An Earthball Study

Earthballs contain a yellow-brown dye, but also a large and annoying amount of tiny, black spores. So I set out to find out if the spores contain any dye or if they could just be discarded.

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Common earthball, Scleroderma citrinum.

A couple of years ago, I dyed a lot of yarn with earthballs. The color turned out a nice yellowish brown, but the yarn was simply full of spores that continued to drizzle out, both when winding the yarn into skeins and when knitting with it.

The drizzling pores were obviously annoying, but I also started wondering if the spores are even safe to breathe? It’s usually said that earthballs are “moderately toxic”.

In their book “Färgsvampar & svampfärgning” (Dye mushrooms and dyeing),  Lundmark & Marklund label earthballs “good” dye mushrooms, so it would be a pity to give up on earthballs just because of the spore problem. Lundmark & Marklund mention that earthballs contain the dyes badion A, norbadion A, and sclerocitrin.

Sclerocitrin is also described in the research paper “Unusual Pulvinic Acid Dimers from the Common Fungi Scleroderma citrinum (Common Earthball) and Chalciporous piperatus (Peppery Bolete), Angewandte Chemie International Edition, 2004, 43, 1883-1886 by Winner et al. They show that the “brilliant yellow” dye sclerocitrin is found in “remarkable amounts” in earthballs. As the title says, sclerocitrin is also found in peppery boletes. I haven’t looked for it, but a mental note has been made.

Earthballs have a dark or black spore mass inside, surrounded by a relatively thin outer wall. I decided on a small experiment in order to see if the spores contain any dye. If not, it would make sense to just leave them in the forest.

Halved earthballs with grey and black spores inside.

I used as small amount of earthballs for my experiment, gathered during the fall of 2016 and dried until use (2016 was not a good mushroom year, so not many earthballs were to be found).

Separating the spore mass from the mushroom’s outer wall was incredibly difficult. The parts were completely stuck together in the dry mushrooms, but in the end, I had 23 g of out walls and 10-11 g of spores. I soaked both overnight, the outer walls simply by adding water. The spores were stuck together in stone hard lumps that I separated by grinding them in my mortar. The spores repel water, I solved that by wetting them in denatured alcohol, then adding water.

The next day, I boiled the two dye baths and filtered the spore bath through a coffee filter. It took very long for the liquid to run through, that’s always the case when filtering a solution with many tiny particles. I then dyed a 10-gram alum mordanted test skein (Fenris 100% wool) in each bath, and got the result below – almost the same color from the two.

The top skein of yarn in the picture is dyed with the outer walls, the bottom one with the pores. I had hoped to find that the pores didn’t dye, but clearly that’s not the case. In principle, it’s not surprising, though, to find that sclerocitrin and the other pigments are distributed throughout the mushroom. The dark color of the spores is not caused by a pigment that acts as a dye.

In conclusion, all parts of the earthball contains dye, and discarding the pores would mean discarding a lot of good dye. So the best method for earthball dyeing would be using the entire mushroom, wetting the spores with alcohol, and then investing the time required to filter the entire dye bath before any wool is added.

Yarn dyed with different parts of earthballs. The top skein is dyed with the outer walls only, the bottom skein with pores only.

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Harvest

I’ve finally finished harvesting my dye plants and seeds, and it has been an abundant year in the dye garden. In addition to woad seeds, I’ve also harvested seeds of dyer’s coreopsis. I harvested some of them on September 27th, and a lot more when I removed the last plants on October 24th. I don’t know when they should be harvested, but I suppose I’ll see if any of them sprout next year.

coreopsisseeds
Seeds of Dyer’s Coreopsis. Lots of them, and they are tiny.

Then there’s my Japanese indigo, which  grew really well this year. I harvested most of my Japanese indigo, 22 plants, on September 27th. I tried two different ways of drying the leaves.

First, I stripped the leaves off the stems, spread them out outside on a sunny day. They almost dried, and I moved them inside in a mesh hanger before dewfall that evening. In a couple of days, they were completely dry.

dryjapaneseindigo
Drying Japanese indigo bunches. Only the outer leaves dry this way!

