“Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg and howlet’s wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and caldron bubble.
Cool it with a baboon’s blood,
Then the charm is firm and good. Macbeth IV: 10-19″
Before I continue, the above image has nothing to do with All Hallows’ Eve and I am not a witch. Further, no fenny snakes, newts, frogs, bats, dogs, adders, blind-worms, lizards, howlets or baboons were used in the above concoction. Nor am I encouraging nor am I condoning the enslavement and abuse of animals or other living creatures or their blood, in any way, for any purpose.
There are mushrooms sprouting up all over in my new garden which made me wonder if they could be used to dye with. I remembered the organic portobello mushrooms I used to have delivered. They came in cardboard boxes, the lids of which were always imprinted with an image of the mushroom, like this one above.
And yes, of course, mushrooms can be and are used to dye wool and fabrics. And to the right is an image of my first attempt, which is an assortment of silks.
As soon as I decided I must try dyeing with fungi, I stumbled – literally – upon a ravishing clump of Pleurotus ostreatus. Actually, it was more like they sprouted up around my feet.
And in case you think I’m a mushroom expert, I picked a few, left some, with gloves on as I had absolutely no idea what they were. Then I googled and discovered that I’d picked some oyster mushrooms, which are edible.
But there was no way I was going to eat them as I could be wrong in my identification and some fungi are deadly poisonous. Some don’t kill instantly, but over a period of months they destroy the major organs. Death is inevitable.
So take this as a:
!!! WARNING !!!
Unless you are an expert on mushroom/fungi identification, don’t risk eating what you pick and wear gloves when handling.
I love the subtlety of colour the silk took up from the mushrooms, which is a tadge more peachy than in the scan above. I chopped the mushrooms into small pieces, added them to my stainless steel dyeing pan (dedicated ONLY to dyeing and never used for food) to which I added tap water with a teaspoon of alum (aluminium potassium sulphate) mordant (fixative). Alum is also a brightener, in the dyeing process. I added the silk pieces and boiled them for two hours, rinsed them and let them dry naturally overnight.
My googling brought me to Ann Paulsen Harmer’s wondrous fungus web site Shroomworks. And I’m awaiting receipt of Ann’s book Magic in the Dyepot, which is winging its way from a rain forest on British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast.
I’ve still got a cauldronful or two of the Pleurotus ostreatus in the fridge and some drying for storage for future use in the sun and heat of the polytunnel on our allotment.
I’m now going to eco print onto my ‘shroom-dyed silk pieces using vivid autumn sumac leaves.
And earlier today I spotted a clump of another kind of ‘shroom in one of the parks I pass through en route to the lottie and will be taking my ‘shroom harvesting kit’ out with me early tomorrow morning.
And there’s also lichen dyeing to explore.
I can’t help thinking that I’m soon going to have a lot of glass jars stuffed with dried ‘shrooms in my new studio (when it’s set up). I might just have problems convincing folks I really am not a witch.
Really, I’m not. The newts in my pond need not fear losing their eyes to my cauldron; the toes of the frogs in my pond will never be severed; though I live close to fens, the fenny snake need not recoil at boiling; the village dogs will keep their tongues, howlets their little owly wings. And the anguis fragilis will never have legs (well, they don’t have them anyway, nothing to do with me or witches).