Gumnut Magic

Troubleshooting pale paper eco-print results

Is there anything more frustrating than spending hours carefully gathering leaves and flowers, arranging them on paper, stacking them, tying them up, cooking them … only to finally unwrap them, and get pale or no results!

Ok, there are probably some more frustrating things in life 😅 But when it comes to eco-printing, it doesn’t get much worse than that.

If you’re new to eco-printing on paper, click here to get my free mini guide. It includes 3 projects, and photos of the process and results. 

If you already have the guide, or you have been doing your own eco-print experiments and are getting pale results, read on for some tips and suggestions.

Troubleshooting pale paper eco-print results

If you are getting pale results, it is probably a problem with the leaves or paper or both. (If you are wrapping too loosely, that can also cause pale prints, but let’s assume you are wrapping your bundles tightly).

A simple way to work out which variable might be the issue, is to include a big piece of onion skin in your next bundle (the orange or purple dry outer skin of the onion, just to be clear!). Put it on the paper just as you would a leaf or flower. Onion skin is abundant in natural dyes, so if it doesn’t print, you’ll know that the paper is the culprit. If it prints well, you’ll know that the paper is fine and that you need to try some different plants.

🌿 Leaves

  • If the leaves you tried didn’t give good results, just keep trying things! This is the exact process I used when I was writing my Plant Poetry eco-printing on paper ebook. Every single leaf and flower I could get my hands on, I would test. You can also research dye plants or plants high in tannins, to give you a head start. But I love trying everything, because sometimes you get unexpectedly good results from a wild card.
  • The seasons affect the amount of dye in deciduous leaves. If you are currently in autumn, enjoy this special time of year. Deciduous leaves print best in late summer and autumn when tannins are highest. If you are currently in spring, it might be better to use evergreen leaves such as eucalyptus or pine, and wait til later in the season to try deciduous leaves.

📖 Pape

      • If you aren’t using watercolour paper, it is worth investing in some. It takes up the colour much more easily than most other paper. That said, there is huge variance in brands so if the watercolour paper you are trying isn’t giving good results, try a different brand.

      • If you want to use a different kind of paper, it is worth preparing it with some kind of mordant or binder. Try soaking it in soy milk, dissolved gelatin, or homemade iron mordant (rusty iron covered in vinegar and left for a few weeks). Dry the paper after soaking, and then it is ready to use.

    🌟 A few tricks for getting extra colour:

    • Sprinkle onion skin all over the paper before you roll or fold it up;
    • use a very rusty can if you are doing the rolled bundle;
    • and/or cook the bundles in a dye bath. Some simple dyestuff to use in your dye bath are onion skins, eucalyptus leaves or bark, acorns, marigold flowers, Hass avocado seeds or skin.

    If you like taking a rigorous approach, you can do a range of bundles with different plants and different types of paper, taking notes of the variables and over time working out which gives you the best results. But some people prefer working more intuitively, and you’ll slowly learn from that approach too.

    Want to go deeper?

    There’s absolutely enough information in the mini book and this post for you to get started. But if you’d like a more in-depth guide, then you’ll love my longer eco-printing on paper ebook, Plant Poetry. It goes deeper into every variable in the process, with many photos of samples on different dyes of paper and using different dyestuff. Here’s a sample page, from the section on herbaceous plants:

    Even if you’re not interested in the ebook, this sample page can give you some ideas of new plants to try.

    Ok, that’s plenty of ideas for you to be getting on with! If you are still having trouble please leave a comment and let’s work it out together.

    Troubleshooting pale paper eco-print results

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    Naturally dyeing easter eggs with Black Knight scabiosa

    Naturally dyeing eggs is such a sweet and simple Easter tradition. It’s become my yearly ritual, and I always like to experiment with new leaves or flowers or new dyestuff. And making use of what is growing around me feels like a nice way to turn this into a seasonal celebration, which is important to me when living in Australia where so many of our celebrations occur in the opposite season to what was intended!

    I was so excited this year to realise that because Easter occurs in Autumn in Australia, all of the beautiful Black Knight scabiosa that I had been growing in my garden as a dyestuff could be used to dye my eggs too!

