Mushrooms for Color





Jan 17 ~ 19, 2009

Occidental, CA

This year SOMA Camp 2009, (sponsored by the SOnoma County Mycological Assn.) offered 3 classes related to mushroom dyes: "Introduction to Mushroom Dyes" with Tina Wistrom, " Advanced Mushroom Dyes/Open Studio" with Dorothy Beebee. And a new class for this year: "Felting" led by Marilyn Buss. The idea was to prepare the dyes in the morning in the Introduction class to also be used by the 2 afternoon Advanced classes.


Tina Wistrom took the reins in the Introductory Mushroom Dye Class on Sunday morning. All of our mushrooms were dried this year since lack of rain precluded finding any fresh fungi – but folks from all over collected, dried, and donated fungi.

Dermocybe semi-sanguinea were collected by Anna Moore in Florence Oregon, but Omphalotus olivascens, Gymnopilus spectabilis, Phaeolus schweinitzii, and Pisolithus tinctorius were all collected ahead of time in Sonoma County and the Bay Area.

And then along came Noah Siegel with a collection of Dermocybe semi-sanguinea from the sandy pine barrens of Cape Cod , MA. which inspired a spur-of-the-moment "Dye-Off" project for the workshops!

The little sample packets used in the Introductory Class consisted of wool and silk fibers which had been pre-mordanted with alum and iron. (Photo © Bena Currin)

Dustin found these little yellow Dermocybes (possibly D. crocea) on the CYO property, recording this interesting experiment steeping in alum water. (Photo © Dustin Kahn)


Samples of Soy-Silk, Mohair, Tussah Silk roving, and Sonoma County gray wool fibers laid out to dry in the Advanced/Open Studio Dye Workshop. (Photo © Dustin Kahn)

We used the what I am calling the “Alaskan Method” (see the dye webpages on Cordova, Alaska) with these Dermocybes – wide mouth canning jars, stuffed with mushrooms, water and our premordanted fiber samples, all sitting and getting “canned” in a simmering water bath of a large enamel canning kettle.

This method works so well with Dermocybes, because we really do not want these red dyebaths to boil – which will change the dye from red to brown.

(Photo © Bena Currin)

In both classes, with this experiment we had 2 jars each of “West Coast vs. East Coast” mushrooms with labeled wooden skewers sticking out of each jar. We only used the caps from each batch of mushrooms intending to do a similar experiment comparing dyes from the 2 sets of stems later (we never did get around to it…) The results were distinctly different – the dye from the Cape Cod “semis” having a more orange-red hue and the Oregon “semis” produced a deeper scarlet-red. Discussion between Anna and Noah on Monday, seemed to confirm by their field descriptions of mushrooms and habitat that they had collected the same species,…. but maybe not, since the dyes were distinctly different. A more tightly controlled experiment at a later date is definitely something to be looked forward to!!!

Dermocybe semi-sanguinea from Cape Cod, MA
Dermocybe semi-sanguinea from Florence, Oregon

These experiments were repeated with similar results (freshening the pots with additional fungi), in the “Advanced class/Open Studio” which emphazied “unusual fibers”, rather than just the alum and iron premordanted wool and silk samples that we used in the Introductory class. including the same mushroom dyes, but using Soy-silk, Mohair, unspun Tussah silk roving and unspun local Sonoma County natural grey wool. These are the fiber samples that are shown in the photos below.  

Dermocybe semi-sanguinea from Cape Cod, MA Dermocybe semi-sanguinea from Florence, Oregon

(Photos ©Monique Risch)

Experiments by the Advanced mushroom dye class using only the caps of the Dermocybe semi-sanguinea collected for us by Anna Moore in Florence, Oregon, with a photo of the mushrooms in situ.
We are awaiting a close-up photo from Anna to compare with that by Noah for details, but they both agreed that they had each collected what they believed to be Dermocybe semi-sanguinea
from the West and East Coasts of the USA. (Yarn photo © by Dustin Kahn; Mushroom photo © Anna Moore)


Dyes on Soy silk, unspun Tussah silk, mohair and local Sonoma County gray wool from our experiments in the "Advanced class" with Dermocybe semi-sanguinea mushrooms that Noah Siegel collected in the Cape Cod area. Note the orange hue at the base of the stipe AND the more orange shades of red apparent in the dyes hues. Is it possible that we have 2 different sub-species of the mushroom? More research is needed!

(Fibers photo © Dustin Kahn; Mushroom photo © Noah Siegel)


The Gymnopilus spectabilis mushrooms that we used were collected earlier in the Autumn when they were fresh, we dried them all. They give the brightest hues when they are fresh, just like the Phaeolus schweintizii

(Photo © Monique Risch)


Phaeolus schweinitzii ~ this giant rust and yellow polypore gives the most vibrant hues when used fresh! Compare the hues on the sample card above done earlier with very fresh mushrooms (Photo © Monique Risch)

We had some really fresh "gooey" and some very dried, powdery Pisolithus tinctorius specimens, the combination of which resulted in very intense bronze, gold, and deep rust dyes on all our fiber samples, with plenty of pigment left in the dyebath over for many, many "afterbaths" for the "dye your own" part of the workshop! (See silk shirts below...)

(Photos © Monique Risch)

Dried Omphalotus olivascens produced the lovely lavenders, violets, with a greenish iridescence on soysilk, mohair, silk an wool mordanted with alum. (The true colors were best seen out in daylight rather than under this indoor lighting). (Photos © Monique Risch & Dustin Kahn)

Anna Moore in an old sand-dune habitat in coastal Oregon, and the other was brought by Noah Siegel.

After the samples were all done, then it was "Do-it-Yourself-Dyeing" time when the participants premordanted and dyed their own yarns, silk scarves and shirts. Independent and creative experimentation reigned for rest of afternoon!

Photos © Bena Currin and Dustin Kahn



Marilyn Buss is an enthusiastic student of mushroom dyeing and felting. She led a workshop on FELTING this year for the first time at SOMA Camp, incorporating dyed yarns and fleece from the morning mushroom dye workshop.

Ten people participated in the felt-making workshop and made bowls or bags using a technique of seamless felting around a form.

The felt works were decorated with mushroom-dyed fiber which had been prepared in the morning dye workshop. Some favorite colors were the lavender from Omphalotus olivascens and the beautiful rust from Pisolithus tinctorius.


Some were dubious that the flat felt "pancake" they were making would ever develop into a beautiful 3-dimensional piece, but they did. Everyone was pleased with the colorful and creative work they had made. Hopefully some will be inspired to go on creating with felt and mushroom dyes, but all had a very personal souvenir of SOMA Mushroom Camp!


Felt being made around a form. During the felting process netting is used to contain the fibers while hot, soapy water is rubbed in.

Felt bowl still on the form, ready to be opened and shaped into its final form. Finished bowl below is drying with a small towel tucked inside to help hold its shape.

Felting photos © Anna Moore

(This SOMA Camp Mushroom Dye Webpage was updated February 17, 2009)

All rights reserved, Dorothy M. Beebee, 2009



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