Monday, August 15, 2016

Mushroom - Hypomyces lactiflourum (Lobster Mushroom 2016)

The Lobster Mushroom is one of my favorite things to dye with.  It reacts well to a pH change which allows for a beautiful range of colors.  These colors were obtained with an alkaline dye bath.  How I achieved these colors follows.

Every year I have the opportunity to harvest these mushrooms at my daughter and son-in-law's house. The mushrooms begin pushing up out of the ground in mid-late summer, growing in the thick fir needles under their trees.  It is always best to harvest these mushrooms by using a knife and cutting the mushroom just below the ground surface, leaving the bottom stem with all the roots in the ground.  This will assure a crop the following year.  I harvested about a dozen or so of these mushrooms.

Peeling the outer, orange, crusty layer of the mushroom and using those peels in the dye pot will provide the best color.  I discard the inner, white portion of the mushroom.

My husband found an old copper pail at a yard sale and brought it home for me to use as a dye pot.  I had been looking for a large copper pot for some time, so this pail was a wonderful surprise and I couldn't wait to try it out.  I put the mushroom peels in the pail, then covered with boiling water from the tea kettle and let it set.  Later, I set the pail on a trivet in water in another pot and set it on the stove, letting the whole thing simmer for an hour or so.

Next,  I added 1 TBS of washing soda, and brought the pH up from neutral to pH 9.  The color of the dye bath shifted immediately from an orange-y peach color to a wine color, which was exactly what I expected.

The first fibers in the pot were 3 150-yd skeins of a wool, alpaca, silk, bamboo blend yarn pre-mordanted with alum and pre-soaked in warm water.  The fiber went right in the pot along with the mushrooms.  The mushroom bits will shake out later.  This pot simmered for another hour or so until the color in the yarn was a deep raspberry.

Happy with this shade of color, I pulled the skeins out and hung them on a tree branch to dry.

There still being some color in the pot, I put in a small skein of wool that had been pre-mordanted with copper, and a large skein of wool which was a dingy, pale blue obtained from an exhausted indigo vat the previous summer.  I hoped the indigo skein might turn a lavender shade, and was pleased with the lavender-gray that resulted.  The little skein came out a light pink with a hint of peach.


  1. Gorgeous colours! How colourfast are they?

  2. Thanks, Nic. I pre-mordanted these yarns with alum and I expect they will hold the color well. Some yarns I dyed a couple of years ago with this mushroom seem quite colorfast. I had one skein a couple of years ago that over time the color shifted a little from a deep mauve to a rosy peach, but still has lots of color. Without a pH change, the colors are more in the apricot to rust shades.

  3. Thanks for letting me know! :) I live in Australia so it is unlikely I'll have access, but I've read that colours that pH shift that dramatically tend to be less colourfast. Good to know that's not always the case

  4. If you ever want to try a pH shift, you can pour a little of your dyebath solution into a jar, make the shift, then put just a snippet of your fiber in and simmer awhile. Rinse, let dry, and then see what happens.

  5. That lobster mushroom meat is delicious. Hope you're not making sure to cook that up with garlic and eat it! Also good for lobster bisque

  6. Thanks for commenting, pumakin. While I know there are people who enjoy eating this mushroom, I am not one of them. Mushrooms of any kind simply don't appeal to my palate. I do have fun dyeing with them, though!