    Black Knight scabiosa creates the most divine purple dye bath. It’s best to cook it slow and long. I like to gently heat it for about half an hour, leaving it under a simmer. Then let it sit overnight and repeat once or twice.

    The beauty of using Black Knight scabiosa is that it is a pH sensitive dye, which means that you can modify the colours with acids such as vinegar and alkalis such as baking soda, as you can see in the tutorial:

    If you don’t have this flower available, you can absolutely still follow this tutorial. Use a different edible dye bath such as onion skins, beetroot, purple cabbage, turmeric or edible dye flowers like I have done here. And the leaves or flowers you use for the relief prints should also be edible. That way you can still eat the eggs after you have enjoyed their beauty. 

    Here’s a closer look at the results. The top two eggs were the original colour, the middle two were modified with baking soda and the bottom two were modified with vinegar:

    I used duck eggs for this video, which had the advantage of being very pale. It’s hard to find white chickens eggs where I live. But brown eggs absolutely work, the results are just a bit darker. Here’s some brown chicken eggs that I dyed and modified using the same technique:

    The top two eggs were modified with vinegar and went a lovely maroon, while the bottom two were modified with baking soda and went a stronger green than on the duck eggs. It’s hard to pick up these natural colours in a photo or video, but in real life they were so delicate and enchanting!

    Thanks for joining me for a moment of easter crafting. Do you decorate eggs in your house? Or mark the season in some other way?

    Happy dyeing and happy Easter!

    PS: A note of caution. I have seen Scabiosa variably referred to as either edible or not edible but just non-toxic. I’m still searching for something more definitive. So please do your own research and make your own choices about what feels safe to consume. Even though most of the dye stays on the outside, sometimes a small amount does come through into the egg white.

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    Tracking down those elusive orange eco-prints

    I love the bright orange eco-prints you can get from eucalyptus leaves on wool. It’s not just a matter of grabbing the closest eucalyptus leaves you can find and bunging them on some wool though. Only some species will offer up this magical colour.

    There are over 700 types of eucalyptus trees, and it can be hard to identify individual species because many look alike. So while it is possible to find lists of eucalyptus leaves that eco-print well on wool, these lists aren’t always useful if A. you don’t know how to identify that species and B. you don’t have that species growing near you.

    So rather than relying on finding particular species, I prefer to simply test what is growing around me. Sometimes I will try any leaf I can find. Other times I prefer to be more strategic and look for certain traits – silvery leaves; small, skinny, thin leaves; ‘milky green’ or pale green colours all seem to be more likely to print orange on wool, than using thick, dark green leaves. Of course, for every rule there will be an exception. But when it comes to leaves that I predict will give good colour, that’s what I look for.

    There are two methods I can use to test whether certain leaves will give orange on wool. The first is, of course, to test them on wool. Place it on the wool, roll or fold it up, tie it tightly and then boil for two hours. The other method is to test the leaves on cotton prepared with iron mordant, as per the method in my Gum Leaf Alchemy ebook. If the leaves print brown, they will print orange on wool. If the leaves print blue or grey or very pale on iron mordanted cotton, they will print yellow or beige on wool.

    I recently made a series of tests sandwiched between both wool and iron mordanted cotton, so that I could show you the leaves I used, and the results they gave on both types of fabric.

    Test 1

    For this test I went with some fairly reliable leaf choices. In the lower right corner is a branch of Eucalyptus cinerea (silver dollar), which is easy to identify with its rounded, silvery blue leaves that grow in pairs. I also used another silvery blue leaf as these colours of leaf usually give good results on wool. And I also tried one with small, skinny, thin leaves. Again, this particular leaf shape is somewhat reliable, and gives me good results more often than larger, thicker leaves.

    You can see from the results that the E cinerea was, as usual, a good choice. The other two gave some yellow-orange but it was a bit washed out. It has been raining a lot where I live, which can water down the dyes, so it would be interesting to try these leaves again in a drier time and see if they produced a stronger orange.

