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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Old Polypore

Dyer’s polypore is one of the very good dye mushrooms found here in Denmark (and many other places, including the rest of Europe and North America). It grows on dead wood, or parasitically on the roots of living trees. It grows in the same spot year after year, and grows a new fruiting body every year. That means you will often find dried-up mushrooms from the previous year close to the fresh growth of the year.

I’ve often found myself standing in a forest with a bunch of dry polypores from the year before, thinking that it was really too bad that they were wasted. So I decided to collect some, to test if they still contain any dye.

oldmushroom

I tried a single mushroom, weighing 24 g (it obviously would have weighed much more when it was fresh). I chopped it mushroom in small bits, and that partially powdered it.

I tried the dye bath on a 10 g test skein alum mordanted wool, and it turned a nice yellow-brown. So I used the bath a second time, and got a lighter shade. The old, dry mushroom clearly has a smaller dye potential than the fresh ones, but it does contain dye, so there’s no reason to leave it behind in the forest.

oldpolypore

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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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Dyeing with Sorrel Root

Sometimes when I read something and there is one key word that doesn’t compute, it’s like my brain just jumps over the entire topic. Some time ago, searching for information on Xanthoria parietina and its pigment parietin, I came across information on the Rumex family. This is what I wrote back then

Parietin, Wikipedia informs us, is also found in the roots of curled dock (Rumex crispus). Jenny Dean lists the roots of curled dock, dock, and sorrel as sources of reddish browns, but I’m not sure if that has anything to do with its parietin content

but I didn’t connect it to anything, because I didn’t immediately see a plant in my mind’s eye. This summer, I actually went through the trouble of looking it up (sic), and found that it is a very common plant around here.

I gathered these plants in late June:

rumexplant

and I’m quite sure it’s Rumex acetosa (common or garden sorrel) which, according to this, you can also eat the young leaves from. It often grows in damp or even wet places. It is actually a bit hard to pull the root up, it’s easier the wetter the soil.

I tried dyeing with the roots according to the method in Jenny Dean’s “Wild Color”: I took 150 g of fresh roots, washed and chopped them, and at that point you can tell that they have some color in them:

rumexroot

I then soaked them overnight, although I’m not sure that step is necessary when using fresh roots. No color worth mentioning came out of it at that point…

But it did give very nice reddish brown (just as Dean promised) when heated. I just kept repeating with 10-g test skeins, it took 4 skeins to exhaust the bath. That’s a very good dye bath in my book! All the plant tops from those roots gave a brownish red-tinged yellow which is actually pretty nice, but I just tried that one one skein. Together they look like this – front to back its first to fourth root bath, then the plant tops all the way in the back:

rumexdyedwool

The result is quite pleasing, I think, and I began seeing similar plants just about everywhere. Another one that’s common around here is this one

rlongifolius

which is another member of the Rumex family, probably Rumex longifolius (dooryard dock) or Rumex crispus (curled dock). I’ve dug up some of these and dried the roots, to be saved for the meager dyeing days of winter.

FACTS – Rumex acetosa roots

Mordant 10% alum

Water Tap

Yarn Supersoft 575 m/100 g

Yarn:Dyestuff ratio 1:15 fresh roots was enough for 4 dye baths

Conclusion Lovely red-brown color

Possible improvements Not sure! This works!

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Avocado, Meet Blender

Remember these jars?

fermentation

They had been fermenting for over a week, and the color of the liquid didn’t change over the last days, so I decided it was time to try them.

The front jar contains the pit and peel from 1 avocado and 1 Tsp salt, the other one the same with the addition of 1 Tsp ammonia. I combined the pit and peel in one dye bath because my earlier attempts didn’t yield different colors with them separated. And this time I blended the pit and peel, carefully and a bit at a time to not destroy the blender.

The much deeper red in the ammonia jar does translate into more color, a reddish brown, on the yarn (in front) than the jar without ammonia (in the back) which just gave the standard beige. Again beige.

avoskeins

No pink this time, maybe because I didn’t heat the avocado before fermentation?

FACTS – AVOCADO PEELS + PITS, BLENDED

Mordant 10% alun

Water Tap

Yarn Supersoft 575 m/100 g

Yarn:Dyestuff ratio 10 g yarn to one avocado

Conclusion Ammonia extracts more color

Possible improvements Boil before fermentation to get pink. Filter out blended avocado before dyeing

At this point, I think it’s fair to say that I have tried a lot of combinations with avocado fermentation of avocado pits, of the peels, and now blending them together and fermenting them with and without ammonia. I’ve achieved a range of colors from beige over pink into brown.

So I do think this concludes my experimentation with this for now. The only thing that remains to be seen is how light and wash fast this is over a longer time.

Dette er det – måske – sidste forsøg med avocado, for nu i hvert fald. Denne gang har jeg blendet skal og sten af avocado sammen og prøvet at fermentere dem i en uge med eller uden ammoniak. Sidstnævnte gav den kraftigste farve i glasset og også på ulden. Men ingen pink denne gang, kun beige og brun.

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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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