Second method (because stripping the leaves off was so time-consuming) was borrowed from Deb McClintock – I hung bunches of leafy stalks to dry inside because by then, the season had changed and the first fall storms and rains were here. But after a week, only the tips of the leaves had dried, because the thick stalks retain all the moisture. I’m sure that would not be a problem under a hot Texas sun, but this isn’t exactly Texas! In the end, I stripped the leaves off the the half-dried stalks and let them dry. So although option two seemed easier, it’s not really an option here – next time, I’ll know there’s no way around a bit of tedious work.

I ended up with a bit more than 400 g of dry leaves, and they are showing a blue tinge. Definitely a good sign.

indigoleaves
My dry Japanese indigo leaves with a blue tinge.

The rest of my Japanese indigo, maybe 8 plants, stayed in the garden. In late September, the plants had quite a few buds, and I wanted to leave some to see if they would flower and maybe even produce seeds. I followed the weather forecast closely to see when the first night frost would come. That was forecast for the evening of October 24th, so I went to our garden that afternoon to harvest the last plants. And they did flower – but no seeds.

indigoflower
Japanese indigo flowering in late October.

The last crop was used for a bit of experimentation, trying to extract indigo from the fresh leaves of Japanese indigo using the instructions from Wild Colours. I stripped the leaves off the stems, washed them briefly, packed them in a pot and filled it with rainwater.

I then left it on my hot plate on low heat, switched on for 15 minutes every 2. hour. This kept the temperature around 35 – 45C, and I left it for 36 hours.

Then, I added sodium carbonate to raise the pH to about 9, and started pouring the liquid back and forth between two buckets. The reddish brown foam is supposed to turn blue (because pouring oxidizes the precursor indican to indigo) but nothing happened. Nothing. The next day, I took out a small part of the liquid, added some sodium dithionite, and tried dipping a scrap of yarn. Again, nothing. So in the end, I tossed the entire experiment. I think the reason for this failure was the very late harvest of my last Japanese indigo. So I haven’t tried my dried leaves yet, but I hope they contain some indigo! I’ll return to the extraction method next year with plants harvested earlier in the season.

My Dye Garden

Summer is leaving us, and I feel like summing up my gardening for the year. I had 2. year woad plants, and just a few plants gave me a big pile of seeds. That’s despite the fact that I moved those plants last fall. This is just some of the seeds.

woadseeds2
Lots of woad seeds.

I also grew dyer’s coreopsis, which gave me these lovely orange shades a couple of years ago.

coreopsiswool
Coreopsis orange on wool.

But dyer’s coreopsis is also a pretty bicolor summer flower, and much visited by pollinators:

skonhedsoje16
Coreopsis blooms in red and yellow.

Unfortunately, I was a bit late in harvesting my coreopsis, so I just took a few stalks of the freshest flowers. I left the rest for now, to see if I can get seeds out of them. It make take a while longer, judging from a comparison between my flowers and this excellent overview.

This year, I’m attempting to grow weld for the first time. I expected tall flowers to attract loads of butterflies, but the plants only produced these leaf rosettes. Looks like the stalks will come next year.

vau16
First-year weld rosettes. Can you tell that I weeded around them just before taking the picture?

I’ve also started growing madder for the first time, and my plants are rather scrawny. I hope they’ll do better next year, if they survive winter, that is.

krapplanter16
Madder, not doing that well…

My Japanese indigo, on the other hand, is really having a good time. This year, I’m planning to dry the leaves and try this method.

japindigo16
Japanese indigo, doing really well!

Late Summer Greens

This summer, I’ve dyed a nice pile of green wool using reed flowers and velvet pax – two dyestuffs that are a highlight of the dyer’s year. Reed flowers because they give such an electric green. You have to admit it’s a bit strange that these red flowers dye wool a wild green, but only if you get them into the dye pot absolutely fresh. If the flowers have opened or are not freshly picked, they will only give yellow. Velvet pax because its dusty greens are so lightfast. The two skeins in the back are dyed with velvet pax, the three in the front with reed flowers.

grøn green
Greens from reed flowers and velvet pax, the essence of late summer dyeing.

