Lobsters from the forest


So, the other evening an email arrives and in it, photographs
of a most unusual mushroom, something I'd never seen before.
My friend who lives in the center of the island has them growing in their woods
and he wrote to say that while harvesting [Mrs. likes to cook with them],
his hands turned orange.
I was practically giddy considering the dye pot possibilities,
as he probably knew I would be.
Very nice of my friends to think of me at times like this!

Thanks to some quick internet research, "Lobster" dyeing started to seem,
well, a little less strange.

Hypomyces lactifluorumor Lobster mushroom, is not actually a mushroom at all.
From Wikipedia:

Lobster mushroom is not a mushroom, but rather
a parasitic ascomycete that grows on mushrooms, turning them
a reddish orange color that resembles the outer shell of a
cooked lobster.  It colonizes members of the genera
Lactarius (Milk-caps) and Russula ... in North America.
At maturity, H. lactifluorum thoroughly covers its host,
rendering it unidentifiable.

A quick jaunt and a full shopping bag later and I was ready for business.
My kind & generous friends wished me well
as I set myself towards home.  The laborious task of chopping away all the color
from the stalks was about to begin ...

and then came the waiting for the [watched] pot to boil ...

then I waited and waited and waited
for the dye bath to turn orange.

Much to my dismay, the color from this gosh-awful-rank-smelling broth
[after cooking for well over an hour] was nothing but a pale, tawny gold.


Not a chance I was going to let all that chopping go to waste [two nylon knee
stockings stuffed to the gills], so having read someplace
that 'shrooms are particularly sensitive to pH, I decided
to play around and see if I could get this brew to go
way, way alkaline ...

Lobster rolls, anyone?

Now I was gettin' somewhere.  In went the test strips of silk, initially
turning a delicate shade of pink ... yawn ...
but with a bit more time
and a little more alkalinity [aka ordinary kitchen baking soda]
you may be quite surprised to see what became of the color ...






Take THAT, you lobsters.

A certain dawg around here was highly interested in the "fragrant" bundles
[paw prints above ... sure sign of a nose on patrol]
Fortunately, the smell completely disappears once the cloths dry.
Now THAT  is  a miracle.
If you're not a fan of fishy smells, this may not be your dye of choice;
the stench is overpowering, I kid you not.  And don't even consider for one second
cooking up a batch anywhere other than outside - although on second thought
this may be quite useful in ridding oneself of an annoying roommate.

Since having India 'round these parts to pull various rabbits out of her sleeves
and offer up a host of helpful tidbits about her working methods,
I've adopted a change or two to my former habits.  For instance,
I no longer stir the bundles in my dye pots, thus assuring each one gets even coverage.
[why in the world would you want that?, she wondered]
Why do that when some of the most interesting marks come from being
partially submerged?  Duh.  Photo above for example ... driftwood floats so the top side
of the cloth above the water line shows little color while underneath
it soaked up the dye like crazy.

Unrolled it's even more obvious ....
yup, no more stirring.

My friend tells me the Lobsters don't appear every year ... in fact,
he hadn't seen them for a few years.  Just to secure a little bit of the future,
I scattered the leavings in my own woods in hopes that one day
some parasitic wonders will appear on my own patch.
Maybe one day I can return the favor.


  1. did you try bundling them??? i would have....xo

    1. gosh, India ... must admit to be putting off by the thought of peeling that cooked goo out of all that fabric ;>/
      Had visions of it reeking for days. 'Course now I know the smell goes away when dry ...
      Something for next time!

  2. What a great post, and what amazing not fungi, I have some brown fungi in my garden which Marti has suggested I try dyeing with, I guess I might have to do it outside, forewarned and all that.

    1. Just take great care about identifying which ones you have first, Debbie. Wouldn't for the world want to encourage anyone here to experiment with unknowns ... way too iffy. But if you have good 'uns, I say go for it. I tried Googling "dyeing with mushrooms" which led down all sorts of interesting side streets. They're super sensitive to pH so that opens up a bunch of possibilities. India's idea of bundling could easily be tested on a small scale ;>]] Good luck & I hope you'll share the results.

  3. Oh my!! Bee-u-ti-ful! Thanks for mentioning alkalinity, Christi...I've been experimenting with vinegar and forgetting about the other. One thing I love about all this is learning detective skills.

    1. Must admit, Suzanna, that the *sleuthing* aspect to all this is very appealing to me, too,
      along with the uncertainty of not knowing the outcome [no matter how I try to have "guarantees"].

  4. Gorgeous colours! And I can vouch for the taste of the mushrooms, lightly saut├ęd in butter. Yum.

    1. Beespeaker, you are braver than I as I can't even imagine at this point
      eating one of these monsters! But I shall take your word for it ;>]]

  5. scrumpdillyump! you make me want to start dying! and that's the best compliment I can ever ever give. xo

    1. ... may want to start to with something a little less off-putting to the senses, Jen,
      like maybe ROSES, tee hee.

  6. Aggghhh!!! Christi!!!! I am agog at the colors you obtained. What a great friend to share the lobster-fungus with you. Congratulations, great post!
    (i can just SEE a certain Dog nosing around with great interest)!

    1. Sus, it was my "other" dog, Quinn, not miz Isla [who will have nothing to do with anything that smells rank].
      Having lost one of my fave bundling sticks to the jaws of Quinn awhile back, I keep a closer eye on her
      when I've got certain ingredients within reach. She is notorious!

  7. Incredibly beautiful! I love the way color can seep around cloth. When color wicks up through cloth I often think about how water moves through plants...

    1. ... lovely thought, Deb ~ I hadn't imagined cloth-wicking in that way at all, but yes!

  8. LOL. Those are beautiful! And I get most of my best results that way...just by tinkering. Hey I got my beads! Beautiful, thank you. :)

    1. Thanks, Jennifer ;>]
      Hope you'll find good uses for them.

  9. Well I am not a dyer myself, but still your blog is very inspiring! Love your experiments. Love also Deb's comment about water moving through plants. :)

    1. Greetings, Verna, thank you for the kind words, very happy you visited.
      And Deb's words were SPOT ON. Good thoughts.

  10. in my early eco-India fever everything in my garden with color was an option for that color
    I know better now
    my hopes are high to ever get the possibility to take a class from India
    Christi...it's always heaven here on your blog

    1. Well then, I wish that for you, yvette, sincerely ... !

      Many thanks.

  11. Wow - your perseverance really paid off. This is a gorgeous color and you are very brave to have put up with the gawd-awful smell.

    1. After being a chopping maniac [for well over an hour] there was no way I was going to waste that fine mess ;>]]
      Funny, I still have the potful of dye on the porch and now that it's stone cold, there's no smell at all.
      Go figure.

  12. You were such a smarty-britches to think of adding baking soda! The most beautiful purple lobster I've ever seen...SUCH as smarty britches. Oh, and how I smiled when your friend said, "Why in the world would you want to do that?" Why indeed...

    1. I cannot take credit for thinking about a solution to alkalinity ... almost everything I know has come from the tutelage of India Flint - most especially her book, "Eco Colour," which has led me down all sorts of wonderful roads of experimentation & continues to, still. I wish you were closer, Susan ... we could get up to all sorts of fun with plants & hot water!!

      Lovely to have you stop by here. And OH, how I've loved your tales & photos of Scotland.

  13. awesome in every way! really wonderful.

    1. aww gee, Velma, thanks for that - a great compliment considering your own fine work with
      natural color.