Dyeing with Mushrooms: The Western Jack o’ Lantern

Last year while my Mom and I were dyeing with Western Jack o’ Lantern mushrooms (Omphalotus olivascens), I persuaded her to guest star in my first mushroom dye video. Since she’s one of the original mushroom dyers, teachers and experts, I simply couldn’t introduce mushroom dyes without her by my side.

This mushroom isn’t the easiest mushroom to use if you’re new to dyeing, in that you have to shift the dyebath either acidic or alkaline to achieve its two potential colors: purple and green. In the video we go into detail on how to create green, as it’s the more reliable color to achieve. We had so much fun making this, which you can watch here.

First mushroom dye video with my Mom, Dorothy Beebee

Here are my general rules for green:

  • animal fiber, iron mordant
  • old mushroom (maggots are a good sign); 2:1 ratio of mushroom to fiber is my preference
  • simmer mushroom pieces until you see color
  • alkaline dye bath using washing soda (or ammonia) pH 8-9
  • add fiber
  • simmered yarn will look brown until last minute – be patient.

Here are my very general rules for purple:

  • animal fiber, no mordant
  • old mushroom
  • simmer mushroom pieces until you see color
  • acidic dye bath using a few splashes of vinegar (pH 4-5)
  • add fiber and pull soon after it turns purple or it will darken to gray
  • use a splash of vinegar in rinse water
The two potential dye colors from the Western Jack o’ Lantern

This is the caveat to that amazing potential purple: it will fade into a gray with a hint of purple. This is true for many natural dyes: don’t get too attached to the initial color, or at least try to be cool with whatever color it mellows into.

This year I decided to skip the purple phase and try for dark gray. I was curious if the color would last longer, and it happens to be one of my favorite colors.

My general new rules for gray:

  • animal fiber; alum mordant
  • simmer old mushroom until you see color
  • acidic dye bath using splashes of vinegar to get a low pH (4-5)
  • add fiber and let it soak at low heat until you remember to pull it
  • add a splash of vinegar to rinse water
The gray experiment with Omphalotus olivascens

Each of these skeins had their own bath using my new rules for gray. (Except the mohair on the far left- that was unmordanted gray mohair.) The difference in color is potentially caused by two factors.

First of all, these skeins were dyed over a week, each day the mushroom decaying more into mush. The last two skeins (far right) were my last two dyes and the darkest gray. Secondly, I broke my digital scale after the first dye, which was a 2:1 ratio (second skein from right). From then on I measured intuitively, using the tried and true method of “this feels like a lot”. The darkest skein (far left) was the last skein. Due to a bit of dyer’s burnout I used the classic measuring technique I learned from my Mom called “to hell with it” and dumped the rest of the mushroom into the pot.

You’re likely wondering if it’s possible to reproduce these results, and I’m wondering right along with you! This great idea for gray was slightly scientific. I started off with good intentions (measuring, notes, watching the time). But after several days, I pushed the science process aside and trusted my instinct. This is what I find fascinating: in some light they all look a similar gray. But change the light and hues of green, purple and even blue glimmer through. I’ve always thought this was a mysterious mushroom and it will remain as such for another season.

4 Comments

  1. Hello Hooked and Dyed,
    This was a wonderful post! I have learned so much. This makes me want to search for mushrooms on my next hiking trip. The video was well done too, I knew how to natural dye but you and your mom gave me some solid tips that I simply forgot. Thanks again ๐Ÿ™‚

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