I’m becoming better at finding velvet pax. The first couple of years, I looked for it too late in the season. This year, I’ve found it growing several places, for example this archetypical plantation, where Dagmar is picking a big one. Just the kind of place that velvet pax likes to grow.

Dagmarplukker
Dagmar picking velvet pax (with the arm that’s not broken).

Velvet pax can be found in August, and this year, everything was early, so it was there at the beginning of August. And the mushrooms were huge – I found some that were 25 cm across.

sortfiltet
Characteristic brown tops of velvet pax, captured in a typical habitat.

Big, fat spiders are another joy of late summer. This one, which is possibly the fattest spider I’ve ever seen, lives outside our house. When I was sticking my camera right in its face, the neighbor’s big dogs started barking. Immediately, the spider lifted its front legs as if to attack. I chose to run away, so I only got a good shot from underneath the spider, where its pattern looks a bit like eyes. I think it’s a very light colored cross spider, since its body is pointy at the back. After reading that they can bite if provoked, I think my decision to flee was not a bad one.

edderkop
My pet spider.

Summer is also the time of year to test light-fastness. I tested a handful of colors on the windowsill from early July to mid August, and their light-fastness was quite different.

  1. Old polypores, the two top ones warm baths and the lower one a cold bath that brewed outside for some weeks. None of these yellow browns are very light-fast.
  2. Velvet pax, the color didn’t change. I’ve seen this light-fastness in previous test, so it really is that good!
  3. Orange Cortinarius mushrooms, I don’t know which species. Not that light-fast
  4. A matrix of madder and indigo, showing that saturated colors are much more light-fast than pastels
  5. Sorrel root, not very light-fast
  6. Birch leaves. Surprisingly light-fast
  7. Weld. Surprised by the fact that it’s less light-fast than number 6…
  8. Henna on alpaca. I’d say this is a medium light-fastness
  9. Calendula flowers. Surprisingly light-fast
Light testing summer 2016.

I’ve also dyed with tansy, which doesn’t give green, but “just” yellow on alum mordanted wool (no pictures of that). But when I admired the flowers, I suddenly wanted to check if they really do stick to Fibonacci numbers.

The Fibonacci series begins with two ones, and then the next numbers are found by adding the two previous ones:

1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, etc.

The last time I thought about Fibonacci numbers were for calculating the numbers of my Vindauga blanket where rectangles obey the golden ratio, approximated by the ratio between neighboring numbers in the Fibonacci series, eg. 55/34 = 1.61.

Below is a close-up of a tansy flower. And as promised, the numbers of rows of tiny buds are Fibonacci numbers – 13 clockwise rows and 21 counter-clockwise.

DSC_2985
Tansy flower obeying Fibonacci’s sequence.

Mushroom Dyeing of 2015

allesvampefarver2

2015 is history, and it’s now 2016, but I think there’s just time to show you my mushroom dyeing of 2015, which brought a quite nice mushroom harvest.

Fall is my favorite time of year. Always has been. It’s the colors, the scents, and the long forest walks. We go to the same plantation in the northern part of Denmark every year, and this year was no exception. Part of the area has recently been turned into a test center for wind mills, but luckily, the windmills didn’t disturb the mushrooms! And they actually please the eye, the windmills, as they peek over the trees – especially when you consider their part in ensuring that Denmark will actually live up to its climate goal of 40% CO2 reduction in 2020.

windmills

My family already picked mushrooms before I was born, but always for eating, and always from a small, safe repertoire of about 5 species, with the main emphasis on the chanterelle, because it is very tasty and very easy to recognize.

We still hunt for edible mushrooms, and we are even training the next generation. See what an expert chanterelle hunter my 5-year old is:

dagmarkantareller

But these days I also hunt mushrooms for dyeing, and that makes it even more fun to walk in the forest – I always find something interesting! This is the yarn I’ve dyed with mushrooms this fall:

allesvampefarver

I’m really happy with this lot, and I’m thinking about a project where I could use all these colors together.

From right to left, they are dyed with common eartball (brown skeins, 900 g of mushrooms on 150 g of yarn), velvet pax (green-grey), Cortinarius semisanguineus (rose), some mixed Cortinarius ssp (tan).

