Friday, October 25, 2013

Fungus Foray – an Artist’s Palette Underground

Fungus Foray – an Artist’s Palette Underground            
 by Judith Towers

  1. Mushroom foray
  2. What we collected (small amounts, not enough for dyeing)
  3. Hydnelllum aurantiacum – can make teals and blue-greens
  4. Tapinella atrotomentosus – blue-greens and occasionally purples
  5. Susan Hopkins’ samples
  6. Many shades of Inonotus hispidus and Phaeolus schweinitzii
  7. Hapilopilus nidulans - purple
  8. Basket full of mushroom-dyed colors!

In September a friend and I ventured to The Mannings, a handweaving and handspinning shop in East Berlin, Pennsylvania. We were about to discover that hidden colors may be found in many mushrooms. Susan Hopkins was our mentor. She has studied mushroom identification and dyeing with mushrooms and teaches a number of classes on this fascinating and unusual subject.

We learned how to chop the mushrooms in small pieces, simmer them in a pot of hot water at 170°F, strain out the mushroom pieces and place skeins of wool into the pot. The skeins had been pretreated with a mordant such as alum to allow the color to permeate the wool fibers. If a mordant is not used, the color will not be as permanent or as bright. Using other mordants such as iron, tin, and copper produce different colors, but in our class we used only potassium alum and iron, the safest mordants.

When the wool skeins had simmered for an hour, also at 170°, the wool was ready to rinse and hang to dry. During the 4-day workshop we worked in teams of two and made new colors each day. Each of us came home with at least 14 ounces of dyed wool yarn – enough to make a vest!

Mushrooms and other fungi are no longer classified as plants, but are considered parasites living on other organisms on which they feed, or saprophytes, obtaining their food from dead organisms such as a decaying tree stump. Some are destructive like anthracnose, which cause dogwood and other shade trees to drop their leaves. Others are beneficial, breaking down organic matter for soil improvement, for medicine, and of course, providing delicious food for us!

Recently I cooked 4 different mushrooms found in my yard and in the woods near my home. I kept four small jars of mushroom “paint” and made a small drawing, painted entirely with my mushroom watercolors! Fun – you can be sure that more paintings with fungi are on my “basket” list !

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