Puffball Mushroom Dye

Whenever I notice that I have a whole lot of something growing on the farm, I research it to see if it can be used for a dye.  There were lots of  puffball mushrooms growing in the lamb pen,  so I looked them up. I found a recipe and some really beautiful results, so I decided to give them a try.

I picked them up carefully so that the spores wouldn’t disperse, but I didn’t really think the process through.  When I put them whole into water in my dye pot (which is of course, reserved ONLY for dye materials), I couldn’t get the spores to mix with the water – the mushrooms floated.

 young puffball mushroom

This is what they look like in the early stage of growth.

old puffballs

This is what they look like when they have dried out and popped, releasing the spores.

I mordanted some wool yarn with alum and cream of tartar.  It was a Berber yarn that I’ve had for 15 years, so I don’t know the actual supplier.  I had about 3 ounces of the wool, that I put in 3 liters of water with 25 grams of alum and 10 grams cream of tartar, heated gently for 1 hour, and left overnight.

In the meantime the mushrooms were also soaking in water.

mushrooms in dye pot

Mushrooms floating on top of the water. You can see the powdery spores sticking to them.

I took some of the mushrooms back out of the pot and tried to cut them up, but they were so spongy it didn’t work well.  I heated them in the water for about an hour, and then let the solution sit outside overnight.  The smell was pretty stout, sort of like strong seafood.

I had hoped that after soaking, the puffballs would absorb some water, sink down into the water, and release more color, but nothing looked different the next day, so I went ahead with the dyeing.  I put the mordanted wool and some unmordanted wool in the pot at the same time. I brought it to a boil, boiled it for 10 minutes, turned down the heat and let it simmer 1 hour, turned off the heat, and left it in the pot over night.  (I had also put some cotton fabric and yarn in the pot, but the dye just didn’t take, so I am not even talking about them.)  The wool took the color immediately.

The wool looked the same whether mordanted or not, a tobacco brown.

mushroom-dyed yarn

Two skeins of mordanted yarn after a night in the dye, as well as one skein of the original yarn.

I wanted to see if the mushrooms would eventually produce more dye, so I left the dye pot outside for a week.  Then I repeated the dye bath with one of the skeins to see if I would get a deeper color.

I did, but after a day of drying, I rinsed that skein and all the extra color washed right back out.

double-dipped yarn

L to R: original wool, mordanted wool with one dye dip, mordanted wool with two dye dips, (small skein) unmordanted wool with two dips

dyed and rinsed yarn

L to R: original yarn, single dipped, double dipped and rinsed, unmordanted double dipped and rinsed

This was a very quick and easy dye process, but I don’t think I’d bother to repeat it.  I’m more interested in dyeing cotton, and it didn’t work on cotton, and I’m not a big fan of tan.

But it’s always fun to try the dye materials that are growing all around me, and see what the results are!