The first dye mushroom I ever connected with was Omphalotus olivascens. I didn’t know what it was when I saw it, but it looked promising.
I was wandering in a Marin County oak forest after a rain looking for potential dye mushrooms. After a while I began to see all kinds of little guys. They were mostly brownish or pink, or even bluish. Then, I came across a huge eucalyptus stump. On one side were groups of large golden mushrooms. I thought they would certainly make a bright yellow, so I harvested them and added them to the bag.
Once home, I chopped them up, placed them in a large mason jar and poured in boiling water from the tea kettle. Almost immediately the water turned deep burgundy–a burgundy dye? Then I added some unmordanted wool yarn, gently swirled it around and within a few minutes could see that the dye had already fastened itself to the fiber. I pulled it out of the jar and it was a beautiful dark purple!
How did a yellow mushroom make this dark purple dye? I posted a photo of the mushroom online and Alissa Allen, mushroom dye guru, replied: “Jack O’lantern!” and casually mentioned that it also glows in the dark. I read up on it, and noticed I had intuitively added a splash of vinegar to the jar afterwards which can further bump up the purple, by making the dyebath more acid.
Some time later, I made another Omphalotus olivascens dye, with different success. Some of it was older and it created a variegated effect on the yarn; parts of the yarn were dyed the gold color of the mushroom and some parts colored the aforementioned purple shade. When you look at the mushroom itself, you can see how it turns a bit purple when it ages, exposing its complement and the hidden dye color.
To make things even more interesting, I recently mordanted a few silk camisoles with alum and dyed them with this mushroom. Silk seems to react differently, creating a green, rather than a purple.
It’s one of the easier mushroom dyes to work with, no additional ingredients are needed, although you can add them if you like, and I love the purple color that can result. If you run across these guys in the forest, take a few home with you and try them out.