Natural Mushroom Dye: M.Loren Washburn

Pisolithus tinctorius

Dyeball in the wild.
dyeball mushroom


The Dead Man's Foot

This is one of the first mushrooms I learned to dye with. I have become fascinated with the dye properties of this unique mushroom. Pisolithus tinctorius is extremely concentrated for a natural dye, it responds to variances in pH and is a very penetrating and substantive dye.

Some history: I am working with silk fabric primarily. When I wanted to learn to dye with mushrooms, (my first foray into natural dyes), I sought a teacher. Miriam Rice wrote the first book about mushroom dyes and was teaching 'paper and pigments from mushrooms' that year at Mendocino Art center and I signed up for that. Asking around I found that one of her long time students had done work with mushroom dyeing on silk and also lived in the Mendocino area! I was fortunate enough to spend a day studying with Andreya Marks in her studio following the weekend class with Miriam.

We worked with The Dyers Polypore, Phaeolus Schweinitzii, the Dyeball, or Dead Man's Foot, Pisolithus tinctorius and Dermocybe semisanquineus. The first two dyes continued to produce nice results in the after bath, but the Dermocybe quite weak and pale. To increase the color we added some logwood and walnut dye bath that Andreya had. I was fascinated that the nuts could just float there in their hulls without all the mess and stain of hulling them.

The first bath of the dyeball is usually golden bronze brown and later baths coppery colored. Experimentation showed me that I could choose bronze or copper by adding or rinsing in solutions of acid for the bronze and base for the copper color. A spoonful of lemon or vinegar (or pickle juice) in the pot or a dash of ammonia or baking soda is enough to effect the change. I was impressed while rinsing out some scarves at the amount of color that continued to be released and for such a long time, that I threw some undyed silk in the sink along with the scarves I was rinsing. The color achieved was a lovely salmon pink. And it held. It did not rinse away.

I found I could make my demonstrations more interesting by wicking the dye up the scarf. After I dipped it in the pot, or dyed it a base coat at an earlier time. I hand the scarf so that the ends or some portion is in the dye liquid. It wicks up the scarf and forms a patterned line at the highest it reaches. As the scarf dries and with repeated dipping and hangings intriguing patterns emerge. A windy day at my outdoor demo created vertical lines I cannot recreate indoors as the scarves fluttered in the pot and dried more rapidly. This is really fun for a demo also as the results are very visible, and change through the day.

M. Loren Washburn

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