the deck at the Folk School in Fairbanks, Alaska and watched a band of kids ranging from age 7-12 roam through the woods with mycologist Christin Anderson, I was excited to learn of the species they brought in!

I was astounded by the diversity of mushrooms brought forth – in a short time they had collected over 10 genus, and many more species. Functionally, the collection of mushrooms ranged from parasitic, to decomposing; one species even grew on decomposing mushrooms! We observed the variety of color and size of each by touching and looking as Christin explained that it is not possible to absorb the toxin of any mushroom through the skin, although most people believe that you can. It was certainly news to my ears! On top of that, I didn’t know the hallucinogenic compounds in mushrooms are the not same ones that can kill you; poisons and hallucinogens are separate things.

I think mushroom identification is the hardest part of being a mycologist, and is simply overwhelming for those of who are not mycologists. However, with Christin at the helm of at least identifying each of the mushrooms to genus, I was excited to look up information each. Here’s just a little of what I learned about the diversity of the world of mushrooms.  As a result of my research, I am in awe of the functionality that mushrooms play in Alaskan ecosystems.

Below are a images of the mushrooms collected. If you are receiving this post via email, you may have to visit the post to see them, since there are too many to be sent in the email.

 

Literature and websites:

http://ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

http://www.shroomery.org/

en.wikipedia.org

http://www.mushroomexpert.com/

http://mushroom-collecting.com/

http://www.wildmanstevebrill.com/

http://www.backyardnature.net/

Michelot, D., & Melendez-Howell, L. M. (2003). Amanita muscaria: chemistry, biology, toxicology, and ethnomycology. Mycological research, 107(02), 131-146.

The Grand Re-Opening

Hello Everyone!

I’ve been hard at it on the website in the last 2 weeks, and I am very, very excited to give you a tour of the results.  I would love to get your feedback on the site. First off, how about the color scheme? Took me awhile to settle on it, and customize it to this point! An untested piece of this site, is to see if all of the email subscriptions were transferred correctly. If you are receiving this via email and could let me know you got it, that would be great!

Videos

The days of hosting videos on my website are over. I have created a YouTube Channel (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCiqds-5iivj9DMfUWM1cRkA) which will host all new videos, and I’ll implement them into the blog. If you are on YouTube be sure to follow the channel! I am far from transitioning all video content to YouTube, so please bear with me if content is unavailable. The great thing is that YouTube videos are very easy to share, and are much easier for people to find.

Blog

In the past I have been very frustrated with how quickly content becomes buried once published. I have established a new page which features all blog posts and can be simply scrolled through. Although it is not the 100% ideal situation (which is unattainable as it involves ESP), I hope you will be able to search for and scroll through old posts much more easily here http://ianajohnson.com/posts/

Professionally Geared

This little blog of mine has grown up a lot. It was once a bit of data planted on the internet, and has transformed into a sequoia tree of information, images, and videos. Seeing as I’m proud of all the content post,  I have tailored it as a professional website/portfolio. As such you can view a short image portfolio (http://ianajohnson.com/faa/index.php/portfolio/),  and my scientific background (http://ianajohnson.com/professional-experience/).

Imagery Sales

An absolutely new realm for me and a very exciting part of this upgrade is the opportunity to sell imagery. By establishing an account through Fine Art America, some of the content featured on this site will be available for purchase. My current galleries there contain ~50 images of the >300 I would like to upload. The images exemplify all themes of this blog including wildlife, aurora, and overall natural beauty. Most galleries are updated daily as I take the time to upload the images. At this time all sales will be used to fund the purchase of a Nikon D810 (perhaps the last camera I will ever need to own). The camera comes with capabilities almost second to none, and will further enhance the products I can offer here. The sales side of my website can be found at http://ianajohnson.com/faa/. Let me know if you find the design user friendly!

In line with imagery sales, and in hopes of funding a camera, I am considering creating a calendar of seasonal images throughout Alaska. Although I have not settled on a final product, I would love to hear if you have interest. Mostly it is so I can determine if there is a market – don’t worry – your interest is a 100% non-committal agreement!

Future Content

The amount of time spent to create this new website has left me with no time to create new posts. So, here is a sneak preview! I was very fortunate to engage in Alaska’s personal-use fishery. I will be writing about my experiences at Chitina River.

The personal use fishery at Chitina River allows you to literally scoop them from the raging waters.
The personal use fishery at Chitina River allows you to literally scoop them from the raging waters.

Second, my curiosity about the diversity of mushrooms was gratified to have an awesome mycologist connection. I’m going to take you for a walk through a small section of Alaskan fungal diversity!

A short walk through the woods will yield a diversity of mushroom colors and shapes that will boggle the mind. Lots of mushrooms coming your way soon!
A short walk through the woods will yield a diversity of mushroom colors and shapes that will boggle the mind. Lots of mushrooms coming your way soon!