    The E. cinerea printed brown on the iron mordanted cotton. The other two printed far less brown than I expected, considering the colour they gave on wool. But I wonder if this was also impacted by the rainy weather. They did both print with a touch of brown that is more visible in real life, and I suspect that with some soaking the blue/grey would lighten and more brown would come out.

    Test 2

    For this test I went with leaves whose shape or colour made me think they’d give good results.

    And what beautiful oranges I got! All three printed wonderfully bright shades of orange on wool, with brown prints on the cotton. All of the leaves in these tests were used fresh. But if I soaked them as recommended in my Gum Leaf Alchemy ebook, I’d have clearer brown prints with less of those blue bleeding dots.

    Test 3

    Here I’ve tried some leaves from my backyard. The other leaves were all picked down in Lithgow. I know that many of the street trees in Lithgow give great results on wool, while my local ones in Katoomba rarely do. But I thought it was worth trying a few out just for the sake of comparison.

    And as expected, I didn’t get orange prints. These results are a good example of the rule I shared about how leaves that print blue and grey on iron mordanted cotton print beige on wool. There is only the tiniest hint of orange on one of the leaves. There is nothing wrong with the colours of these prints, they are quite nice really, but they certainly aren’t orange.

    Test 4

    Here I threw in a couple of wild cards. A heart shaped leaf that is probably E. polyanthemos, more skinny leaves of that ‘milky green’ colour that usually works so well, plus two bigger leaves that I just wasn’t sure about.

    The two bottom leaves gave surprising good colour, and the skinny leaves are a brilliant dark orange. But the E. polyanthemos results are quite disappointing. I’ve seen other eco-printers get wonderful colour from them. But I got some good advice from Jacqueline at Beautiful Wasteland, that E. polyanthemos is particularly sensitive to wet weather, and needs some hot dry weather and to be quite established to give it’s best colour. The tree I collected from was quite young, and as I mentioned the weather has not been very conducive to brilliant oranges. You can see that for some of the samples it didn’t matter so much, but the E. polyanthemos is very washed out.

    Final thoughts

    There are certain traits you can look for to predict whether a eucalyptus leaf will print orange on wool. But as these samples show, there are always surprises. So at the end of the day, nothing beats simply trying every leaf you can get your hands on. Thanks for reading and please share your own methods of tracking down those elusive orange eco-prints. Have you noticed any relationship between leaf colour or shape and the final eco-print colour? Do you have good trees growing near you or like me do you need to look further afield? Does rainfall have much impact on the colours of your local leaves?

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    How to wash or scour fabric for eco-printing and natural dyeing

    Before eco-printing or natural dyeing, it is a good idea to wash the fabric first. New fabric is often coated in waxes, oils and pectic substances that will inhibit the take up of dye. And even secondhand fabric can require pre-washing, for reasons that we will explore. Here I’ll go through a lazy method, a compromise method and a more thorough method.

    The lazy dyer’s method – do nothing

    The simplest method is to use old clothing or fabric that you know has been washed lots of time. Old white clothing from your wardrobe, secondhand clothing or old bedsheets are all suitable. The absolute simplest approach is to take these and use them as is, trusting that they have already been pre-washed.

    The pros of the lazy dyer’s method is that you don’t have to do anything! Just take some fabric and get started.

    The cons of this method is that sometimes there are pitfalls. Quite literally in fact, because the armpit of tops are sometimes stained with sweat or deodorant that appear invisible until you dye it. There’s nothing worse than unwrapping a beautiful eco-print …

    … only to discover staining has appeared under the armpits!

    This is the most common problem, but sometimes there are stains or oil marks on other areas of the fabric that aren’t obvious until you dye it. And of course sometimes clothing bought second hand is actually brand new and never washed. I used to never wash or scour second hand clothing before eco-printing and sometimes I would get great results and sometimes I would get terrible results, from the same set of leaves and mordant and cooking method. I puzzled over it for a long time before finally realising that the washing (or lack of it) was the variable factor.

    So to avoid potential disappointment, I recommend washing all fabric before you dye it. This can be done in a simple way, or more rigorously through scouring. Let’s explore both options.

