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.
So far I have only gotten good prints from tansy on paper, but I am going to keep trying on fabric and will let you know if I succeed.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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!
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:
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.
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.
From time to time I get questions from my ebook customers, wondering why they have gotten pale or disappointing results when eco-printing on cotton using an iron mordant. There is no simple answer, because there are a lot of different variables that can affect results. In this post I will discuss some of the major variables, as well as ideas for troubleshooting the cause of pale prints.
When we eco-print, we use leaves, fabric and mordant. Each of these has its own set of potential problems.
Troubleshooting fabric variables
Fabric naturally contains oil and waxes that act as a barrier for natural dyes, preventing them from binding to the fabric. If you want to use new fabric, you need to scour it. Scouring is a form of deep washing that strips out the oils and waxes. Insufficient scouring can cause pale results. Make sure you follow scouring instructions carefully and rinse well afterwards with hot water. You can find instructions for scouring in my Gum Leaf Alchemy ebook , Intro to Cotton ecourse , or through a web search.
A simpler option to use old, well washed fabric. Often this takes up natural dyes even better than scoured fabric.
Another fabric problem can be not wrapping bundles firmly enough. The leaves need to be pressed firmly into the fabric, otherwise the dye will seep out into the water and cause pale, patchy prints, rather than being absorbed directly where it is touching the fabric, in a perfect leaf shape.
Troubleshooting leaf variables
There are two major leaf variables that can cause pale results. First is the leaf itself and whether it actually has enough natural dyes in it. Some plants are great for eco-printing with and others just aren’t. And a particular genus may in general be good for eco-printing, but that doesn’t mean that every species in that genus will be. For example, some eucalyptus species will produce vivid orange or red prints on wool, while others don’t even create a print. And even species that usually give good results can be affected by growing conditions, weather and rainfall, as well as the time of year that you pick the leaves.
The second leaf variable is how it has been collected and stored. In my ebooks and ecourses, I recommend collecting fresh leaves and soaking them in water for a few days or weeks, to remove the water soluble tannins that can cause bleeding on iron-mordanted fabric. Soaking the leaves makes some of the dyes more available, so you get brighter and clearer results that with fresh leaves. But soaking them for too long can also cause pale results.
I recommend doing your own tests – compare fresh leaves with some soaked for a few days, a week and 2 weeks, all eco-printed on the same piece of iron-mordanted fabric and cooked for the same length of time. This will help you begin to see what works best for your local leaves.
I explore all of these leaf factors more deeply in my ebook, The Leaf Guide.
Troubleshooting mordant variables
Homemade mordants can be a little tricky, because they are all different strengths and the quality can vary, depending on what metal you used for it and how long it has been brewing. In general, as long as your mordant changes colour as the iron soaks in the vinegar, it is usable.
To test the quality of your iron mordant, try to control the other variables as much as possible. Use old, well washed cotton and some reliable leaves like rose and Eucalyptus cinerea. I recommend using them fresh, so you don’t accidentally use leaves that have been soaked for too long. Press your bundle between tiles and secure with clips, to ensure good pressure. Cook on a low boil for 1 hour, then let cool in the pot.
If you get strong results, you will know that your mordant is okay, and you can start experimenting with soaking the leaves for different lengths of time and using other fabric.
If you get pale results, it tells you something is probably wrong with your iron mordant. One possibility is that it is too old – iron mordant gets weaker over time as the pH changes. Another possibility is that the piece of metal you used wasn’t the best for making mordants with – try to find a very rusty piece of iron to make a new mordant with.
Does the amount of mordant matter?
Homemade mordants vary in strength, so it is not possible to give precise instructions like ‘use 4% of the Weight Of Fibre’. Some people worry that they have used too little or too much. Don’t be too worried about the amount though – the fabric will only absorb some of what is in the mordant bath, and it is quite a forgiving process.
