Gymnopilus Dye: When Plans Go Awry

I collect dye mushrooms on my daily walks, which wind through suburbia and rural country roads in Sonoma County, CA. The mushrooms I find are limited to those environments: Pisolithus arhizus popping up along sidewalks, Omphaloutus olivences blooming from the base of an oak, or Phaeolus schweinitzii sprouting near an old Douglas fir stump. I can easily ID these three dye mushrooms. So, I was a little excited when I could add a fourth mushroom into my personal database.

young Gymnopilus

These bright yellow adorable little heads caught my eye immediately. I spotted them peeking up from a pine tree stump; a dead tree cut down a few months previously. I guessed they were a type of Gymnopilus based on my experience of dyeing with them many years ago. I remembered achieving lovely butter yellows on white wool, and greens with gray wool. Since these mushrooms are best to use when mature, I let them be and watched them grow over the next few weeks.

Gymnopilus

When my brother decided on a spontaneous visit, I chose them for our next mushroom dye video. We have a lot of fun making these videos and involving my Mom makes the experience even more special. (Click here to see our dye video collection on You Tube.) We can’t do a mushroom dye video without her. Her knowledge and experience are invaluable, and based on the feedback from our other mushroom dye videos, she’s a fan favorite.

My brother arrived early Saturday morning. We immediately went to work: he filmed me picking the mushroom, we plotted how to shoot the video in my Mom’s kitchen, and then shot an opening scene of my Mom describing the mushrooms. It was a whirlwind of action, like it usually is. While my brother set up the lighting and cameras on her deck to capture the dye process, I dashed next door to my house for a quick food break. And that’s when plans went awry. I overheard my 15-year-old say to his Dad: I think I’m getting sick. I’m all congested. My stomach dropped. In January of 2022, nasal congestion no longer means a no-big-deal cold.

Fifteen minutes later his home test confirmed: Covid. I walked back to my Mom’s house and told my brother wide eyed and in tears: we might have Covid, I exposed our Mom to Covid, and all the work we did this morning was a waste of time and this is the worst-case scenario, and the sky is falling.

My brother went into older brother mode, put his arms around me (using his shirt as a makeshift mask) and triaged the situation: everyone needs to get tested. We found enough home tests at the drug store for us all, and the rest of us tested negative. He packed up his gear and drove home. Our amazing dye video weekend shut down.

The following day I decided to do the mushroom dye. Because wandering around the house like a deer in shock wasn’t helpful, and neither was repeatedly googling CDC guidelines for testing, isolation and quarantine. The deciding factor was when my husband calmly requested that I stop panic yelling at him. I needed a different focus. And these mushrooms are best if used fresh.

gymnopilus

The weighted 11 oz. For my fiber I chose two types of wool (3.5 oz white and 1 oz gray), and 1 oz silk scarf creating close to a 2:1 ratio of mushroom to fiber. All fiber was previously mordanted with alum.

gymnopilus

I broke up the mushrooms, let them steep and simmer for about an hour, then added all the fiber. I was on auto pilot, my body going through the motions while my mind hopped in erratic circles like a bunny on the run. I paced around outside, into the house, back out again, stirring the very full dye pot about every 15 minutes. With the silk scarf in the dye, I carefully watched the heat. I haven’t dyed silk in many years, but I knew that it should be dyed at a lower temperature than wool. When the light began to dim, I turned off the hot plate, covered the pot with a lid to contain the heat, and let it soak overnight.

natural dyeing with gymnopilus
naturally dyed wool using the mushroom Gymnopilus

The color wasn’t as bright as I expected. It’s within the usual butter-yellow shade family that I achieved from previous dyes. But looking back at my notes, I also used a much higher ratio than 2:1. It’s also possible that I used a different variety of Gymnopilus. Or that these mushrooms were still a little too young to use when I collected them.

mushroom dyed Gymnopilus wool samples
From my dye notes. I hoped for these saturated yellows and greens (using gray wool). All alum mordant.

I left a few little mushrooms from the bunch I originally gathered and will continue to check on their progress while on my daily walks. Fingers-crossed for another experiment. And perhaps a dye video in the future.

We’re all okay. Only two of my teens caught Covid, likely because those teens avoid their family as much as possible, limiting our pre-diagnosis exposure. We were able to enact strict quarantining procedures, and thankfully, all of us are fully vaccinated. Full parent stress meltdown wasn’t needed. But that’s why I prioritize having a creative focus during times of emotional distress.

6 Comments

  1. So glad you’re doing well, and as usual, your colors are beautiful. I never thought of dyeing natural grey wool. Thanks for the tip! Will have to give it a try. I have a fleece or 2 laying around (doesn’t everyone 🙂).

  2. Hello,
    Happy 2022. I have been hooked on mushroom dyes and will be dying w kids in San Francisco with your inspiration.
    Did you mean the covid-19 exposure was 2022 rather than 2021? Everyone seems to be getting Omicorn.

  3. My daughter has llama roving that she would like to dye. From your pictures it looks like you use yarn for dyeing. Can we use the same process for the roving? I’ve enjoyed reading your blog about using natural dyes. We are going to start collecting onion skins!!

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