english girl at home

A Sewing & Knitting Blog, Made in Birmingham, England

Solar Dyeing with Fungi & Biden


Natural Dyeing with Toadstools

When I started experimenting with natural dyeing, I initially assumed that I wouldn’t have much luck in the UK with solar dyeing, particularly in the winter, due to the fact there isn’t all that much sun.

Natural Dyeing with Toadstools

However, I decided to give it a try with some fungi that sprout in our lawn every Autumn. These are fly agaric, a common British/European mushroom, which is mildly toxic and was used in the past for medicinal and religious hallucinogenic purposes. I really like seeing them pop up in our garden as they are so vibrant, but they don’t last for long as slugs love to eat them.

Natural Dyeing with Toadstools

Here’s one that the slugs had already made a good start on!

Natural Dyeing with Toadstools

Due to the toxicity of the fungi I didn’t fancy boiling them for dyeing and releasing any fumes, so attempted solar dyeing. I started the fungi off with some tap water in two jam jars, since these were the only containers I had lying around at home, and I thought if I delayed the slugs would have eaten every last bit. You can see that these jars wouldn’t be any use for dyeing though, since there is no room for any fibre.

Natural Dyeing with Toadstools

Natural Dyeing with Toadstools

I shortly moved the fungi into a large cheap glass jar, purchased from Tiger, and topped it up with additional tap water.

Solar Natural Dyeing with Fly Agaric Fungi

Since I previously harvested my biden plants and completed one batch of biden dyeing, quite a large number of flowers had bloomed. So I decided to pop some Biden flowers in a second jar for solar dyeing.

Solar Natural Dyeing with Biden Flowers

Solar Natural Dyeing with Biden Flowers

For the best chance of sunlight, I placed the jars on top of our shed (helpfully there is a small shelf over the door which was perfect). I left them alone for a couple of weeks, by which time both jars had achieved a decent colour.

Solar Natural Dyeing with Fly Agaric Fungi and Biden Flowers

At this point I added a small section of pre-mordanted yarn (Rowan Big Wool, a 100% merino wool) and pre-mordanted unbleached cotton into each jar. I could have removed the biden flowers at this point (to prevent them getting tangled in the yarn) but didn’t bother. I did remove most of the fungi as it was already starting to look a little moldy.

Solar Natural Dyeing with Fly Agaric Fungi and Biden Flowers

I read somewhere that a layer of wax on top of the jars can help to avoid mold. I attempted to create this by melting some wax on the surface of each jar. However, I wouldn’t recommend this approach. The liquid was still able to seep through gaps in the wax, and when I came to empty the jars removing the wax was a total pain.

Solar Natural Dyeing with Fly Agaric Fungi and Biden Flowers

Solar Natural Dyeing with Fly Agaric Fungi and Biden Flowers

Solar Dyeing with Biden

I left the fibre in the jars for another week or two before emptying out the contents. The pictures below show the fibre on immediate removal from the jars, and then hung on the line after a wash.

Solar Dyeing with Biden

Solar Dyeing with Toadstool

You can see that I achieved a reasonable pink on the yarn with the fungi, but it had almost no effect on the cotton. The biden, on the other hand, achieved a strong colour on the yarn and cotton. The patchy effect on the cotton is due to how I squashed the fabric into the jar.

Solar Dyeing with Toadstool and Biden

Solar Dyeing with Toadstool and Biden

I have some natural dyeing planned for today – with some precious British silk – so wish me good results.

P.S. There is a beautiful post on dyeing with mushooms on the Folk Fibres blog.


Author: Charlotte

Sewist, crafter & blogger, based in Birmingham, England. I'm spending the year growing and gathering to create natural dyes and enhance my sewing projects. Find me at www.englishgirlathome.com

15 thoughts on “Solar Dyeing with Fungi & Biden

  1. Thanks for posting – and the link for the other mushroom dyeing. I do quite a lot of solar dyeing but have not done mushroom dyeing. It works well throughout all the winter I find, but I usually leave the yarn ( I nearly always do wool) in for months rather than weeks, this helps to give an intense colour. Also the bigger the jam jar the better I find as you can get an even colour. No need to worry about the mould, I just wear gloves and make sure I don’t breathe in the spores on opening. I have some, but I have just realised, very little of what I have done on my blog- http://www.imagejem.blogspot.co.uk

  2. I have wondered about solar dyeing too and tended to think that it wouldn’t be very successful given the lack of sun here in the UK. I had imagined that I would have to do some boiling on a stove outside if I chose to dye with something that gave off noxious fumes. You’ve certainly proved that it would be worth a go.

    The Biden gives a wonderful strong colour. Do you have to grow much? I just have a back yard. Would it be possible to grow enough in a pot?

    The British silk is actually surprisingly amenable to being boiled. I did a boil in a nasty smelly dock leaf brew recently and it turned out well. I’m going to use the fabric as a lining for my hemp jacket.

    • I definitely recommend the biden for growing in a pot – it doesn’t take up that much room & it produces a lot of flowers, enough to get a decent colour. I was impressed with the silk – it did fine in the dye pot & I put it in the washing machine afterwards at 30 with no ill effect so it’s pretty resilient. In terms of the solar dyeing I’d just say it is worth putting the jars in the sunniest possible spot – I think being on the roof of our shed made a difference.

      • The biden sounds good. Do you grow it from seed? I grow everything in pots, but some things just aren’t very successful. I even have an apple tree in a pot – it is a bit of a sorry thing.

      • I grew my biden from seed – it was just a packet from the local garden centre. I did start it off in pots in a little grow house I have in the garden just to give it a helping hand initially

  3. This year I am getting into natural dyeing in a big way, and solar dyeing is top of my list. Thank you for this post, I have a lot of different mushrooms on our bush property.

    • Looking forward to seeing your dyeing experiments. It would be great to see what results you can get from different mushrooms. P.S I’ve really enjoyed reading about your recent trip & have been picking up tips for future travel x

  4. I haven’t tried fungi but have done some solar dyeing with docks and coffee grounds on cotton, linen and silk. I’ve got jars on the go at the moment – beech leaves, hops and onion skins. The beech leaves are doing nothing but the hops and onion skins are doing well. Like Jemtext I’m leaving them for months rather than weeks.

    • Loved your natural dyeing posts – the onion skins gave a great colour. I’ll try leaving my solar dyes for longer next time & see if I can get a stronger colour – thanks.

  5. Those are both really beautiful results! I’m interested in doing a bit more natural dyeing this year, have been storing avocado bits for ages in the freezer, building up a good quantity… The colours you got are so lovely, I really like the pink but am pretty sure that kind of mushroom does not grow here.

    • You can get a more reliable pink with other materials than with the fungi – I’ve gotten nice pinks with madder and brazilwood, and I know cochineal is also supposed to be good. I’ve been storing up onion skins for dyeing for ages – it takes so many!

  6. Pingback: A Naturally Dyed Wardrobe Update | english girl at home

  7. Thankyou. Have a great haul of flyagarics today, so going to give it a go!

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