I don’t know which mushroom the orange skein is dyed with. I didn’t take pictures of it, but I think it was a species of Cortinarius. Here’s the orange skein seen on a page of my big mushroom book with some species that it could possibly be, most of which are really poisonous. It’s hard to tell different types of Cortinarius apart, and some of them very poisonous, so always keep them apart from food mushrooms!

orangeslørhat

The light yellow skeins were dyed with common rustgill (Gymnopilus penetrans). It’s a very common mushroom, and after walking through an entire forest of them, I finally picked some. After trying it in the dyepot, I don’t think it’s a spectacular dye mushroom. There’s a number of ways to achieve this yellow color, and it’s not very abundant in this mushroom.

plettetflammehat

I also found a lot of sulphur tuft (Hypholoma fasciculare) which I find to be a mediocre dye mushroom, since it gives just another yellow, and not even a lot of it.

svovlhat

The last skein is best described as “off white”. I tried to dye it with amethyst deceiver although I sort of knew it wouldn’t work.

purpledeceiver

They look so pretty on the forest floor, but unfortunately, you’re best off just leaving them there. The purple color is indeed deceitful. It vanishes when you store the mushrooms for a couple of days, it even vanishes if it rains on them while they are still growing. This last fact tells you to give up right away. Predictably, even a large amount of mushrooms give no color on yarn, but I guess sometimes the true experimentalist has to verify the obvious.

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Where the Small Skeins Go

Whenever I test a new dyestuff, or change conditions with a known one, I use 10 g test skeins of thin supersoft wool. I always knew that they needed to become some huge knitting project all together to show off the deliciousness of the colors to their best, and now the time has come!

Checking everywhere for patterns for a blanket, I didn’t find one that was what I imagined (as is usually the case!) so I’m making it up as I go (surprise!).

cortinariussemi2

I wanted a rectangle of each color, so that the colors are not mixed more than to still be recognizable. I use my little test skeins to check back when I don’t remember which color a dyestuff gave, and I want to be able to do that still after knitting them up. I may have to stitch something on the back or come up with labels of some sort (leather? fabric?) to keep it as a dictionary of dyes in the end. I’ll solve that later.

So I provisionally cast on 32 stitches and knit in plain garter. To get a rectangle that obeys the golden ratio – assuming stitch and garter ridge gauge is the same – I need 32/1.618 = 19.77 ridges which I round down to 19 because the ridge directly is more stretchy.

So that means knitting 18.5 ridges and then leaving a tail long enough to complete number 19 with garter stitch when I join neighboring rectangles. That means the free end is at the opposite corner from where I began:

cortinariussemi1

Above is a rectangle knit with yarn dyed with Cortinarius semisanguineus that I picked last fall in a plantation in the north of Denmark, a forest that I have walked with my parents since childhood. Some years ago, a national test center for wind mills was constructed there, it was on the news for months, and I found it very upsetting (although I love windmills as much as the next Dane). What if it destroyed the mushroom’s home? Luckily, it didn’t, and now the place, complete with windmills, is as full of mushrooms and lichens as ever.

But why the provisional cast on, why not just use a regular one? Well, if I was a less obsessive individual than I am, I might have done just that. But I want to finish all my rectangles and then shuffle them until the colors match their neighbors. And I may dye more skeins that need to join on the way.

To make the project slightly more obsessive than it already is (if that’s even possible…) I’m going to write small articles on each dye as I knit a square dyed with it.

FACTS – GOLDEN RATIO RECTANGLES

Pattern Again, no pattern. Making this one up as I go

Yarn Supersoft 575 m/100 g 100% wool, held double

Needle 4.5 mm

Colors All!!!

Conclusion This is going to be a super long term project! I love having such projects in my knitting basket, as long as I can also work on other projects at the same time

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An Experiment in Cold Mordanting

Recently, I have wondered how much it is really necessary to heat wool when you mordant it. To the usual 80-90C? Or would 60C be enough? (Yes I wondered about that because I ruined some yarn, and I think I overheated it!)

