I have been continuing to experiment with shibori and eco-print combinations. This coat was made with some of the precious eucalyptus leaves I gathered in Broken Hill. Their gum blossoms make the most incredible prints. The dark shibori-style patches were made with eucalyptus bark plus iron placed in the dye pot, which only the exposed parts of the bundle took up.
I get asked often if the method I shared in my first eco-printing ebook, Gum Leaf Alchemy, will also work with other types of leaves beyond eucalyptus. I have spent many months experimenting with every leaf I could get my hands on, and now I can say for sure that yes it will! Most of the leaves I tested produced some kind of mark, though some were definitely better than others. I have collated some of the best and most interesting results into a new ebook, The Leaf Guide.
This ebook covers 25 plants that eco-print well on cotton. For each plant there is a photograph of the leaves and any other distinguishing features such as flowers or seed pods, as well as samples of the eco-prints they produce.
Grevillea (above) and maple (below) are some of my favourites prints in the ebook. They give such strong and distinctive results.
There are also examples of different pieces of clothing and fabric dyed with mixed leaves, and information about using fresh, dried and soaked leaves.
If you find eco-printing on cotton difficult, or want to expand your repetoire beyond eucalyptus leaves, this ebook will help you. It can be purchased here.
Combining shibori and eco-printing methods can create dynamic designs that have both structured and organic elements. To create this design, I used woollen thermal garments, eucalyptus leaves, wooden boards and string.
The eucalyptus leaves were placed onto wool, which was then folded up using a simple shibori accordion fold. The garments were pressed between the wood boards and tied tightly to hold the shape. Then these bundles were boiled in water for about 2 hours. I added eucalyptus leaves and iron to the water, to dye the exposed bits of fabric.
Here you can see how the exposed wool has picked up dark colours from the dyebath, while the wood has masked the inner bits of fabric. This creates strong contrast against the leaf prints.
Beginning to unwrap…
This is the back of the final design. I love how this way of folding creates many lines of symmetry, and some bits of the fabric get more exposed to the dyebath than others.
I’m continuing to gather leaves and do tests for my new ebook, which will cover a wide range of leaves that eco-print well on cotton. This tshirt was eco-printed with 8 different types of deciduous leaves, using the method described in Gum Leaf Alchemy. The leaves have produced a range of greens and blues.
Eco-printing on paper is a fun and easy way to introduce children to the wonders of natural dyeing or to get started with it yourself. Here’s a tutorial for one particular method, using autumn leaves. Autumn leaves print particularly well because they are high in tannins and carotenoid and anthocyanin pigments, which will all give colour. But you could also try this process with any leaves you have around you (results will obviously vary).
You will need:
Strips of watercolour paper
Wood blocks or tiles to press the paper between
Autumn leaves- especially red and purple. I used maple, liquidambar and claret ash
Step 1: Fold your paper into a concertina booklet, slightly smaller than the blocks or tiles you are using. Wet it lightly, then arrange the leaves on each page.
Step 2: Fold your paper up with the leaves inside. You can also put a leaf on the front and back covers. Then press between the wood blocks or tiles.
Step 3: Wrap your wood blocks with string to hold the bundle together. You want firm pressure so that each leaf is pushed into the paper, to make a clear print. With tiles, you can clamp them together with bulldog clips.
Step 4: Once your bundles are wrapped, put them in a pot of boiling water and simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour. It is always best to use a dedicated dyepot, not one you also use for cooking. If the wood blocks float, weigh them down with a rock.
Step 5: Let them cool, then carefully unwrap, remove the leaves and let the paper dry.
If you want to learn further eco-printing on paper techniques, or find out about more types of leaves that will give good prints, have a look at my eco-printing on paper ebook, Plant Poetry. Or if you want to return to this project later, you can pin the below image.
I’ve been busy testing a range of different leaves, using the eco-printing method described in my first ebook. Although that ebook focuses on eucalyptus leaves, which are still my favourite, the method works well for many other leaves. This is a sampler of mixed deciduous leaves: oak, blackberry, cotinus (smokebush) and two types of maple. I am going to be compiling all of my tests into a new mini-ebook, a guide to different leaves that print well. It will cover a mix of native Australian and foreign leaves, focussing on those that grow in temperate climates. I hope that this will help readers who don’t live surrounded by eucalyptus trees, or who just want to try new leaves.
