Spring Cleaning

In the summer, when all the plants stand tall, I usually collect good bundles of tansy, yarrow, and other wild dye plants. And they have to go before the next harvest.


My dyestuff stores from last year contained big bundles of mugwort and tansy, a smaller amount of yarrow, a box full of dry velvet pax, and dry pomegranate shells (among other things).

Spring has shown itself from its worst side this year, but I’ve managed to get outside with my little stove on an extension cord, working to bring down the amount of stored dyestuffs.

First, velvet pax. I found quite a nice harvest of this mushroom last year, more than half of what i found was from driving through a small forest, spotting the mushrooms, and hitting the brake!

I had 190 g of dried mushrooms. On 100 g of wool, that gave a good green (middle skein in photo below) and the afterbath a green-beige (right). I could not capture the color in the photo, but I was pleasantly surprised how well the dried mushrooms retain the color potential, including the green tones. In conclusion, velvet pax is a very good dye mushroom, fresh or dry.

There’s a beige skein on the left in the photo below. That’s 100 g of yarn, dyed with enough dried mugwort to fill a large dye pot completely. I even gave it an iron afterbath. Thinking back, this is actually the second time i get dull beige from dry mugwort, and the conclusion is that it does not dry well. The fresh plant, on the other hand, gives a nice yellow-green.

From left: dried mugwort and iron, dried velvet pax, 1. and 2. bath.

Next up, pomegranate shells. I had saved a very modest amount of shells, from just two fruits, weighing 85 g dry. I followed Jenny Dean’s “Wild Colour” and put the shells in a plastic bag and pounded them with a hammer. To test the new (to me) dyestuff, I wound two 12-gram skeins of Fenris (100% wool) and a small 5-gram skein of Bestla (silk-merino).

The pomegranate shells gave nice yellows on wool and silk. I modified one of the wool skeins with iron, and that gave a darker, greener tone, that actually looks a lot like the color from velvet pax.

Next time people eat pomegranates around here, the shells will be saved. They give a nice color, and they are available during winter, where little else is there in terms of fresh colors.

Pomegranate shells on silk-merino (back) and wool (middle), and modified with iron (front).

Several large bundles of yarrow, tansy, and mugwort turned into the yellow-beige first dye for a new round of matrix dyed yarn for Baby Vindauga kits. The second yellow os weld, and the skeins are overdyed with indigo as usual to produce the 9 different blues and greens.

Matrix dyed wool in blue and green.

And once I got started, a matrix in purple and blue, using cochineal and indigo, also appeared.

Matrix dyed wool in purple and blue.

The matrix skeins turned into contrast colors for new Baby Vindauga Kits, you can see them at my Etsy shop:

Purple-blue Baby Vindauga Kit.
Green-blue Baby Vindauga Kit.

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.


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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Amazing Dyeing Failures 2

The topic of my last post was failures in dyeing, and here’s more. First, my most serious and most annoying failure as a natural dyer.

3: Organic Indigo Failure

A while back, I experimented a bit with an indigo vat with fructose, but my results were not very convincing, in the sense that the amount of blue I got out of the vat was completely underwhelming given the amount of indigo that went in. Mona of Thread Gently on the Earth suggested trying another type of indigo vat that uses madder and bran. So, using what Mona wrote and what her source of the information, Aurora Silk wrote, I tried the madder/bran vat, since I’m still very interested in a natural fermentation vat for indigo.

In the beginning of May, I mixed 34 g of indigo, 17 g of ground madder, 17 g of wheat bran, and 116 g of sodium carbonate. I used at pot with a well-fitting lid, and filled with water so there wasn’t much air in the pot. We had a very warm early summer this year, so I just put the pot outside the house, where it was 27C during the day. But nothing happened. I had suspected that, since the pot would cool off during the night.

My next setup consisted of a simple electric hot plate for cooking. After a bit of experimentation, i figured out that on the lowest setting, and switching it on for 15 minutes out of every 2 hours with an electric timer plug, I could keep the vat around 37C. After a couple of weeks, though, I was forced to admit that nothing much was going on there.

So I started a bit of wild experimentation. Could it be lack of reducing power? I added fructose and more base, but that didn’t get the vat started. I then transferred part of the vat to a large jar, and tried warming it on a water bath. The jar was full and had a tightly closed lid, and that did improve things. The color didn’t shift to yellow-green, it was still blue with just the slightest green tinge (you can see it on the spoon, top left image above), but the jar vat developed the coppery film of a working indigo jar. I dyed small skeins, and they came out a lovely dusty blue.

