In the Dye Studio: 10 Tips for Foraging Dye Mushrooms

Posted by Kristine Vejar on February 09, 2021 0 Comments

You know when so much time has gone by, you don't know where to begin...well, that is exactly what has happened here on our blog! That being said, there are so many things to tell you. So putting aside perfectionism and the idea that there is a right way to start, I will dive into the center of it all and tell you about a little jaunt Adrienne and I went on a few weeks back.

January is the prime time to go mushroom hunting here in the Bay Area because every now and then we get some rain (thank god) and the weather cools. Normally, January marks one of Adrienne's absolutely favorite outings - the Sonoma County Mycological Association's (SOMA) annual weekend get-together. She spends an entire weekend completely geeking out over mushrooms with other fungi lovers. There are lectures, classes, and forays to pick mushrooms. She normally teaches a mushroom dyeing class. Though this year, due to the pandemic, the event was postponed to 2022. So instead, Adrienne and I decided to have our own mini-SOMA camp. We packed up the car. Handed Callie, our little black and tan doxie, off to Sarah. And headed to a remote area on the Sonoma County coast named Timber Cove where we rented a house that looked out over the ocean. A winter storm was on its way in, causing the waves to crash so hard against the coast, the glass in the windows rattled. It was really something!

The reason we chose Timber Cove is because just up the road is Salt Point State Park, considered a hub for mushroom hunters, as there are many varieties to see, and also because without a permit, each person is allowed to harvest three pounds of mushrooms. While we enjoy looking at mushrooms in general, and practicing identifying them, one of the biggest reasons we enjoy hunting for mushrooms is the possibility of finding dye mushrooms!

Adrienne and I want to give you a few tips and tricks if you feel intrigued by the idea of foraging for mushrooms, particularly ones that may have the ability to dye cloth! 

There is a fine balance in maintaining a healthy forest and fungi are an important part of maintaining this symmetry. They provide nutrients. They aid in decomposing trees, adding to layers of soil and moisture. So keep in mind the following 10 tips:
1. Make sure to ask and receive permission before removing mushrooms.
2. Only take what you need. And work on projects that require only small amounts of mushrooms. There are many amazing textile techniques that can stretch a small amount of yarn and fabric - such as colorwork knitting and quilting.
3. When harvesting mushrooms, use a mushroom knife to cut the stem about 1/2" above the ground, leaving the mycelium (roots) intact and in the ground. This will aid in the growth of more mushrooms.
4. Be mindful of your surroundings - it is very easy to get excited, wander off, and get lost! Also, many times, we find that we are traversing hillsides, so be careful to not fall.
5. Stay hydrated and bring snacks.
6. After handling mushrooms, always wash your hands. Do NOT ever eat a wild mushroom unless you are 110% sure you know that it is edible.
7. If the gills of the mushrooms are colorful (not white), there is a good chance they may dye cloth!
8. Use the app Inaturalist and the book All that the Rain Promises and More to identify mushrooms.
9. Bring along a basket with paper bags and / or wax bags to store your mushrooms and keep them separated by type.
10. Refer to our book, Journeys in Natural Dyeing, for photos of commonly found dye mushrooms, instructions for how-to dye with them, and swatches of color exhibiting the wide array of colors that are possible!

Stay safe! Have fun! And keep warm! Hunting for mushrooms is an amazing way to connect with the forest, with one another, and to create color!

- Kristine and Adrienne

P.S. Adrienne is teaching a class on mushroom dyeing in a couple weeks - it is a ton of fun and you will learn a lot! 

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