    The compromise method – simple washing

    If you want to pre-wash your fabric, but still keep things simple, I suggest putting your fabric in the washing machine on a hot wash with a mild detergent, and do an extra rinse cycle at the end to ensure that there are no traces of soap left in the fabric. If you are using new fabric or clothing, I recommend washing them several times first. You don’t need to do a specific load for them, just add them in anytime you are already doing a hot machine wash. Just avoid using any detergent with whiteners or brighteners – stick to a basic one.

    The pros of simple washing are that, well, it is simple! If you’re already doing a load anyway, why not just throw your white clothing in too, especially if it is second hand clothing that you are only washing ‘just in case’.

    The cons of simple washing are that sometimes it isn’t thorough enough, especially if you are using new clothing or synthetically dyed clothing that you want to eco-print over.

    The thorough method – scouring

    When using old clothes, this simple method of washing is enough. But if you are using new fabric and want to wash it more thoroughly, you can try scouring your fabric. Scouring is a special type of deep washing used to prepare fabric for natural dyeing.

    In the instructions below, you will see that there are several options for scouring ingredients. It’s easiest to start with dishwashing liquid and washing soda as they are available from supermarkets. Synthrapol and Orvus Paste can be bought from specialist cleaning or dye suppliers online, and soda ash is available from hardware or pool stores.

    The pros of scouring are that it is the most thorough method so you know for sure that your fabric is now ready for dyeing with.

    The cons of scouring is that it requires some special ingredients and is a bit more work to set up and clean up compared to using the washing machine. You’ll also need a very large pot if you are scouring a lot of fabric.

    Scouring steps

    Step one: To scour, put your fabric in a large pot and cover with water. Make sure that the fabric can move freely as if it is too crowded the scouring will be uneven.

    Step two: For every 250g of cotton, add in:
    • 2 teaspoons (10 ml) of dishwashing liquid OR 1 teaspoon (5 ml) of a pH neutral scouring agent such as Synthrapol or Orvus Paste.
    • 8 teaspoons of washing soda (40g) OR 4 teaspoons of soda ash (20 g).

    Step three: Simmer for about 1 hour. The water will turn a yellow brown colour as the waxes and oils are removed from the fabric.

    Step four: Let the pot cool down and then rinse the fabric well in warm water.
    This method can be used for any cellulose (plant based) fibres but is not suitable for silk or wool.

    Once your fabric is washed

    After washing your fabric, or even if you are going with the lazy dyer’s method and doing nothing, you still need to prepare your fabric with a mordant or binder. There are endless ways to do this depending on your style of dyeing and the results you want to get. If you want some help getting started, I explore iron mordants in my Gum Leaf Alchemy ebook and Soy Milk Binder in this one.

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    From the archives

    I’ve been trawling through old photos for a special project I’m working on, and keep finding so many old images that are exciting me. I’ve started posting them to my Instagram page, and thought I’d also share a few here from time to time.

    Gumnut Magic mood board

    This is a mood board I made of colours, eco-prints, fabrics, bark and leaves, when I was spending some time thinking about the colours and feel of Gumnut Magic and looking for some new inspiration.

    And I’d also like to share some photos of a very special dress that I had forgotten I made!

    A hand-stitched ‘dress of many cloths’

    I created this dress from a range of eco-printed fabrics while staying with a friend down in Victoria. If you’ve read my first ebook,l Gum Leaf Alchemy, you might remember me raving about her magical leaves that print so beautifully while fresh. While there, I eco-printed a range of cotton cloths and a cotton tank top, and then assembled a dress from them.

    There are so many string marks and other special details. Some of the leaf prints have a soft watercolour affect, while others are clear and detailed.

    I hand-stitched the dress because I didn’t have access to a sewing machine at the time but was desperate to create. A few months later I moved to the Blue Mountains and Gumnut Magic was born. I went on to sew a bunch more dresses but this one remains special, because it was the first, because it was made from such meaningful leaves, and because all of my creative vision was being poured into it with single pointed focus.

    Thanks for joining me for this trip down memory lane. I look forward to sharing a few more special projects and images over the next few months.

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    To soak or not to soak?