So I turned to the knowledgeable people on Ravelry’s natural dyeing forum for help, and was told that you can cold mordant. No heating, just steep the wool in the usual alun solution without heating it. And for how long? Sea green and sapphire writes that it is enough to leave it overnight in a cold solution, and that “dyeing results are not compromised in any way by leaving out the heat”.

So it had to be tried! I took:

  • One 10 g test skein of wool, mordanted in my usual way: prepare a solution containing 10% alun. That means if you have 100 g of wool, put 10 g of alun in the pot. Dissolve the alun, add clean and completely wet wool, and heat it to about 90C for an hour. Then, I always just let it cool off in the solution until the next day
  • One 10 g test skein of wool, mordanted by leaving it in a cold 10% solution of alun for 24 hours.

Both skeins then went into the same dye bath in order to compare them directly. The dye bath consisted of 40 g of dried heather from last fall, I had wanted to try that for the longest time, to see if heather yellow is warm or cold. And the result:

testskeins

I am not able to tell the skeins apart, so the conclusion is that cold mordanting us just as good as hot. I think this is great news, because it really saves electricity!

The heater’s yellow is a wonderful warm tone, so I will definitely collect more this fall. Next time I dye with heather, though, it should be boiled and the dye bath strained before the wool goes in. The heather twigs are very difficult to remove – they are like small hooks inserted in the yarn.

FACTS – HEATHER

Mordant 10% alun hot or cold

Water Tap

Yarn Supersoft 575 m/100 g

Yarn:Dyestuff ratio dry 1:2

Conclusion Heating is not necessary for alun mordanting! 

Heather yellow is warm and wonderful

Possible improvements Remove heather twigs before adding yarn

De to nøgler garn ovenover er begge bejset med alun, men det ene uden nogen form for opvarmning. Det ser ud til at virke fuldstændig ens – en god nyhed, for det betyder en stor energibesparelse under naturfarvning. Nøglerne er farved med lyng fra sidste sensommer.

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Beige Again (Walnut Shells)

I lived in Grenoble for 2 years, and everybody there is always talking about walnuts. The region is famous for its walnuts – noix de Grenoble. But I have to admit that I didn’t actually see any nuts growing, nor did I eat very many of them while I lived there…

So one day here in Denmark, when I saw a big bag of noix de Grenoble at the supermarket, I just had to buy it. The nuts are eaten a long time ago, but I remembered reading somewhere that the shells can be used for dyeing (in addition, of course to the well known dye found in walnut hulls, but that’s another story).

I like the idea of salvage dyes, the dyes you find in something you would have just thrown out. So here they are, about 500 g of walnut shellswalnutshells

Following information from this article, I soaked the shells in water a couple of days, then boiled them for two hours. The next day, I removed the shells and simmered a 10 g alun-mordanted test skein in the dye bath for about an hour. As usual with browns, it looked good while in the bath, but after drying, what I have is just another beige skein:

beigeskein

Useful for color knitting, but not very exciting by itself. I had hoped to obtain a deeper brown, but that is, in fact, a difficult color to obtain in natural dyeing.

FACTS – WALNUT SHELLS

Mordant 10% alun

Water Tap

Yarn Supersoft 575 m/100 g

Yarn:Dyestuff ratio 1:50

Conclusion A lousy dyestuff

Possible improvements I don’t see any – other than forgetting about the walnut shell and befriending someone with a walnut tree, so I can get my hands on the hulls

Last year, I did get good browns from mushrooms. Here is my fresh weakly beige walnut skein next to a very nice brown from last year:

brownandbeige

The brown skein is dyed with a mushroom that is quite abundant around here. I’ve typed it as Ischnoderma benzoinum (gran-tjæreporesvamp) with the help of my Swedish book “Färgsvampar & svampfärgning” by Hjördis Lundmark and Hans Marklund, but it could also be its relative Ischnoderma resinosum (fall polypore, tjæreporesvamp in Danish) . I don’t have a picture of the mushrooms I used, but I’ll look for it again next fall.

Jeg har afprøvet farvning med valnøddeskaller, men det giver kun en svag beige farve. For at få en god brun fra valnødder, så skal man altså have fat på den grønne del der sidder udenpå selve nødden. Jeg har desværre ikke noget valnøddetræ, men sidste år fik jeg en god brun farve med tjæreporesvamp.