A small amount is surprisingly potent, and it is rarely the case that people haven’t used enough. If you are doing a large batch of mordanting, just make sure that you add a small amount more after soaking each piece of fabric, to replace the mordant that it has absorbed.
Using too much mordant can be a problem however. If your fabric yellows significantly after being in the mordant bath, you have used more that necessary. Try to flush some off by soaking it in plain water. Too much mordant will damage the fibres and make them tear and break down much more quickly.
Enjoy them as is. Let go of the idea that eco-prints have to look a certain way, and just enjoy what you have received from the plants.
Re-print them: re-mordant your fabric and add a new layer of leaf eco-prints. This is also a good thing to do when eco-prints have faded from sun exposure. Fabric generally takes up natural dyes much better the second time.
I’ve been enjoying a stint of moon making over the past few months. Using relief shapes and eucalyptus bark dye to create ethereal moons on a dark background.
I use Australian 20 cent coins for mini moons, and metal coasters for larger moons. But you can use any flat circle that will survive a dye bath – it is best to stick with stainless steel, ceramic or wood circles.
Making moons is a great way to use up less interesting eco-prints. Patchy leaf prints can create beautiful moon textures:
You can also make shibori moons over naturally dyed fabric. Here I used coreopsis and marigold dye for yellow and madder for pink moons:
I’m a little nervous to announce this, because I don’t want to upset anyone who has paid the full price. I appreciate you so much, and your support has meant that I can transition my business to this new pricing model, which will help people with less money to still be able to access my work.
The seed of this idea
In April this year, during the height of the Covid-19 lockdowns, I was watching my business income plummet and getting ready to apply for government support. Then one night a vision came to me – to create an eco-printing ecourse for everyone stuck at home, using materials we could easily find, and for it to be ‘pay what you can’, because most people were in the same position financially. And so the Iso Dye Club was born.
I originally wanted to let each customer choose their own price, but it proved too technologically difficult. So I came up with a system of levels instead. I also gave away free places to anyone who needed them.
I had no idea whether I’d even earn enough to make up for all the work it took. But I decided to just trust the universe, and focus on generosity, community and connection.
I ended up having an amazing month financially (especially within the wider financial context), and at the time of writing, I have over 500 people enrolled in the course. I am sharing this because I want you to realise that it is possible to have success this way. It is possible to run a business in a generous way, to give some priority to social equality, and to still earn a good income too.
This runs counter to all the mainstream business advice I have ever read. There seems to be an accepted belief that as a business grows it should charge more – you have probably noticed that online courses are getting more and more expensive. This way of thinking focuses on scarcity and exclusivity.
Business models of scarcity and inequality
The general advice for running any sort of creative online business is to charge as much as you can, and then put a lot of effort into marketing it in such a way that people feel like they need it. Sometimes this is done overtly, tapping into feelings of shame or FOMO. Sometimes it is more subtle.
In pricing advice, there is a lot of talk about money blocks, and owning your value, and a general assumption that higher prices are the ultimate goal. More and more, I am questioning this.
Yes, creatives deserve to earn enough money to live on, to be fairly compensated for our work. But there is more than one way to achieve this. We need to dig below the surface and really examine this paradigm of scarcity that we are co-creating. Do we really want our world to head more in the direction of individualism, accumulation of wealth and power, and an ever-increasing divide between rich and poor? Our business models can either support this, or support a different story. And where we spend our money can either support this, or support a different story.
Even Patreon, which in some ways offers more affordable access to creatives’ work, still operates from this paradigm of inequality. Most Patreon subscriptions have multiple tiers of pricing, and the higher tier you are in, the more you get. This may seem reasonable. If you pay more, you should get more, right? But do people with more money really deserve to get more?
Economic inequality is firmly entrenched in our society, and is inextricably linked to power and privilege based on factors such as race, gender and ability – factors that we have no control over. If you are born female in a society where males earn more, if you are born disabled or as a person of colour or Indigenous, do you really deserve less?
Business models of interdependency and abundance
What if business growth could instead mean that we can make things cheaper and share them among more people, while still earning enough?
