Folk Fibers Blog

  • Natural Dyes - Wild Mushrooms

    This was my first experience obtaining color from mushrooms. I have a growing interest in mushroom hunting, so it was only a matter of time the lore of natural color would guide me to collecting them for dyes. This past August I stumbled upon a perfect wet wooded breeding ground for a variety of wild mushrooms. I used rubber gloves to carefully harvest all the mushrooms found on the waterfront of my parents lake house near the Virginia/North Carolina border. Warning, some mushrooms are extremely poisonous, and even after dye and washing, the fabric can still hold dangerous properties that could irritate skin. Stay safe with gloves, eye protection and proper ventilation, or wait until an expert can assist you.

    In keeping with simple textile techniques, I gathered all I could find and classified them into 7 groups based on shape and color. I put the mushrooms in ziplock bags to transport them home to Texas. I carefully placed the bags filled with mushrooms in a cardboard box and carried them onto the plane. I had no problems getting them through airport securities. When I arrived home a few hours later I immediately placed each mushroom group separately into 1 gallon glass jars filled with tap water. I secured a lid on each jar and let them sit out in the sun for a few days. This technique is referred to as solar dyeing. Once they had brewed a few days in the sun the water in each jar had darkened into 7 unique colors. I added fabric and yarn samples to each jar: cotton, wool, and silk. I left the fabric samples soak for a couple of weeks before straining and washing the fibers. This brewing process could be done quickly by boiling the mushrooms in pots over a stove, BUT I would not recommend boiling the mushrooms unless you are absolutely aware of the mushroom variety and it's level of toxins, because breathing in the fumes or coming in contact with your skin could be extremely dangerous if not fatal. I chose the solar dye jars for a couple reasons, mostly because it was the safest way to extract color from mushroom varieties I didn't know much about. Solar dye jars are also a great option when you have small quantities, and the time available to take advantage of free energy from the sun.

    A couple years ago I took a fantastic 6 course lecture series on Fungi, taught through the Wagner Free Institue of Science in Philadelphia.  At the time I was working on a small organic Farm in Philly and I attended the class in hopes of learning more about my fascination and appreciation for Fungi. The class terminology was a little over my head, but it helped me understanding the natural philosophy of fungi more clearly. Fungi can be good and bad, it is all about balance, and always is. 

    Fungi is a beneficial decomposer in soils, especially in rich soils like those we want in our gardens. Having the “right” fungi present in soils can promote plant health. BUT Fungi can also cause billions of dollars in losses to agricultural crops every year. Fungi constitute an entire kingdom of organisms, just as plants and animals do but they are far less well known. Some experts have suggested that there may be 10 times more fungal species than plant species. Because there are so many different kinds of fungi, and many are microscopic, just identifying them is a challenge. To learn more about fungi I highly recommend The Fifth Kingdom by Bryce Kendrick who studied fungi for more than 50 years, offering a comprehensive reference along with many pictures.

    I used all the mushrooms in the dye jars, to classify my results I ended up using watercolors to paint the varieties of mushrooms.

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  • Comments on this post (25 comments)

    • Genevieve says...

      Hello. I like your layout of drawings and various fibers dyed with each mushroom. It is very enticing. However, you don’t tell us what was the liquid used to add to the mushrooms in each jar. Was it plain water or salt water or vinegar or ammonia ? Different mushrooms give different colours depending on what liquid you soak them in. Can you please elaborate ? Thanks.

      On May 30, 2020

    • Elizaveta says...

      Many thanks from a Russian admirer and appretiator of the way you explore Nature ))) In Russia we use to collect ad prepare mushrooms for food, we know much about them. But still I was surprised ))))

      On November 07, 2019

    • Daniel Shields says...

      This is amazing! Mushrooms are really wonder fungus there are a lot of possible applications. This is a very educational reading material.

      On August 06, 2019

    • Vikki Haffenden says...

      Thank you for sharing your project. Your watercolours are charming and presenting them with the dyed fabric is inspiring.

      On March 10, 2019

    • Dina Amiri says...

      Thank you. I boiled 50 varieties of flowers and leafs to make colors and it was a time consuming process. I will definitively try solar dyeing next time very soon. You believe I should not reuse those jars and utensil I used to store or prepare food when dealing with flowers and herbs too?

      On July 10, 2018

    • Ye Ha says...

      Actually, I know of a first hand case where someone handled Gymnopilus junonius for hours and ended up hallucinating for many hours. But know of no instances where a poisonous mushroom will harm you. Including the Amanita phalloides.

