Creating Yellow and Green with Gymnopilus spectabilis


While cleaning up from the workshop at SOMA Camp, I convinced my Mom to haul a large of pot of stinky, yellow Gymnopilus spectabilis dye (covered with a precarious lid) home in her car. If we didn’t, its fate was to be dumped over the side of a hill. And since my Mom raised me to not waste, this fate just wouldn’t do.

She told me a story of when she decided to not waste a pot of the worst smelling mushroom dye, Pisolithus arhizus, and it spilled. Imagine the smell of rotting mushroom in your car upholstery. Exactly. Not an ordeal anyone would risk repeating! However – I’m persuasive. If she drove slowly, I promised to keep the pot safe between my feet. If dye splashed out, it would hit my leather boots first.

A few days later, I went to her house to make dyes using the bounty of leftover mushrooms from the workshop. We had several options: Omphalotus olivascens, Dermocybes, Gymnopilus spectabilis, plus that pot of Gymnopilus dye we carefully hauled home.

Omphalotus and Dermocybes will freeze well for later use, but Gymnopilus is best when used fresh. And boy did we have a lot of it.

Gymnopilus spectabilis
A few of our enormous specimens.

We broke up the mushrooms, added them to a pot of hot water, and noticed the color change immediately. We added two skeins of wool: one natural white and the other gray.

See how my fingers are stained from touching them? I recommend using gloves with dye. Unless you like orange fingers.
See how my fingers are stained from handling them? I recommend using gloves when breaking this mushroom up for the dye. Unless you like orange fingers.
The mushroom's pigment began to change the water immediately.
The mushroom’s pigment began to change the water almost immediately.

Gymnopilus usually makes a buttery yellow; therefore we were surprised when our white yarn turned rich butterscotch within minutes. Well, my Mom says butterscotch, but I say it’s more Scotch, than butter.

While our first skeins of white yarn were a saturated yellow, the last few skeins turned the expected pastel yellow.

The first skein of gray yarn became an intense greenish-amber.  As the dye became less saturated (pigment was absorbed by the yarn), the skeins of gray became a clearer green.

Gray yarn turn shades of yellow and green
Gray yarn turn shades of yellow and green

We assume the saturated color was the result of the large quantity of mushrooms we used for the dye. We made the mistake of not weighing the mushrooms and measuring the water, therefore we don’t know the exact ratio. It’s easy to get caught up in artistic excitement, and forget that it’s also important to treat the dye process like a science experiment: carefully measure and document what you do if you hope to repeat the results.

By the end of the day we had produced a variety of yellows and greens.


It wasn’t until we were cleaning up, that I noticed the pot of our saved Gymnopilus dye, right where we left it after carefully trekking it home. Ah well, another dye for another day.


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