Ergot on Rye/St. Anthony’s Fire

3-color screenprint with thermochromatic pigment (changes color with heat) on fabric

Ergot poisoning has been pretty rare since physicians discovered it in 1597, but before we knew about the fungal sclerotia that sometimes pop up in place of kernels on a stalk of grain, ergot was milled into flour and distributed to the masses in their daily bread.  The consequences of eating ergot fungi, which look more or less like rat turds but blend nicely into a dark rye flour, are grim: vomiting, spasms, diarrhea, hallucinations, crawling sensations in the skin, burning sensations in the limbs, and gangrene, to name a few.  Outbreaks were known throughout Medieval Europe as a punishment from God, “holy fire,” or St. Anthony’s Fire, after a hospital was set up in France by monks of the order of St. Anthony.  There are speculations that in America, ergot poisoning caused the Salem witch trials.

Due to some accidents and breakthroughs in modern science and medicine, we now use ergot to relieve migraine headaches, postpartum hemorrhages, and boredom with reality, without the inconvenient side effects.
This pattern is intended for table linens, so that you may reflect on medieval food poisoning in your own home as you bake and break bread.  Below are two versions: #1: the fungi fade into the background when warmed to 87 degrees #2: the fungi fade and the rye shifts color at 87 degrees.

3-color screenprint on cotton with thermochromatic pigment

undergoing thermal color change