      On November 12, 2017

    • Murielle says...

      Hello! Beautiful post and dyes. I just wanted to comment on the level of danger of collecting and working with poisonous mushrooms – it is impossible to get poisoned from simply touching/handling mushrooms with your hands. Only ingestion can cause issues or be fatal. While boiling mushrooms that are toxic or poisonous it is a good idea to be in a well ventilated area, but again, the risk of severe negative reactions is quite minimal. Hope this helps.

      On December 11, 2016

    • Regan says...

      Thanks for sharing your dye experiments! I’ll soon follow suit, experimenting with our local fungi. To put your mind at ease, it’s generally safe to say that you need to ingest a mushroom, in order to be poisoned by it. Wash your hands after handling mushrooms and before you eat, if you’re worried…and avoid inhaling ammonia from your dyepot—that’s the airborne irritant. Happy mushrooming!

      On November 03, 2016

    • MB says...

      I’m a french art student.
      I’m fond of your process !
      I’m working on mushrooms and more specifically on agaricus. Had you tried dying with this mushrooms’ gender ?
      Thanks !

      On October 30, 2015

    • Leslie Nunnelly says...

      Do you think store-bought mushrooms would give you the same colors?

      On October 22, 2015

    • Karo says...

      This is so amazingly amazing! I can’t find the words to describe how amazing this is! Mushrooms are a passion of mine and I’m stoked, that you can use them for dye! Omg! Those possibilities! _ Found you over flickr, and now the rest of the day I will browse your blog! (kidding, chores await T_T) so happy to have found this! :)
      Greetings from Salzburg,

      On September 04, 2015

    • Dylan says...


      I was wondering if the temperature affects the color in solar dyeing. I live in a hot area and what I was expecting to be brown came out much more yellow. How many days did you let the mushroom brew for and did you soak the fabric for a few weeks in the sun or indoors?

      Thank you!

      On August 16, 2015

    • Melissa Duffy says...

      HI Maura! I live in the Puget Sound region of WA state and we’ve had a total ‘bumper crop’ of mushrooms this year! I’ve been having fun doing natural dyes with mushrooms and lichens and will be teaching some upcoming classes on this in the next several months locally.

      If you are interested in learning more re mushroom dyes check out some books on this: Mushrooms for Color or Mushrooms for Dye, Paper, Pigments and Mcyo-Stix by Miriam Rice or

      Take care, Mycophile and Lichenophile, Melissa

      On December 19, 2013

    • syida says...

      so nice the color that have you found…natutal DYES in my heart…thanks for sharing

      On March 22, 2013

    • Cathy Fussell says...

      Your quilts are beautiful. They seem to be heavily inspired by the Gees Bend Quilts of Alabama. Are they?

      On February 04, 2013

    • Georgia says...

      What a beautifully done post!
      I really enjoyed it,
      mushrooms + natural dyeing = happiness

      On January 19, 2013

    • Mimi says...

      What a fascinating read! I came over from IG where I follow you…
      I’m looking forward to reading other posts.

      On January 16, 2013

    • Janet W says...

      I’m so intrigued by natural dyeing. Thanks so much for this great post and for sharing your experiences. Beautifully photographed!


      On January 10, 2013

    • montse llamas-artsandcats says...

      I admire the way you work and how you show your discoveries.Thanks!

      On December 23, 2012

    • k says...

      i love the watercolours you did of the mushrooms to go with each dye result. i have been experimenting with a bit of mushroom dyeing this year too, although it was a poor year for shrooms around here.

      On December 22, 2012

    • Irina says...

      Thank you, this is very interesting! I am glad that you used precautions, because mushroom #5 is a very dangerous one.

      On December 20, 2012

    • Giedra says...

      thank you for so nice exposition,- very good visual material for education

      On December 17, 2012

    • Sara B says...

      I never thought about using mushrooms to dye fabric! Thanks for the post I’m going out to gather a couple different kinds and try it. There’s never a shortage of fungus in Seattle!

      On December 04, 2012

    • Terry Lou says...

      Once again thanks for writing on the topic of natural dyes. I love your Photos of the dyeing results and the watercolor botanicals.

      On November 29, 2012

    • Ashton says...

      Maura, this is such a fascinating post! I am in absolute love with the subtlety between the neutral colors. I think mushroom #2 and #3 are my favorites :) Beautiful touch adding the watercolors :)

      On November 28, 2012

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