Mushroom dyes for natural color

Mushroom dyes for natural color

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Photo courtesy: Mushroom dyes with Alissa Allen

As I am researching these topics to write small reports later, I am simply astonished by how many uses fungi can have. Moreover, as I’m telling all of these incredible facts to my friends I realize that I’m not the only one who didn’t have a clue regarding this vast topic. So, I’m asking you now: did you know that you can make dye out of mushrooms?

The North American Mycological Association reckons that it all started with artist Miriam C. Rice. It was after a spontaneous experiment that she figured out she could use mushrooms for creating dyes. This was happening in the 1970’s and over the years people, interesting in her experiments helped her, providing with different mushroom specimens. Gradually, she was able to build a collection and expand her knowledge as she was dyeing wool, silk or cotton. Encouraged by textile artists, Miriam wrote a book, published in 1975, which was named “Let’s try Mushrooms for Color”. It was the first book on this topic, spreading the new ideas internationally, just like mushrooms spread spores.

The process of dyeing with mushrooms is the same as for all natural dyes. Chopped up or mashed, the fungi are added to simmering water in a non-reactive pot (enamel/ stainless steel). The proportion of mushrooms and fiber is usually 1:1. The materials are added to the pot and left simmering for 30 to 60 minutes, or else, until the desired color is obtained in the fiber. Wool, silk, mohair, angora or other protein fibers effortlessly accept dyes. However, similar successful results can be achieved also with hemp, cotton, linen or synthetic fibers.

For it to be used for dyeing, the mushroom must contain in itself a water soluble pigment that will make it sun and wash resistant. The majority of mushrooms already contain pigments that will make a good lightfast and colorfast without the use of a mordant. However, pre-using a mordant (metallic salt which while simmered, binds the fiber with the color) might improve these proprieties. Miriam also used several mordant types in her experiments (potassium aluminum sulfate, potassium dichromate, stannous chloride, copper sulfate, iron sulfate, etc) until she figured the “safest” are alum and iron.

During the first experiments with color, the dyes that Miriam obtained were yellow, gold, orange, burnt sienna, brown and every similar shade. Then came rose, red and burgundy hues, later achieving other kinds of colors.

A couple of the best mushrooms for color

Phaeolus schweintzii, nicknamed “the dyer’s polypore”, can be best picked and dried when the outer growing edge. It is native to North America and Eurasia but there are some specimens in New Zeeland, Australia and South Africa. Depending on the mordant used and material dyed, it can produce green, yellow, gold, or brown tones.

Hapalopilus nidulans or the tender nesting polypore, purple dye polypore, or the cinnamon bracket, it can be found on any continent. It is a small, annual wood rotting polypore on deciduous twigs and branched of birch and oak. It is used in mushroom dyeing for producing the color purple.

Inonotus hispidus, commonly known as shaggy bracket is a large annual polypore, found on species of oak in eastern North America. At mid-age, when the fruiting body goes from yellow orange to deep burnt orange, it’s best to pick. It cuts like hard cheese and, depending on the age of the fruiting body, on the quantity and on the mordants used, the color range will be yellow, dark orange, khaki or brown.

Here’s a long list of mushrooms one can use for dyeing

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A report by Ioana Popescu

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