In Week One of my eco-printing ecourse, we explore how to combine eco-printing and shibori dyeing on wool. Shibori is a Japanese dyeing technique, where you fold or tie up the fabric in order to create resists. Then you submerge the fabric in dye. The resist area stays plain, while the exposed area picks up the dye. This produces a pattern. By placing leaves inside the areas of resist, you can get organic leaf prints surrounded by geometric patterns of solid colours. Here is a vest dyed in a similar way to what we explore in the ecourse:
To create this, I used eucalyptus leaves for the eco-printing, and created a dyebath of eucalyptus sawdust with iron mordant to darken it.
I’ve had plenty of luck lately finding lovely second-hand woollens to dye. Although cotton is my favourite for eco-printing, it is always a nice treat to use wool for a change. It gives such different results, especially when using eucalyptus leaves.
My favourite method for eco-printing on wool is to fold up the garment into a square, adding leaves as I go. Here I have used eucalyptus leaves. Then I press the bundle between tiles or blocks of wood and tie it firmly to hold the leaves in places. For thin bundles, clamps or clips can also be used.
I submerge this bundle in a dye bath and cook it for 2-3 hours (longer than I would do for cotton).
When it has cooled down, I unwrap it to reveal bright orange prints where the leaves were touching the fabric, and dark patches where the edges of the bundle were exposed to the dye bath.
Sometimes the dye seeps into the bundle and surrounds the leaf prints. And lines are created wherever the string was pressing firmly into the fabric.
Here is one of the finished pieces. The shibori patches have dried quite light on this one and just add gentle areas of warm brown to contrast with the bright leaf prints.
This piece I folded up into very small squares and tied between two pieces of hardwood. The fabric was already dyed blue with synthethic dyes when I bought it.
You can see how well the eucalyptus leaves have printed over the synthetic dye, and the lines created from the folding method.
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 prefer eco-printing on cotton rather than wool for a few reasons. Cotton clothing is easier to find at op-shops, and in a wider range of styles, than wool. Upcycling clothing that already exists feels like the most ethical way I can do a lot of eco-printing, so it makes sense to go with what is readily available. I also love the wider range of colours and textures that I can get on cotton. Eucalyptus leaves mostly print solid colours on wool, whereas prints on cotton often have extra details like blue dots.
When I was writing my ebook, I wanted to show the difference between wool and cotton eco-prints. I did a range of small samples with the same leaf sandwiched between one piece of wool and one piece of cotton. It was so interesting to see the different colours that came from the exact same leaf on the different types of fabric. All of these photos show the wool on the left and the cotton on the right.
Some of the mordant on the cotton did transfer somewhat onto the wool, seen most starkly in the dark borders around the leaves and gumnuts above, so I can’t expect the same results with these leaves on unmordanted wool.
I was especially excited to get some more insight into which leaves dye best on wool. Lots of the eucalyptus leaves here in the Blue Mountains dye quite pale, especially without any mordant. I noticed that I got beautiful bright oranges from silvery-blue leaves, while the greener leaves dyed pale yellows on the wool. Almost all of my local gumtrees have dark green leaves, so I guess it’s lucky I’m not often wanting to get bright prints on wool!
Even more interesting, the leaves that dyed orange on wool consistently dyed brown on (iron-mordanted) cotton, while the leaves that dyed pale yellow on wool dyed blue or blue-green on cotton. I know that some green eucalyptus leaves do dye brilliant reds or oranges, but my local ones don’t seem to have the right chemical components for that.
I still have a lot that I want to investigate about different types of gumleaves and what factors influence which colour they dye, but this was certainly a useful experiment and a very good way to get to know more about my local leaves.