Here’s a video tutorial I made about eco-printing on paper using a rusty can. I love this method because it is easy to get interesting prints with most types of paper and leaves, although I have used some of my favourites for this demonstration.
This is one of the methods I share in my eco-printing on paper ebook, Plant Poetry, along with lots of information about plants, papers and bundling techniques to try.
If you just want to watch a quick preview of the whole process, check out this short video:
I hope that this inspires you to get creative with the plants around you. Have fun experimenting!
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.
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’.
Eco-printing on paper is a fast, easy and satisfying way to get started with this wonderful craft process. You don’t need much in the way of special tools or equipment and you can experiment with the plants growing around you.
This tutorial shares a particularly simple yet effective method for eco-printing on paper, using a tin can and whatever paper you already have. It’s my favourite method for paper, because it is so easy to get interesting results. The effects you get will depend on your local flora, the paper you use and many other variables. Have fun experimenting!
Materials for eco-printing on paper
Mordant- iron soaked in vinegar
Leaves and flowers
Tin cans (rusty if possible)
Method of eco-printing on paper
Select and prepare your paper. I like to use cotton-rag watercolour paper that I buy at art stores. It has a beautiful texture and doesn’t tear easily when wet. But you will get some sort of result on any paper. Even basic paper like printer paper can give stunning results.
Cut your paper to the desired size. For this tutorial I cut narrow strips that can be wrapped around the tin can. You could also make small cards.
I mordanted my paper using a similar technique as that described in my eco-printing on paper ebook – giving the paper a short soak in water with a dash of iron-vinegar. Wear gloves to protect your hands from the mordant. You can let the paper dry after mordanting, or continue with the process. But if you are using a rusty tin can, you can omit the mordanting process and just let the rust work it’s magic.
Gather plant matter. For my paper prints, I’ve been exploring a range of both native Australian and introduced flowers and leaves. Most were gathered fresh, though some had been soaking in water for a few weeks. When choosing plants to use, look for interesting outlines, and leaves or flowers that will press fairly flat. And please avoid any toxic plants as you will be touching them and breathing in their fumes!
Arrange the leaves on the paper. Leave some gaps and spaces so that the outlines have more chance of being visible. You can also try experimenting with layering materials for a different effect. Try sprinkling crushed onion skins over the paper, to add extra colour.
Roll the paper around the tin can. If you are using a rusty can, the paper in contact with the rust will print darker than other sections. When you have rolled all the paper around the can, tie it with string or fabric strips to hold it in place.
Place your paper bundle in a dye pot (a cooking pot dedicated to dyeing only, to avoid food contamination) and cover with boiling water. Bring to the boil, then simmer for about 1 hour. If possible, do this step outside or open doors and windows to ensure good ventilation.
After the bundle has cooled down, it can be left overnight, or for a few days, to allow the natural colours to continue to develop. Or you may choose to open it immediately. Unwrap slowly and carefully to avoid ripping the paper. If some of the leaves seem stuck, don’t pull them off. Instead, submerge the paper in some water and rub them gently.
Allow your eco-printed paper to dry, noticing how some colours shift or fade in this process. Then enjoy your beautiful paper- use it for cards or scrapbooking, or display it as an art piece. And if you didn’t get the results you were after, keep trying!
More techniques for eco-printing on paper
If you are interested in learning more techniques for getting good eco-prints on paper, check out my ebook Plant Poetry. It’s a comprehensive guide which includes many examples of specific plants to use, comparisons of results on different types of paper, and special effects such as soy mordants, dye blankets, iron blankets and discharge printing. Check it out by clicking here and take your paper eco-prints to the next level.
I also have some more free tutorials for eco-printing on paper:
I’ve been experimenting with naturally dyeing solid colours, aided by Rebecca Desnos’ beautiful ebook. I recently tried dyeing soy-mordanted cotton with avocado seeds (avocado stones/pits). When I first put the fabric in the dye bath I didn’t quite believe it would do anything. The dye looked quite pale. But I left it for about 30 hours and it slowly turned this vivid pink!
I tried eco-printing over this fabric but didn’t have much success. But I was able to create a beautiful resist effect on some watercolour paper. I covered some iron-mordanted watercolour paper with gum leaves, then laid a piece of my avocado-dyed cotton on top, pressed it between 2 tiles and boiled for an hour. Some of the avocado dye transferred to the paper and the pink turned to purple in reaction with the iron.
You can Pin the below image if you want to come back to this later.