Dyeing Wool with Mushrooms!

The woods by our house – autumnal glory

Hello and I hope you are well!

It has been awhile.  I am SO inconsistent, especially because I have been drawn into a place and time sans social media or blogging or even e-mail.  Of my own choosing… I didn’t go to an off-grid camp or anything like that (although.. I would love to :))!  Sometimes, I just love to detach and it’s beginning to feel like such a luxury, so wonderful to be “offline.”  It’s funny because I feel as though going back online is returning to “the real world” when in fact, it’s anything but!  But… it’s the reason why I feel like I’m not alone in my musings, my hobbies, the way I see this world!

Alas!  I have SO much to share.  The first is that our dear orange tabby, Petey, is well!  After my last post, we had to bring him back to the vet.  He was put on a catheter and had to stay at overnight : (  I was so worried about him…. but knew that we could not do what the vet could at home. He is much better and is drinking fluids and peeing.  He slept curled up against me the whole night that he came home ❤

Walks close to home and a haven for red squirrels, fox and mushrooms!

I have been making and gardening quite a bit.  Jamie and I planted garlic this morning.  Our wood is almost completely split and stacked and we had our first frost and consequently fire yesterday.  I love fall so much, it’s so fleeting.  On our walk this morning, most of the bright red sugar maple leaves were already under our feet.  The earth is damp and the north winds strong.  Henry and I have been walking down a beautiful wooded path to the river that we live by every day.  The mossy parts of this wood are replete with beloved mushrooms.

Mushrooms…. the reason why I write to you today.  What amazing specimens they are!  Not only are they adorable and surrounded with fairy lore, they are beyond healthful and practical!  A couple of months ago, I posted on instagram about wanting to dye a pair of socks with lichen.  A user suggested that I use a type of mushroom: Cortinarius Semisanguineas or red-gilled webcap.  On one of our walks, I was looking very closely (okay, on my belly in the moss looking up at the gills…not weird at all) and noticed how beautiful the colours of this mushroom was and it clicked.  It was the very mushroom that the user had suggested! I got so excited and went back to the spot with my knife and a basket to collect and experiment ❤

Cortinarius Semisanguineas!  How beautiful are these colours?
Warm Autumn Day in The east of Canada
Collecting – I sliced the mushroom so not to damage the root of the mushroom in order to grow and thrive next year.

And so!  What did I do?  Welllllll, I first collected mushrooms.  I have read a lot about dyeing wool and nothing intrigues me more than using what grows close to you rather than what you can buy from a grocer.  I am not despairing the use of avocado or yellow onion skins (I plan on trying both!) I just don’t find the process as exciting, rewarding and directly engaging with this eco-region!  Something that naturally finds its home and is nourished by the same rain water that falls on my skin, on the earth that grows our food.  I want so badly to be more entrenched in the land around me. Dyeing is such an ancient way to connect to the land, to even represent the region you live!  I remember as a Celtic Studies student, learning that Scottish tartans began to be associated with certain clans simply due to the plants that were available in their region!

I first boiled some water with Alum and Cream of Tartar.  Once boiled, I added the wool and let it simmer for a short while (This is a mordant.  A mordant is the chemical composition that holds the natural dye to the fibre, otherwise you could end up with very washed out colours after exposure to the elements or a wash). I used pure white wool from MacAuslands here on PEI and an angora wool from We are Knitters.  once this wool was dry, I collected a small basket full of mushrooms (I only like taking a portion of what the earth provides), boiled them on the fire in the backyard and added the wool with the boiled mushroom broth in a mason jar.  Cortinarius Semisanguineas are actually poisonous so be cautious when handling!  They will not harm as a dye but they are not edible and I wasn’t crazy about having them in the house for long, especially with 4 wild ones about.   I repeated this process 3 times, hanging the experimental wool in a crab apple tree to dry.

I have looked at quite a few pictures online.  I believe it was the amount of the mordant that made my end result significantly paler than what I have seen and the amount of mushroom caps that I used.  Other examples are such a deep orange or red!  I really like the salmon shade that these turned out. I did try one strand of wool without a mordant and it was significantly darker.

Processed with VSCO with g3 preset
A Little mushroom study – The drawing on the right is a result of humidity, it looks a little strange but honestly, this is what they looked like!  This door was closed to critters while I worked with this fungi!  I love to draw plants and fungi that grow close to home.
Drying outdoors after their first dye bath
A closer look
A second dye bath – I started to do most of the process outdoors – partly because red-gilled webcaps are poisonous
IMG_20171009_144039 (1)
After a second dye bath – in our crab apple tree
Beauties after the 2nd bath
Beneath the mother white pine ❤  This tree is wonderful
A third dye bath never hurt anyone…. with the straw and wood for a couple of nights – a deep red!
Finished Result, I brought it back to the woods where I found the mushrooms to show them what wonders they do for us ❤
End Result – My sorry attempts at twisting a skein of yarn and my mushroom study

There you have it!  My first experiment with a close to home fungi!  I am SO excited about this project.  It was a lot of fun and very inspiring.  I hope you enjoyed this, even if you just looked at the photographs!  In our yard is a beautiful horse chestnut tree and I hope to use the husks to actually make a pair of fingerless mitts using the two colours 🙂

Autumnal blessings to you and I hope this post finds you well, inspired and happy ❤ I would love to hear about your own experiments or even desires with natural dyeing!