Indigo dyeing with a madder/bran vat with a sprinkle of fructose along the way. The vat became slightly green-tinged (top left), but did develop the coppery film that shows it’s working (top right). Bottom, a small skein of yarn dyed dusty blue in the indigo jar.

So it’s sort of working – but not amazingly so. I can only dye very small skeins in this jar, but I did a lot of troubleshooting which may bring me closer to running a fermentation vat properly and over a long time. For now, I do consider it a failure, since I got so little blue out of my 34 g of indigo, but I’m clearly not done with this. Maybe one needs to set up a larger vat, using an amount of indigo that makes abandoning the vat unthinkable.

4: Common Broom Failure

I have tried – and failed – to grow dyer’s greenweed (Genista tinctoria) a couple of times. The seeds need cold stratification, which I have tried to give them, but they never sprouted. Dyer’s greenweed is supposed to grow wild in my part of Denmark, and I have searched for it, but not found it.  Then in June, the landscape was dotted with yellow: it was common (or Scotch) broom (Cytisus scoparius). This plant is considered invasive in many places, but not in Denmark, where it occurs naturally. But it has been spreading in a new way for the past 30 years, so picking it is definitely fine, just keep in mind that the seeds are poisonous.

I studied my old flora a bit, and since both dyer’s greenweed and common broom belong to the legumes (family Fabaceae), I convinced myself that common broom would be worth a try in the dye pot. At that time (June), the flowers were already past their prime, but i picked some branches at the roadside.

Common broom is spreading, adding splashes of yellow to the roadside.

The result was not impressive – good old failure beige once again:

Wool dyed with common broom – hello beige…

I would have called it a failure and left it at that if I hadn’t come across an entry on common broom in John & Margaret Cannon’s excellent book “Dye Plants and Dyeing” (I recently bought a second hand copy). This book tells you that the part of the plant used for dyeing is young branches, picked in April or early May, not the flowering stalks picked in June as I did. The young branches should produce shades of yellow-green with alum and green with copper. I might try this again next year.

“Dye Plants and Dyeing” also mentions some confusion in the dye literature between common broom and dyer’s greenweed, since the latter is sometimes referred to as dyer’s broom. Not surprisingly, Cannon & Cannon (in a book published in association with The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew) recommend that the dyer relies on scientific nomenclature for dye plants. Actually the same conclusion is reached by Catharine Ellis in her run-in with “broom”.

5: Reindeer Lichen Failure

During my summer holiday, I gathered some lichen of the Cladonia family, I believe it’s reindeer lichen (Cladonia portentosa). In “Lichen Dyes: The New Source Book”, Casselman lists this lichen as a boiling water method lichen that should give a “leaf green” color. So into the dye pot it went, with a test skein of unmordanted wool, since lichen dyes are substantive. The result is not what I hoped. Beige, despite the fact that I used a large amount of lichen relative to yarn:

Reindeer lichen (Cladonia portentosa) and yarn dyed with the lichen.

6: Cold Dyeing Failure

Mommy is a witch. Check out my cauldron, a dye pot with mushrooms and wool.

At some point, I tried dyeing with old polypores, in the usual hot dyeing process, and that actually gave me a good yellowish brown. Recently, when cleaning up outside, a big hoard of old polypores surfaced. I don’t have enough space to store dyestuffs inside, so they were outside and were damp and looked like they would spoil.

I had a thousand other projects going, so I wasn’t really ready to dye with them – so I decided to try a very lazy experiment: cold dyeing (which I normally never do because it seems to me that it doesn’t really work). The experiment amounted to throwing the polypores into a bucket with rainwater that was just standing there, then put in a small, 12 g test skein of alum mordanted wool, and then letting it stand there for about 3 weeks. You have probably already guessed that it produced a smelly skein of beige wool, which I cannot even find now (I think I overdyed it with indigo). So all I have to show for this experiment is my 6-year old Dagmar’s drawing showing that “Mommy is a witch”. I am taking it as a compliment.

PS: Just as I wrote this, light samples of both the cold dye and hot dye with old polypores surfaced on my desk. None of them have the light-fastness achieved with fresh polypores in a hot dye bath.

Hados for Everyone

We recently had a heatwave here in Denmark, so the need arose for a project where you don’t have a huge pile of wool on your lap. I ended up knitting Hado by Olga Buraya-Kefelian, and it was so much fun that I knit three of them. The upper one in yellow/green is wool dyed with reed flowers and velvet pax. On the lower left, one with two tones of blue from woad and ordinary tropical (bought) indigo. In the hat on the lower right, woad is accompanied by orange wool, dyed with orange mushrooms of the Cortinarius family.

