Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Mushroom - Hypomyces lactifluorum (Lobster Mushroom 2010-11)

Lobster mushrooms are a parasite growing over a Russula brevipes or Lactarius piperatus mushroom.  This fungus, which is bright orange in color, completely covers the host mushroom with a hard shell resembling the outer shell of a cooked lobster.  Lobster mushrooms, occassionally found in markets, have a seafood-like flavor and are widely eaten.  However, care should be taken to properly identify the host mushroom to be sure that it is not of a poisonous variety.

Dyeing with lobster mushrooms can yeild a wide range of shades from light oranges and pinks, to deep rusts and purple, depending on the fiber and mordants used and the alkalinity of the dyebath.

The lobster mushrooms I have used were found pushing up out of the ground under a huge hemlock tree in my daughter's yard.  Usually, I pick these mushrooms in late August or September when they are at their prime in our region, and peel the outer orange skin to use in dyeing, throwing away the white inner parts.  This year, I was late in picking.  It was the first of October and the mushrooms were black and mush-y with over-ripeness.

Lobster Mushrooms September 2010

Lobster Mushrooms October 2011

Because of the deteriorated state of the mushrooms, it was almost impossible to peel the outer skin.  Much of the orange skin color had already leached through the white inner parts of the mushroom, so after brushing the needles off, I chopped up the whole mushrooms and threw them in my dyepot, covering with water.  To this I added 1 tsp. of soda ash to increase the alkalinity of the dyebath.  Since I had so few mushrooms this year, I decided to simmer my yarns simulaneously with the mushrooms.  I entered a sample dye card and four 10-yard skeins of mordanted wool yarn, simmering them with the mushrooms for at least an hour, tuned off the heat, and left them to steep in the pot overnight.

Sample Dye Card

Small hanks of mordanted wool yarn:
  Top:  chrome (L); alum (R)
Bottom:  iron (L); copper (R)
There is a little variagation in the yarn colors caused from the places where the mushrooms were in direct contact with the yarns during the simmering process.

Below are some yarns dyed with the lobster mushrooms in the autumn of 2010.

Left to right:
Wool, 2nd in bath, alum mordant
Gray wool, 1st in bath, alum mordant
 Bamboo & merino blend, 3rd in bath,.alum mordant

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