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    Way back in 2016, when I had just begun selling clothes under the label Gumnut Magic, I had a lot of interest from other natural dyers about my eco-print technique. Back then people were mostly eco-printing on wool so I had a lot of questions about how I was managing to get clear, bright prints on cotton. At that stage I’d been eco-printing for a few years and had developed a technique that worked for me. I decided to write an ebook to teach my method.

    My first ebook was Gum Leaf Alchemy, so named because I focused specifically on eucalyptus (or gum) leaves. This ebook was specifically about eco-printing on cotton using an iron mordant. Part of the method I described in that ebook was to pre-soak the leaves in water for a few days or a few weeks before eco-printing. This is a way to get clear, bright prints with vein details and variety of colour:

    Unfortunately, I now see some dyers swearing that you need to soak all leaves for any type of eco-printing, while others denounce the idea of ever soaking leaves.

    But I never said that we should always soak leaves or that it will always give better results. There is definitely a time and place for it. I’ve done lots of tests over the years which have helped me to understand that sometimes soaking leaves is very helpful and sometimes it is not. I’ve also done research into the science of natural dyeing to try to understand the different chemical reactions that occur when using fresh or soaked leaves. I continue to learn and experiment, and I will continue to share my findings. In this post I hope to clarify when it can be useful to soak leaves, and when it is unnecessary.

    On tannins and soaking

    When I wrote Gum Leaf Alchemy I was mostly eco-printing with eucalyptus leaves and I had found that soaking is an important step for many species of eucalyptus – because of the high tannin content which causes bleeding and patchy prints. But also because they are sometimes quite a tough leaf and sometimes the other colours besides blue are only accessible after soaking. Here you can see the blue, patchy and less detailed prints that can come from fresh leaves:

    That said, some fresh eucalyptus leaves give great results, particularly when sourcing leaves from healthy street trees, so it is always worth experimenting with both fresh and soaked leaves to see if there is a difference. It’s a large genus of plants with many different species growing in different conditions, so of course there will be a lot of variation.

    For my third ebook, The Leaf Guide, I researched more about tannins and came to understand the mechanism by which soaking leaves improves results. There are three types of tannins: gallic, ellagic and condensed. Gallic tannins react strongly with iron mordant, causing the blue and grey bleeding through the fabric that you can see below:

    Luckily gallic tannins are hydrolysable (water soluble), which means that soaking the leaves reduces or removes them, thus reducing or eliminating the bleeding. In that ebook I also noted that it is always worth doing your own tests with your local leaves, rather than assuming that soaking will make a difference. Sometimes it makes a big difference and so it is worth the effort, while other times the difference may be small and so you could decide that it’s not worth the extra hassle. And of course, you may love the dappled blue effects from the tannins interacting with iron, and prefer that to clearer prints on a plain background. There is no right or wrong in eco-printing, just different possible results!

    Below I have tried to summarise the circumstances in which pre-soaking your leaves before eco-printing is a good idea, and when it is unnecessary or may even produce worse results. The basic summary? For most methods of eco-printing, it is better to use fresh leaves!

    When to soak leaves

    • If you are eco-printing onto a plant based fabric (cotton, linen, viscose etc) AND you have pre-mordanted your fabric with iron, then pre-soaking the leaves in water for a few days or longer may reduce bleeding and create clearer prints.

    Put another way, I only recommend soaking leaves if you are using the specific technique that I write about in Gum Leaf Alchemy. Even better, only soak them if you have done tests with your local leaves comparing the results from fresh and soaked leaves, so you can be sure that it is a necessary step. While I find that pre-soaking improves results more often than not, for some leaves it makes no difference and, occasionally, it causes worse results for some leaves.

    It is also important to understand that removing the gallic tannins may result in clearer prints, but at the expense of having the positive properties of these tannins – namely that they help natural dyes bind to fabric and can also provide a colourfast dye. Gallic tannins actually have better wash- and light-fastness than the condensed tannins which are not water soluble. So even though removing some of the gallic tannins mean that the different colours of the condensed tannins become more visible, your prints will not be as colourfast.