If you knit enough of these hats and put them next to each other, they will look like candy.

The picture below shows the different length of the hats. The blue/orange one has 1.5 pattern repeats, the blue/blue one 2, and the yellow/green one 2.5 repeats. But the picture also shows something else, very visibly. All the hats are knit with the same white background, so you can easily tell that the orange color came off.

Last year, when my daughter found these orange mushrooms for me, I was just excited about the huge amount of dye in them. But that color turns out not to be wash fast. So I’m calling this one a failure, although I admit that I would pick these mushrooms again if I found the, so I could experiment some more.

My hats have different sizes. Try not to notice how the orange mushroom color bled only the white!

The top of the hat as knit in the pattern disturbed my eye, so I had to modify it. I kept knitting the pattern to the top, but omitting the yo’s.

I modified the crown to visually fit with the main pattern.

Walks in March

The weather here in Denmark has been all that bad in March. I suppose you’re supposed to make some comment along the lines of “in like a lion, out like a lamb”, but really, good and bad weather just depends on expectations. I’ve been sitting outside in the sun a couple of times already, knitting. And we’ve been on several good walks. There isn’t much new growing yet, so the most interesting living things right now are mushrooms and lichens growing on trees.

This is Evernia prunastri spreading over a tree trunk. I didn’t gather any of it this time, but I have dyed with it before. You have to use the ammonia method on this lichen, in which case it yields nice tones of pink.


We also walked to the edge of Gudenaa, the largest stream in Denmark (I wonder if you could even call it a small river?). Early in March, it had flooded quite a large area, but that is already coming down now.


We have borrowed a piece of garden not far from there, and I managed to plant the first seeds on February 28th, dyer’s greenweed. Before that, I kept the seeds in the freezer for two weeks because they need cold stratification to break dormancy. I didn’t try the freezer last year, and none of them sprouted last year. So I hope it works this time.

We also found ourselves walking in the forest, which was full of interesting things despite the time of year.

Here, a lot of cones that have been picked apart. We found them in a big pile under a tree. It’s the work of a squirrel, its signature being that there are still some bits of material sticking out from the cone’s stem. If a mouse had eaten these cones, it would have cleaned everything off.


We also found jelly ear / wood ear (Auricularia auricula-judae). It is edible, but they were a bit slimy, so we just left them.


A perfect leaf skeleton (found by my daughter)


And this log, patterned by the paths eaten by worms when it had bark. I wish I could knit this pattern…


Finally, I found a lot of rusty gilled polypore, Gloeophyllum sepiarium, which grows on dead coniferous tree, it even grows well on treated logs, like these ones:


These polypores are old, there’s actually lichens growing on them


And here it’s growing in neat lines, guided by the cracks in the tree


This is what the mushroom looks like seen from the bottom. It looks like gills, but this mushroom is a polypore with quite oblong pores.


Rusty gilled polypore is supposed to contain a quite good brown dye, so I harvested a nice pile of them. More to come on that!


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.


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.




Mushroom Dyeing of 2015


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.


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:


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:


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.







Waiting for Fall

This summer, I’ve been on a few nice forest walks, although I know it’s too early for mushrooms. Or it’s too early for mushrooms except the ones that grow on trees – I found several of those!


Mushrooms that grow on trees are quite useful when the tree is dead, because they help decompose the dead tree and recycle it. They are less useful, though, when they sneak their way into a living tree (through a cut in the bark for example) because they do the same thing to a living tree, causing rot, and sometimes killing the tree.

In one of the forests I walked in, I came across a large stretch of mature, open beech forest, with dead trees full of tinder fungus (Fomes fomentarius) – top of this post. I managed to get one detached from the tree (it was hard) to see how much color I could get out of it. This is what it looks like up close:


On another walk during the summer, I found this red-belt conk (Fomitopsis pinicola) growing on several dead conifers:


Both fungi ended up in my dye pot after I chopped them in pieces. It was possible (but not very easy) to chop the tinder fungus with a big knife, but I had to use a saw on the red-belt conk. It was still hard, so the pieces were not that small. Quite a lot of sawdust came out of it, and I added that to the dye pot as well.

But I’m afraid the results were less than spectacular – an ordinary beige from tinder fungus (left) and a yellowish ditto from red-belt conk (right).


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!).


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:


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.


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







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:


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.


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:


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.