Monday, July 25, 2011

Using mushrooms for dyeing and pigments

Last weekend I went to a fabulous workshop on dyeing with mushrooms, hosted by the Puget Sound Mycological Society. We used wool yarn to make swatches of dyes obtained from various local mushrooms and with different types of mordants to get a taste for the creative possiblities mushrooms offer. My favorite was a bright pink made from rotten Lobster mushrooms and using washing soda as a mordant, although the bright yellow from wolf lichen was a close second. Lichens will actually dye without use of a mordant. Apparently, so much lichen was being collected in Ireland for dyeing wool that they have to restrict its use. Lichens have been used historically for dyeing textiles, but the use of mushrooms is quite modern. Modern mushroom dyes were by and large introduced by Miriam C. Rice, an artist who began developing the use of mushroom dyes in the early 70's. She went on to teach workshops and write very instructive books on the subject.
She worked in a close business relationship with illustrator Dorothy Beebee who has carried on her work. She also developed pigment for paint sticks and papers made from mushrooms.

Dyeing is a passion in any place that people keep sheep for making their fleece into yarn, and into clothing, bags and all sorts of other useful and decorative items. I was surprised to learn that there are still still many enthusiasts of the handmade. There are huge international conferences for textiles made from or dyed with fungi.

I saw so many creative uses for the dyed fibers at the workshop yesterday that I can't wait to experiment at home! It is recommended to heat the dye baths outside as some mushrooms are toxic and manipulating them for use can release the spores, so it's better to be in a well ventilated area. Also, they said they can be quite stinky and not well tolerated by the less creative members of the household.

lobster mushrooms

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