    Also, you do want to be careful not to soak your leaves for too long. After some weeks of soaking, these maple leaves gave very beautiful, detailed prints with different colours from each side (top row). But after soaking for several months, the prints were paler which means they will be less colourfast (bottom row):

    The interesting thing about these maple prints is that they show that the tannins leach out slowly over time. So when soaking leaves, we want to be hitting a sweet spot where enough of the tannins have been removed that the prints aren’t bleeding, but enough remain that you can get the benefits of them outlined above. There’s no way to accurately judge this, except to aim to soak the leaves for as short a time as possible. I have found it valuable to do tests comparing results from fresh leaves and leaves soaked at increments of 3 days, 1 week, 2 weeks and 3 weeks, so that I can try to find that sweet spot. I encourage you to do your own tests with your local leaves.

    I’ve also detailed some of the results of my experiments in The Leaf Guide. In this ebook, I show examples of 25 different leaves eco-printed on cotton, with information about how long I soaked the leaves for each sample, and whether soaking made much of a difference.

    Here’s an example of a cotton tshirt pre-mordanted with iron, where the leaves where soaked for a perfect amount of time. The prints are still strong and not washed out, there is no bleeding, and there is a good range of colours and some very nice vein detail:

    Eco-printing with autumn leaves

    When not to soak leaves

    • If you are eco-printing on wool, it is unnecessary to soak your leaves.

    This is true even when using iron on wool (which you should always do sparingly). I think this is because the proteins in wool are able to bind more plant dyes directly where the leaves are touching it, rather than the excess dye bleeding through layers. It’s still okay to use soaked leaves on wool, if that’s all you have to work with, as long as you haven’t soaked them for too long. If you soak them for weeks or longer, you may notice the results become more pale.

    • If you are using any other mordant, it is unnecessary to soak your leaves.

    As far as I am aware, the strong reaction and bleeding only occurs with the combination of gallic tannins and iron mordant. So if you are using alum or any other mordant, you can use fresh leaves.

    • If you are using iron dipped leaves on plant based fabric (either plain fabric or prepared with soy milk binder), it is unnecessary to soak your leaves.

    This is a method I have been using more over the past few years, because it removes the need to keep track of how long leaves have been soaking for. And the combination of iron dipped leaves and fabric prepared with soy milk provides strong, colourfast results. I explain this process in detail in my new ebook, Soy Milk Binder for eco-printing and natural dyeing. Here’s some of the results I show in that ebook for eco-printing with fresh deciduous leaves, both plain and dipped in iron:

    So why can you use fresh leaves if you are dipping them in iron, rather than coating the whole piece of fabric in them? My hypothesis is that because the iron is only on the leaf, and is only making contact with the same part of the fabric as the leaf is, there is no way for it to bleed through to the rest of the fabric. Whereas when you mordant the whole piece of fabric with iron, any tannin that hasn’t bound to the piece of cotton it is pressed against is going to bleed through and bind to any available iron mordant.

    When comparing these results with the maple prints above, you can see that the results using iron-dipped fresh leaves are slightly different to the soaked leaves. There is a bit less crispness and vein definition when using the iron-dipped fresh leaves on soy milk binder. But for me, the convenience of using fresh leaves sometimes outweighs this.

    So if you can use fresh leaves, why would you soak them?

    Hopefully by now you understand that soaking leaves is useful just when using an iron mordant on plant based fabric, and that it is also possible to eco-print with an iron mordant with fresh leaves. It seems to me that there are three options for getting clear prints on plant based fabric, if you want to use an iron mordant. They have differing levels of colourfastness, and of ease of preparation:

    • Fresh leaves dipped in iron, on plain fabric

    This is the simplest option, which requires no advanced preparation besides making the iron mordant. But results will be the least colourfast. A good option for testing new leaves, or if you want a simple method and don’t mind re-printing your clothing regularly.

    • Soaked leaves on iron mordanted fabric

    This option has better colourfastness, and the fabric is simpler to prepare with iron mordant than with soy milk binder. But you need to be organised about soaking the leaves in advance. This is the method I teach in my ebook Gum Leaf Alchemy and my Living Colour ecourses. I like the results from this method the best, because when leave have been soaked an optimal length of time (not too short or too long), the results are bright and clear with lots of detail.