Last weekend I ran my first full-day eco-printing on cotton workshop. I had a lovely group of enthusiastic women join me at my house to explore the theoretical and practical aspects of this method of natural dyeing.
We spent the morning talking about choosing and preparing leaves and fabric and making a mordant. I demonstrated a few ways to place leaves and wrap bundles, then it was their turn. It was so interesting to see the different ways everyone arranged their leaves.
We put our bundles on to cook while we enjoyed a shared lunch. Then it was time for the most exciting part of the day- unwrapping! We took turns unwrapping our bundles, and there were many exclaimations of joy at the beautiful leaf prints that had emerged on our fabric.
Again, it was so lovely to see the different results everyone got. We each dyed two pieces of clothing and many of us got quite different colours on each piece.
Everyone left with wonderful prints, but more importantly with the knowledge to be able to go home and continue this on their own. I had a great day and am looking forward to teaching many more workshops. To see what I have scheduled, check out the ‘workshops’ tab on the menu.
St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) is an incredible plant. It can be identified by crushing the flower buds, which will release a beautiful deep plum liquid. This colour comes from hypericin, which gives an indication of the plant’s dyeing potential and is also one of its medicinal constituents.
The flowers and top few centimetres of each plant can be soaked in alcohol or oil to create herbal tinctures and oils. Over time, the hypericin in the flowers will turn the liquid a lovely deep red colour. Some of the medicinal uses include taking the tincture for depression and anxiety, and using the oil externally on aching muscles, cuts and tension headaches.
St John’s Wort can be used to create a dye bath, as Jenny Dean describes in her wonderful book Wild Color, but my very favourite use for it is eco-printing on paper. Pressed between pieces of watercolour paper, immobilised between 2 tiles and simmered under water for about an hour, it will produce a beautiful clear print with yellow and olive green leaves and blue and green flowers.
The paper can also be mordanted with iron, which has the typical ‘saddening’ effect on the plant dyes. The example below shows prints from the same plant which was pressed between iron-mordanted and unmordanted paper.
I hope this has inspired you to explore some of the dye potential of this very special ‘weed’.
I’ve been wanting to try dyeing with Australian Indigo (Indigofera Australis) for a long time. I’ve got a small bush growing but it is still too young for harvesting. So I was very excited when some friends offered me clippings from their huge plant.
There are a few tutorials online specifically for Australian Indigo, at Turkey Red Journal and Tinker Maker. But I really wanted to keep it natural and avoid using Sodium Hydrosulphite. I kept researching and came across a method for Japanese Indigo which uses cold processing of fresh leaves. Despite Japanese Indigo (Persicaria Tinctorium) being a completely unrelated plant, I decided to give this method a go. And I’m so pleased with how well it worked!
I followed the instructions on The Dogwood Dyer’s blog, which involve whizzing up fresh leaves in a blender with cold water and vinegar. I strained this liquid then folded and tied some small cotton samples and soaked them in the dye.
After the first soak the cotton has turned this vivid green.
The next day I did many rounds of short dips and each time the cotton got darker and more blue.
This is the darkest that the triangle got, plus some lighter, greener samples and an Indigofera Australis leaf. Isn’t it magic that these leaves can produce such a dark blue?!
This was my first time trying shibori. It was so exciting to unwrap my little triangle and discover the beautiful patterns that folding and tying had made on this top.
And here are a few other samples. I really enjoyed beginning to explore the many hues that Australian Indigo can produce. Now to find and grow more plants!
Maple leaves are high in tannins and so are well-suited to the eco-print process. Tannins help natural dyes bond to fabric and often also impart colour. Tannin levels increase over the growing season. So maple leaves picked in autumn will print more vividly than those picked in spring.
The different sides of maple leaves produce quite different effects. I like the delicate details of the sky-facing side of the leaves.
But the earth-facing side will print the most colour and be more colourfast.
These samples were printed with the method described in my ebook. I soaked the leaves for a few months to get rid of excess tannins, which bleed when combined with the iron mordant. The soaking process helps produce clear, crisp prints.