Friday, 4 October 2013

The Wrong Mushroom

Lately, there have been pictures of wool dyed with mushrooms on the Ravelry dyers' forums. One post remarked that no mordant was needed.  Most interesting.  A book called The Rainbow Beneath My Feet was recommended. As I work my way into it, I am learning about mushroom structures.  Still not quite clear what is meant by 'teeth' - nightmare kitchen scenario - Porcini bite back, Shitake eat omelette.  To think I was afraid of poisoning.  

Making a cautious start, I had a scout about for fungi in the woods, noting their locations and taking photos.  I understand why those Ravelry pictures are showing up now, early autumn is prime time to find 'fruiting bodies'. September here was exceptionally warm and fairly damp.  Now I am paying attention, I reckon most of the ground the dog and I walk on  
must be a mat of mycelium, just waiting for
these conditions to sprout up buttons.  Growing out of the grass, bursting from the bark and miniscule in the moss, haven't worked out what the three above might be called.
The book is a field guide.  While it doesn't pretend to be all inclusive, it does have a flow chart system for working out systematically what sort of mushroom you are looking at. There are photos and detailed descriptions of the anatomy, size and preferred habitat.   

I wouldn't be sure enough to feed them to the family, but I'm pretty confident this one is Boletus illudens.  Plenty of them dotted about in the grass under the trees.  The red one below looks much like a 'donk' called Pycnoporellus fulgens, solitary and growing out of a hardwood, as specified.

Fortunately for the Boletes, the book says this kind give a beige dye.  The donk gives light orange.  Neither prospect is enticing enough for me to risk picking them.  Although a rainbow of dyed wool is possible, when you go through the fungal colour lists, there are a hell of a lot of species that give variations on a beige theme.  Changing the mordant gives more variation, but still shades of beige.  Pleasing as it is to discover so many unknown local fungi, I have, of course, scoured the book and memorised a few 'Mushrooms most wanted'.  Thelophora vialis gives greenish blue, Collybia iocephala gives purple-blue and Paxillus atrotomentosus, dark purple.  How exciting would it be to come across one of those?

My heart beat faster when I saw this horrible beast on a tree stump last weekend.  Could it be Echinodontium tinctoria?  Bearer of orange-red dye with an alum mordant and purple-gray with iron? Whichever way I looked at it, the habitat, size and description fitted - hard crusty blackish surface, lower portion fibrous-tough, took a good kick to confirm - yes, orange flesh showing when broken. Overcoming my fears of poison and teeth, I got out a dog poo bag and scooped up a load of damaged chunks.
Back home, I put on gardening gloves to break it up into a pot to simmer.  Forgot to alkalinise the dye bath til nearly the end of the hour.  Apparently, this is the best way to get dye out of all the Polypores, so in went a teaspoon of soda ash.  I was half expecting a hallucinogenic experience from the fumes, probably a paranoid vision of fanged fungi.  It just smelled of mushroom soup.  

Looked darkly swampy, when I sieved out the bits next day.  I had two rejected skeins left over from the Welsh Mountain fleece spinning, one three ply and one aran weight.  I mordanted the three ply in Alum and Cream of Tartar and put both in to the dangerous depths for a long simmer.  Looked beige. Simmered for another hour.  Still beige.  

Maybe I put in too much wool and this is dilute orange-red?  I took out the three ply and added vinegar from the rusty nail jar to the unmordanted aran skein.  The result is clearly not a dilute version of purple-gray.  Was it the acidity of the vinegar?  How sharper than a mushroom's tooth it is To dye a thankless beige!

On line, I found a mushroom identifier's site called Rogers Mushrooms.  Although this has nothing to say about dye properties, it does note that Echinodontium tinctoria is found in western North America from Alaska to Mexico.  Just a little bit off my dog walking route, then.

In retrospect, all that fretting about poison was pretty irrational.  I know full well rhubarb leaves are poisonous, but I bring them into the kitchen.  Although ricin is lethal, I sow castor oil plant seeds quite cheerfully, just wash my hands after.  Fungi are rather lovely - in a sinister way. 

Ripe and Ruin.  
As it goes, my daughter just made this stop motion song animation.  Do watch, much more fun than beige wool.


  1. Hey, I've got that book! I found an interesting mushroom the other day. There was only one, but it was as big as my fist. Think it's Pisolithus Arhizus. It's in the dyepot now waiting for the wool to go in. There was loads of colour came out of it. I have high hopes of a rich, dark brown. Will blog about it soon.

    1. Oh, how envious I am - especially when I google it and read that it is also called 'dyeball' and does grow in Europe. Look forward to reading how it turns out.

  2. Robin has cut his first tooth Fran. Hooray but oh the pain! May be he could be destracted by psilocybin? I remember 2 hunts as a student for the aforementioned fabled mushroom. Both completely fruitless, I certainly didn't trust anything we found. The fun though was all in the hunt back in the day as I remember :O) Good luck with your shrooming foraging and shroomdying Fran! Great fun and makes a good read- Matty

    1. Did you watch Mim's stop motion? Answers the question of what teenagers get up to in their bedrooms. I am so impressed.

  3. So am I. Well done Mim. My daughter and I don't seem to have the perseverance gene, but you two have. Sigh!