A great introduction to natural dyeing, the Dyer’s Polypore (Phaeolus schweinitzii) is a forgiving and plentiful dyestuff. A single specimen is usually more than enough to dye 200g of wool (not including multiple rounds of dye bath exhaustion), and the pigment sticks readily to wool fibers without a mordant. It is simple enough to identify, and since it is not edible, the dyer will suffer no existential conundrum as they might with delicacies like lobster mushrooms.
While there are abundant print and digital resources available with regards to dyeing with plants, information about dyeing with fungi and lichens is more sparse. I referred to the Puget Sound Mycological Society‘s writeup to give me the confidence to embark on this simple project.
My mycologist friend happened to have a specimen of this sitting in his garage, and he had always been interested in trying to use it but hadn’t gotten around to it. We combined powers to see what would happen!
Reports of Dyer’s polypore show that the colors can range from brown to orange to yellow without mordants, and with mordants emerge greens or brighter yellows. I wanted to keep the process as simple as possible, and I think there is value in observing what color the mushroom would produce on its own.
This mushroom is also generous with dye and will permit a smaller mushroom-to-wool ratio and still yield vivid color, but 1:1 is a good starting point.
- 100g superwash wool from Knitpicks
- 110g dried Phaeolus schweinitzii, broken into 1 inch chunks
- nylon bag to hold the mushroom solids
- stainless steel stockpot (just like in chemistry class, your dye utensils should not double as food utensils)
- chopstick or tongs (not used for food)
- enough water to cover the specimen (to control for variables, it’s advised to use distilled and/or filtered water. I used tap.)
- Place the mushroom chunks in the nylon bag. Tie the bag closed.
- Place the bag in the pot and cover with enough water to submerge both the mushroom bag and the yarn.
- Simmer the mushroom for 1 hour or more.
- While this is happening, loosely tie the hank of yarn in 2 or more places (I prefer with a cotton yarn of a different color, which will help me grab the yarn later.)
- Scour the yarn by submerging it in lukewarm water with a drop of dish soap, for 30 minutes or longer.
- Rinse the yarn to remove all soap, slowly increasing the temperature of the rinse bath to the hottest the tap will permit. Squeeze (don’t wring) dry. (Given that this is superwash yarn, I’m not concerned with felting, but it’s best practice to avoid sudden temperature changes.)
- Submerge the yarn in the dye bath. I opted to leave the mushroom in the pot to render a more mottled, kettle-dyed result, since the yarn closer to the mushroom will pick up more pigment.
- Simmer the yarn for 2 hours or more, ensuring the yarn stays submerged and rotating it gently ever half hour or so.
- Turn off the heat and let the yarn sit in the bath overnight.
- Remove the yarn and squeeze to remove excess dye bath. Rinse the yarn in lukewarm water with a drop of dish soap to remove excess dye bath.
- Squeeze (don’t wring) all the liquid out, and hang the yarn to dry away from direct sunlight.
A golden ochre emerged in the yarn. The dye bath was an orange-y brown, so this gleaming result surprised me a little. It looks like spun gold, and everyone I tell about its fungal origins is shocked!
I would dye with this material again any day. I am eager to try out different mordants and some younger mushroom specimens. Next time, I will also have plenty of wool on hand to exhaust the dye bath same-day.
I gave the rest of the dye bath to the mushroom donor, and I would be interested to see how it worked with plant fibers, as well.
- Puget Sound Mycological Society: dye process
- Tom Volk from the University of Wisconsin: overview of mushroom dyeing
- North American Mycological Association: selection of mushrooms for dye
- Mordant experiments with Phaeolus schweinitzii
- List of mushrooms for dyeing
- Time-lapse photos of Phaeolus schwienitzii to identify in the wild
- More mordant and mushroom maturity variations of Phaeolus schweinitzii