Good leaves to use for eco-Printing: experiment one

I’ve been working exclusively with gum leaves for the past few years. I love everything about them- their shape, their smell, the amazing range of colours and textures I can get from them. But I’ve decided to spend time this year experimenting with other types of leaves to eco-print with. I’m curious about how well the method I described in my ebook will work with different leaves.

For this first experiment, I did a leaf walk around Hazelbrook, gathering from a wide range of native and introduced plants. I collected 2 leaves or small branches from each plant, so I could compare the difference between using them fresh and letting them soak for a while.

The leaves were placed on mordanted cotton, wrapped into bundles then boiled for about an hour. Some leaves would do better with lower temperatures, but I was processing eucalyptus bundles at the same time and they definitely need boiling to properly release their colour.

The bundle I did with fresh leaves had a few promising prints, especially the dark blue maple leaves at the top, and some quite nicely outlined grevillea leaves (at least I think that’s what they are, I didn’t take notes as I gathered!). Overall, many of the leaves produced indistinct prints and bled out a lot of colour which turned the fabric quite dark.

I let the extra leaves I had gathered soak in water for a month before repeating this experiment. I got many more clear leaf prints this time. Some of the colours were quite incredible when I first unwrapped the bundle. The two ferns were almost light aqua, a colour that I haven’t seen in an eco-print before. All the colours have dulled a bit since unwrapping. Next time I might try leaving the bundles for at least a few days before unwrapping, to let the colours develop further.

The top left print is from acacia leaves, either black wattle or similar. The bottom right print is a grevillea leaf, and the others I’m not sure about.

Along with more maple leaves, I was delighted to get this clear fern print. I’m excited to try more things with different fern varieties as they have such distinctive shapes. I have a selection of local fern leaves currently soaking, ready for future experiments.

7 thoughts on “Good leaves to use for eco-Printing: experiment one”

  1. Hi Louise. I have started dabbling in eco printing and bought your ebook a few weeks back. Compliments on it! It’s filled with much invaluable advice & honest experience. Thank you. I do have a query – I forgot to scour 2 pieces of new cotton before mordanting (vinegar/water) I used only gum leaves but the print hardly visible. Strong suspicion the new material needed scouring – Eek! Can I go back & scour? … or best rinse & mordant again. The silk scarf took the leaves beautifully ps I simmered both rolls in pressed Cabernet Sauvignon grapes (1:2 added water) so silk is beautifully tinged purple on the edges. Thank you. Warm regards, Rita -Stellenbosch, South Africa

    1. Hi Rita, sorry I just saw this comment. Yes, I sometimes scour fabric after failed eco-print attempts, then re-mordant it. So glad you liked the ebook. Have you been doing any more experiments lately?

  2. Pingback: Good leaves to use for eco-printing: experiment two – Gumnut Magic

  3. Hi! Here in Europe we steam the leaves to open them before printing. Soaking sounds like fun, but don’t they rot in a month? Do you add anything to the water?

    1. Hi Nadia, I just soak them in plain water. You’d be surprised by how long most leaves can soak without deteriorating and I really do find it helps me get bright clear prints. I’ve developed my skills with other leaves a lot since this blog post and will soon be releasing a new ebook about a range of different leaves that are good for eco-printing with and how long I recommend soaking them for.

  4. Hello , I am a bit confused about mordants. I have been laying leaves on material then wrapping in bundles around an old rusty rod and simmering for 90 minutes in aluminium or copper pot .
    1.Should I be adding vinegar ( is vinegar a mordant???) to the water ? And will that change the print colour?
    2.Or is the wool mordanted by the aluminium/copper pot?
    3. Or should I spray the material with dilute or undiluted vinegar prior to placing leaves so the vinegar is the mordant?
    I am generally happy with the prints but am concerned about the longevity of the print and would also like a bit of variation in colour
    Thanks in advance for any help you can offer – Liesel

    1. Hi Liesel, it can be confusing when you are getting started. It sounds like you are working with wool, so I will answer specifically for that, which is different to cotton.
      1. No you don’t need to add vinegar to the water, and it is a common misconception that vinegar is a mordant. Vinegar will change some pH sensitive dye colours, but when you wash the fabric, it will change back because you are changing the pH.
      2. Using an aluminium or copper pot really only affects the outside of the bundle, because that is what is in contact with any dissolved metal in the water. If you want to use a mordant with wool, you need to premordant your fabric before eco-printing. There are lots of different recipes online for different ways to mordant wool with different metals.
      3. No, again, the idea of spraying fabric with vinegar to help the process is a bit of an urban myth. You can easily test this for yourself – trying making up two identical bundles, cooked in the same pot, but spray one with vinegar. I predict that you won’t see any difference.
      Wool is special because you can use certain leaves like eucalyptus directly on it, without needing a mordant. To eco-print on cotton, you always need to use a mordant. But because you are wanting to try new things and achieve a wider range of colours, I recommend looking up mordanting recipes for wool.

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