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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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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Vindauga Blanket

My big blanket made of test skeins is done – I’m so happy with the way it turned out!! Here is the entire blanket. I know you can’t tell from such a photo, but it’s quite large, 96 x 150 cm (38 x 59 inches).

 

finished

And a couple of closer views. I took lots of pictures of it because I’m really very happy with it (I’m actually wrapped in it as I write these words).

finished3

folded

I knit my blanket out of all my 10 g test skeins that I use for trying out new dyestuffs and for trying out different variations. The yarn is supersoft wool (575 m/100 g) knit double on a 4.5 mm needle. The skeins were dyed with:

  • Cortinarius semisanguineus
  • Privet berries
  • Mixed Cortinarius mushrooms
  • Dyer’s polypore
  • Earthballs
  • Velvet pax
  • Ischnoderma benzoinum
  • Fern
  • Fermented avocado pits and peels
  • Tansy flowers
  • Apple leaves
  • Reed flowers
  • Coreopsis
  • Logwood
  • Madder
  • Indigo

I used about 9 grams of yarn for each window, and about 200 grams of white yarn for the window frames and edge.

Vindauga (meaning wind-eye) is the Old Norse word for window. I chose that name for my blanket because it consists of windows of different natural colors.

I knit my blanket in an incredibly complicated way, but now I’ve reduced my notes to a set of instructions that are rather simple with one exception: you need to graft rather long stretches together. Some find grafting complicated. It’s true that it seems complicated when you first learn it, but I find the technique indispensable for nice finishing.

Strips, make 8

Provisionally cast on 32 sts. Lefties can see my tutorial, right-handed people can watch this video.

Knit 19 ridges of garter stitch with one color. This will give you a rectangle that (more or less) has the golden proportion, which pleases the eye. My rectangles measure about 10 x 17 cm (4 x 6.75 inches).

Using a back join, change to white yarn and knit 3 ridges (the window frame).

Change to a new color (back join again) and knit 19 ridges.

Continue knitting 3 white and 19 color ridges until you have 8 windows of 19 ridges each, separated by 7 white window frames of 3 ridges each. Put the stitches on a piece of scrap yarn and save them for later.

onestrip

Grafting Strips Together

When you have knit 8 strips, you will graft them together (or you can begin grafting as soon as you’ve finished 2 strips). Here is how to graft one strip (A) onto a larger piece that has already been put together (B). A is on top in this picture and B on the bottom. The provisional cast on of each strip is on the left.

grafting1

Begin with strip A. Begin picking up stitches in the corner closest to the provisional cast on (yellow rectangle marked with a safety pin) and pick up one stitch in each garter bump (finishing at the blue rectangle).

Pass the last stitch you pick up over the next to last (1 stitch decreased).

Turn the work and knit all the stitches. In the last stitch, work a kfb (1 stitch increased). The reason for decreasing and increasing is to shift things slightly so the window frames line up. Cut yarn and secure the end.

Now, it’s strip B. Begin picking up stitches in the corner furthest away from the provisional cast on (yellow rectangle with safety pin). Pick up one stitch in each garter bump all the way, ending at the purple rectangle.

Knit 2 rows and cut yarn, leaving a 4 m long tail (you will use it for grafting).

grafting2

Now comes the difficult part. Here are the A and B pieces oriented in the same way as above, just seen closer. The long tail is attached to the purple rectangle (strip B).

grafting3

Turn the B piece so it has the wrong side up. Put the A piece on top, with the right side up. Now, the pieces are positioned correctly to start grafting, the bumps of the garter stitches are facing upwards on both pieces.

grafting4

First, sew purlwise into the first stitch on the top (yellow) piece. Pull yarn through, leaving the stitch on the needle.

Then, sew purlwise into the first stitch on the bottom (purple) piece. Pull yarn through, leaving the stitch on the needle.

Now, start working the two steps that you will repeat the rest of the way:

Sew knitwise into the first stitch on the top piece, letting the stitch fall off the needle. Sew purlwise into the next stitch, leaving it on the needle,

Sew knitwise into the first stitch on the bottom piece, letting the stitch fall off the needle. Sew purlwise into the next stitch, leaving it on the needle.

You can also see this picture tutorial.

I just graft loosely to begin with, focusing on passing through the stitches the right way. Then, I tighten up the stitches so this:

grafting5

becomes this:

grafting6

When you reach the end, and only have one stitch left on each needle, you just sew knitwise into each of them.

Graft all 8 strips together in the same way.

Edge

Now, it’s time to knit on the edge. It’s very long indeed, so I used my interchangeable needles with two cables put together.

Begin at a corner and pick up stitches all the way around the blanket, one stitch in each garter bump. Make increases at the corners, before and after the corner, also on the round where you pick up the stitches. So: when 1 stitch remains before a corner, m1r (increase by picking up the thread that links the stitches, from the back). Knit 2 stitches, then m1l (increase by picking up the thread that links the stitches, from the front)

Purl one round, then knit a round with increases at the corners. Continue like that until you have 4 ridges of garter, ending with a purl round.

knitedge

Cast off: I used Jeny’s stretchy bind off all the way around the blanket, and that worked nicely. I did corner increases on the bind off round, because tight corners are the worst. This way of doing them gives them a nice, relaxed appearance.

corner

That’s it! If anybody out there tries out this pattern, I’d love to see pictures of your FO.

You can obviously change the yarn and needle size, stitch count, number of strips you put together, width of the strips and of the frame….