    • Fresh leaves dipped in iron, on fabric prepared with soy milk binder

    This option probably has the best colourfastness, because you are getting the benefits of both soy milk binder and iron mordant. This is the method I teach in my new ebook, Soy Milk Binder, and in my ecourse of the same name. It’s a longer process preparing the fabric with the soy milk binder, but if you do an occasional big batch you’ll always have fabric ready to use, and you don’t need to worry about soaking leaves in advance. Using soy milk binder also means that you can dye the background of the fabric, either before or after eco-printing.

    Final thoughts

    There are many different ways to prepare fabric and to eco-print. I love working with iron mordant because it can bring out great colours and interesting details such as crisp vein lines. Because the gallic tannins in many leaves react with iron mordant, sometimes a little and sometimes a lot, it’s worth considering whether you mind this bleeding, and whether you want to take steps to avoid it.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts. Was this post useful? Do you soak your leaves before eco-printing? Sometimes, always, never? Have you learnt anything from your own research and experiments?

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    Recent experiments eco-printing with tansy

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    My latest eco-print plant crush is tansy. This sweet herbaceous plant is in the Aster family, and is native to Eurasia. Tansy has deeply lobed, almost fern like leaves and dense round flowers with flat tops.

    Tansy has a lot of medicinal uses in traditional western herbalism, especially for internal parasites. It can also be used to induce abortions. As you can imagine, this means it is a potent plant that should only be used medicinally by someone who understands its uses and effects. But it is only potentially toxic when ingested, so it is safe to use for eco-printing. I’m always fascinated by how many medicinal plants are also exceptional for eco-printing. Many medicinal herbs eco-print well because their therapeutic constituents, such as tannins and flavonoids, contain natural dyes.

    Here is a simple eco-print of tansy on watercolour paper. The flowers and leaves both produce bright, clear prints:

    Here I pre-mordanted the paper with iron, which has brought out some darker, moodier tones:

    For this print, I used paper that I had already eco-printed on. I dipped the tansy in iron before putting it on the paper, which has create a dark print with a colourful background.

    I never know what to do with the mountains of paper eco-prints that accumulate. Mostly I include them in orders from my Etsy store or as cards for family and friends. Lately I’ve begun saving and framing up a few special pieces:

    Thanks for reading, and I hope it inspires some experiments with tansy.

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    Darn It! darning ecourse

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    I’ve just opened registrations for a new ecourse, this time about mending your clothes through darning. It’s a joy to be branching out to a new topic, and one that I feel so passionate about.

    I value darning as a way to take care of our garments, and in doing so to tend to small parts of this earth.

    Darning is also a creative act of self-expression. We all have our own aesthetic tastes and stitching styles, so darns end up being very individual and expressive. And that is part of what makes them so special. I favour visible mending myself, because I love seeing the layers of history and meaning on the garment.

    A close up of a cream coloured woollen knit sleeve with a cable pattern. Sections of the sleeve have been mending with golden yellow wool.

    Darning is an act of love for ourselves or for another, and of love for this planet. Imbuing our own or our dear ones’ garments with attention and care. The jumper below belongs to my partner, and I keep adding new layers of mending to it. First in buttery yellow wool, than an orange/grey blend.

    Close up of a patterned wool jumper, with sections of darning in contrasting colours.

    I’m really looking forward to connecting with everyone who joins the course, seeing your darns, and sharing our thoughts on the meaning and joys of mending.

    And I know that the lockdowns and the general state of the world are impacting a lot of us financially, so I have kept the price for this course low. Like with all of my ecourses, there are several pricing levels that you can choose from depending on your circumstances.

    Click here to find out more about the course, or to join.

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    How to scrunch dye with onion skins

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    I decided to go with scrunch dyeing for the upcycled tank top from my last post. Here’s a simple video tutorial of the method – scroll down for step by step instructions.

    Step one: Scrunching

    Choose a white item of clothing to dye.