15 thoughts on “Dyeing Wool with Mushrooms!

    1. This makes me really, really sad. In the summer, I remember finding a lot of chanterelles that were just like completely dried out as though someone had picked them and laid them out in the sun to dry. Has the fall been dry too in BC?


      1. We have had some rain but the water levels are still so low. Thankfully the campfire bans have been lifted now and some rain makes me hopeful for mushrooms later on. Saying that, there’s already snow at 600ft!


  1. Lovely, Julia! So glad that you are venturing into local dyeing! It is the best in my opinion. Unfortunately, the pokeberry bushes on our property did not produce much this year, so no dye bath. Pokeberry produces a gorgeous deep magenta color. It seems that since September 2nd I’ve been away more than I have been home. So no dye projects here, nor any kind of creating has occurred. 😞

    The past few days we have finally been able to put the gardens to bed…harvesting and drying onions, beets, etc. Pulling up the sunflowers and nestling the heads in a way that the birds can feed on them throughout the winter. I picked Calendula yesterday and began an oil infusion for making some medicinal salves later on. Tomorrow we will make a batch of applesauce and freeze for the winter. Still much to do, but we take each day as it comes, doing what seems right in each moment. It is wonderful to flow in this grace. And this coming week we pack the bags and head out again for a few days.

    Thank you for sharing your adventures. I resonate with your desire to be “off-line”.


    1. Hey Bonnie!

      I am sorry for the late response! Shortly after I made this post, I travelled to Nova Scotia and then Ontario, so I was definitely off kilter! I also started to work in the library system again (just on an on call basis, but still!) so I am trying to find a balance between creative world/working/outdoors/ online etc. etc.

      I hope you have been having an enriching time, making salves and putting the gardens to bed! I have never seen pokeberry before but will have to look into it!


  2. Hi Julia! The wool looks magical. I love natural dyings. I am not good at it at all, but reading this was very inspiring. Do you think I could do the same with linen fabric? 🙂


    1. Thank you Anni! If you would like to try, I suggest buying some pretty cheap wool from you local woollen mill (we can get a skeine of ivory 100 % wool for a couple dollars from the woollen mill) and use an organic material that isn’t poisonous (like fungi!). You can use any flower!


  3. Dear Julia, thank you for posting! Like you, I am somewhat detached from the “real world” when not online as so much of my joy, sense of connection and support comes from those on the other side of my screen (sad, but true…I’m a serious loaner IRL). So very happy to hear your Petey has made a full recovery!! Delighted that your topic is mushrooms today! I adore them…edible, poisonous, magical, medicinal, pigment-filled or frilly :-). That said, I’m terrified of ingesting any that I find in the woods for fear I’ve mis-identified a killer :-/. So dyeing might just be one way to absorb all that mushroomy goodness ;-). I admire your desire to be rooted to place – especially a place as beautiful as PEI. I share that desire and, happily, similar island inspiration (though, sadly lack the time/energy to fulfill my quest in the ways that I’d like to). Your yarn turned out beautifully!! Looking forward to seeing more and hearing about your natural dyeing adventures.


    1. I apologize for my very very late response!!

      I feel the VERY same way about mushrooms… I am so suspicious of them, lol! I read about them and study them but still am not completely certain. I really really want to go on a fungi walk with a mycologist, however this island seems to be lacking in a lot of things like that, oh well!


  4. Hi Julia,

    Your mushroom dyed wool looks beautiful – I bet it will be hard to decide how to use it!

    I’ve been experimenting with natural dyeing recently, just using avocado so far (although a friend gave me some HUGE chrysanthemum heads to experiment with, so I might pop those in the dye pot later) and found this £1 little ebook to be really useful – https://www.botanicalthreads.co.uk/shop/dyeing-with-avocado-ebook . I thought you might find the use of soya milk instead of alum as a natural mordant interesting. From my limited experience, using alum is quicker and probably a little more reliable in terms of colourfast-ness (just making up words now!) but soya milk is more natural and kinder to the fabric.

    I can’t wait to see how your adventures in natural dyeing progress…I’ve put a few of my own bits on instagram ( https://www.instagram.com/folklore_kit/ )…I’ve fallen a little for natural dyeing, I don’t think I’ll stop anytime soon!


    1. Oh my goodness Kim, thank you for your message! I apologize for being SO late responding. Sometimes, I just begin to drift away from my online world and then I slowly drift back.

      Thanks so much for this information as well! I am interested in more natural mordants and would definitely like to try! I found that during my experiments, I actually like the wool without any mordant but then again.. I didn’t experiment with washing them out afterwords (ho-hum).

      I wish I could devote more time to just ONE thing (like dyeing for instance) but the reality is there is just so much that we want to do and try and immerse ourselves in, I’m getting to the point of thinking “how will I ever actually be sufficient at one thing?” So, my dyeing will likely start up again when everything begins to bloom and grow once again in the spring.


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