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Gradient Hat

I’m in hat knitting mode right now! As soon as this hat was finished, I had the next one on the needles. The pattern, a Danish one called “hue 1” (that just means hat 1, the book has more than one hat) really makes my brain go berserk with color scheme after color scheme.

hatfromside

I’ve cheated a bit since I didn’t only use naturally dyed yarns for this project: the black background consists of different commercial yarns from my stash.

FACTS – GRADIENT HAT
Pattern hat 1 by Lone Gissel and Tine Rousing, Nordiske masker
Yarn Supersoft 100% wool 575 m/100 g (plus some commercial stuff)
Needle 4.5 mm
Colors Privet berries (from our garden, winter) Indigo + tansy (bought + collected from the roadside, summer) Reed flowers on grey yarn (collected from the seaside, summer) Yarrow (collected from the roadside, summer) Mixed lichens (collected in the forest – this was bits and pieces I couldn’t type and in the end just swept into the dye pot) Parmelia sulcata (a lichen, collected in the forest) Dyer’s polypore (Phaeolus schweinitzii) (a mushroom, collected in the forest, fall).
Conclusion Love it! The colors, the fit, the fox fur
hatalone
It’s often been said that any naturally dyed colors fit together, and I do think that is the case. I did take some care lining up colors that blended well one into the other, but they were not very hard to find in my big basket.
Another observation: I think natural dyeing is the best kind of yarn tourism. When I look at the hat and its colors, I’m immediately taken back to the places where I collected the dye stuffs.Well, not so much the privet berries from our garden, but other wonderful places we walked during the nicest months of 2014.Just one example. The reed flowers are from our august summer vacation in the southern part of Denmark, right on the border with Germany. I picked my flowers by the ocean, and I just had some fun trying to find the exact spot on the map. And I did it! The exact coordinates are 54.894576, 9.626491, and you can even see the mass of reed growing there when you use the max zoom of the map… Right next to a tiny harbor where you can stand on the planks and watch crabs hurrying around on the bottom. And when you look over the water, you can see Germany. Imagine, all that worn on a hat in the form of a stripe of yellow-green yarn!
Mønsteret til hatten er er fra Nordiske Masker af Lone Gissel og Tine Rousing, og det mønster bliver ved med at køre rundt i mit hovede i forskellige farvekombinationer! Her har jeg strikket den på en sort baggrund som er fabriksgarn, jeg havde liggende. Regnbuen fra grøn til varm gul er mine egne naturfarvede nøgler.

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Welcome!

I have long been fascinated with the colors that one can achieve using the dyes that nature provides. There is an endless experimentation that can be tried, and to chronicle my many experiments, I’ve decided to start writing about it here. That will also allow myself to keep track!
Over the summer and fall of 2014, I went on MANY walks, collected MANY plants, mushrooms, and lichens, and dyed MANY 10 g test skeins. A peak inside my secret basket:
basket
I wanted to try knitting with my test skeins, to test how the yarn behaves – to check that my mordanting didn’t make it brittle or that I had fulled it by overheating! So I made this Fair Isle hat, and my yarn was very enjoyable to knit with:
hathead
hat
FACTS – OXO HAT
Pattern King Harald Hats by Ann Feitelson, The Art of Fair Isle Knitting
Yarn Supersoft 100% wool 575 m/100 g
Needle 2.5 mm
Colors Madder (bought) Cochineal (bought) Mugwort (collected from the roadside, summer) Boletes (collected from the forest, fall) Dahlias (grown in our garden, collected in fall)

Conclusion The hat is a bit big but the colors really match each other well

yarn
Left to right: beige (boletes) light yellow-green (mugwort) red (madder) brown (dahlias) pink (cochineal) red (madder) yellow-green (mugwort).
Velkommen til Midgaard bloggen – stedet hvor jeg vil skrive om mine mange eksperimenter indenfor naturfarvning. Hatten her har jeg strikket af en god håndfuld af mine mange test-nøgler for at tjekke deres kvalitet efter farvning og for at se hvordan de er at strikke med.

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