    Begin scrunching the top from one corner inwards. You can do a gentle or tight scrunch, they will just give different results. Do it tightly for strong contrast between dyed and undyed sections, or do it very loosely for a slightly dappled, almost solid colour.

    Keep scrunching until the whole item is scrunched up.

    Step two: Binding

    Hold the scrunched bundle together with loose weave fabric, a mesh bag, string or rubber bands, so that it will keep this scrunched shape in the dye pot. The fabric on the outside will pick up the most dye, and some colour will seep into the folds. Again, how tightly or loosely you bind it will affect the results. I have used an old delicates washing bag to hold this bundle together, and I went for a medium scrunch, to get some obvious colour variation but without stark white patches.

    Step three: Dyeing

    Put your bundle in a dyepot and add your dyestuff. I used onion skins, because they are easy to get and they contain strong, substantive dyes. I also added a splash of iron mordant, to shift the colour to olive green and to help bind the dye to the fabric. You could also prepare your fabric with soy milk binder or a mordant in advance, but I was keeping things simple here.

    Cover the fabric and dyestuff with boiling water, and simmer until you get a good depth of colour. I cooked this bundle for about 90 minutes, then let it sit in the dyebath overnight.

    Step four: Unwrapping

    Once your bundle has cooled down, unwrap it and admire the beautiful, organic pattern you have created!

    Every scrunch dye is different and it is impossible to replicate results. Isn’t it wonderful sometimes to surrender to chance and embrace whatever happens? Such good medicine for the year we have just had.

    I hope you enjoyed this simple tutorial and as always, I’d love to see your results if you give it a try. Leave a link in the comments or tag me on Instagram @gumnutmagic

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    Tank top upcycling tutorial

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    I’ve been working on some simple sewing tutorials. Ways to upcycle clothing you already have, into more interesting items. First up is a tank top, which I have shortened and shaped and turned into an asymmetrical top with exposed seams.

    Start with a tank top that is one size too big – it will become smaller in the sewing process.

    Cut off the armhole hems if they are bulky.

    Then cut 2 curves from the arm holes down to the hemline – it’s fine to do this by eye. You can divide it into thirds like I have done here, or make the middle panel a bit wider (I think that looks better). Just make sure that after the initial curve, you cut straight down. This will help the seams align later on.

    A simple upcycling tutorial - turn a tank top into an asymmetrical top with exposed seams. Read more at gumnutmagic.com/blog

    Sew these curves back together on an overlocker, with the seams on the outside. Overlock the side seams too, straightening them up if they curve out like this one does. Try it on – if it is still too big, you can take it in more at the side seams.

    Cut across the body of the top at the true waist, and again about 5-10 cm above the bottom hem line.

    A simple upcycling tutorial - turn a tank top into an asymmetrical top with exposed seams. Read more at gumnutmagic.com/blog

    Remove the centre strip (it could be used as a cowl or even to make a matching hood for this top). Align the top and bottom pieces. You can sew them together like this…

    or rotate the bottom piece to create an off-centre look:

    Sew these two pieces together and you’re done!

    A simple upcycling tutorial - turn a tank top into an asymmetrical top with exposed seams. Read more at gumnutmagic.com/blog

    Here’s a photo of the side, to show you how some of the seams align and some don’t.

    This top is destined for the dye pot – I’ll post the results of that soon, once I decide whether to scrunch dye or eco-print it.

    Here’s another version I made using an old terracotta-coloured top:

    A simple upcycling tutorial - turn a tank top into an asymmetrical top with exposed seams. Read more at gumnutmagic.com/blog

    It’s the same basic shape, but I made the middle panel wider which gives it a different feel. I love wearing it with this silk dress that I eco-printed with eucalyptus leaves.

    A simple upcycling tutorial - turn a tank top into an asymmetrical top with exposed seams. Read more at gumnutmagic.com/blog

    Please let me know if you try this out – I would love to see your results! And also let me know if you would like to read more of these little tutorials. They are pretty simple, but they are designed with my younger self in mind, who didn’t have many sewing skills but wasn’t big on sewing with patterns. Hopefully this tutorial inspires you to create a funky futuristic top from something you already own.

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