Unlike in the Patreon model, everyone who buys my ecourses gets access to all the same course materials, no matter which level they join at. This is a model of abundance. There is enough for everyone, everyone is welcome. We also get to foster a sense of interdependence. The people who pay more, support the people who pay less to be able to join.
It is possible to run a profitable, sustainable business that aligns with our values. It is possible to have a win-win situation. To offer something that is generous and accessible, a good experience for my students, while still earning enough to be a fair exchange for the work I put into it.
When you buy any of my products, when you comment on my posts or share them, you are supporting my work. This in turn means that I can continue to make, experiment, learn, film, write and create both products and free content. We both give, we both receive. This is interdependence.
It has been a bit scary making this transition. Wondering if I am undervaluing my work, or whether it will be a failure. But then I come back to my heart. I remember what I truly care about and what sort of life I want to live, and the world I want to co-create.
If this topic interests or excites you and you want to learn more, I highly recommend Charles Eisenstein’s books, Sacred Economics and The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible, and his ecourse, Living In The Gift.
How the variable pricing levels work
Each ecourse on my website now has several price levels. The lowest levels are concession places for people who need extra support and can’t afford the full price. If you can, I encourage you to pay the full price ‘Tree’ level or higher. This allows me to earn a fair income from my work, and also to offer concession places. In turn, this keeps the ‘pay what you can’ pricing model sustainable. But if you can only afford the lowest levels, you are still very welcome.
If you can afford to pay the higher levels, you are supporting other people to access my courses through your generosity. You are also supporting me to continue creating free content as well as new ebooks and ecourses.
The world is changing, and perhaps we need to let go of the idea that people with lots of money deserve more, and people with less money deserve less. No matter what level you can afford, you will get access to all the same course materials. There is enough for everyone, and I trust that you can support or be supported, as you need.
When you decide on a price level that feels fair based on your circumstances and what I am offering, you’ll know. It will feel right in your heart.
I’ve decided recently to bring more of my creations into Gumnut Magic, beyond just eco-printing and natural dyeing. I also love to sew and make collages, and I want to make a home for these things here too. I’ve tried doing it separately for the past few years and it just doesn’t work. And when I think about it, everything I do is deeply interconnected. It is all rooted in a love for nature and using materials carefully and with respect. Sometimes this involves eco-printing on second hand fabric with plants gathered on local walks, like this sweet rose:
Sometimes this involves piecing together magical garments from worn out clothing and scraps of fabric, inspired by fairies and other magical beings. This dress is made from old tshirts, lovingly given new life (and you may notice its resemblance to the wasteland dress I share recently):
Sometimes this involves piecing together collages using scraps of images from old books and magazines. Seeking spirit and mythology hidden in the debris of Western civilisation. This work is called ‘Edge of the Sacred‘, inspired by David Tacey’s fabulous book of the same name:
Whether you are here just for the plant dyes, or excited for these new sharings, thank you for reading and being part of the unfolding of Gumnut Magic.
I am finally ready for it to go out into the world – I’ve taken some proper photos of it, worn by my gorgeous friend, and have listed it in my Etsy shop. I want to share some of the final photos here too.
This dress is one of my favourite things I have made so far. Naturally stained and sculptural, almost like it has grown up out of the landscape.
I had originally planned to eco-print the dress when it was finished. Luckily when I shared it on my Instagram page, everyone convinced me to leave it alone and let the subtle colours and patterns of each piece come through.
I am so glad I listened to them. I’m not usually that into greys, but there is something alive in this cloth…
The live round of the Iso Dye Club has come to an end, although new students are still welcome to join and will be able to work through the ecourse at their own pace. It has been the most wonderful, inspiring whirlwind of an adventure. I feel so grateful to all the people who threw themselves into it with such enthusiasm and dedication, sharing their beautiful creations on Instagram and in our private group.
It has been such a good way to spend this quarantine/isolation time, hopefully for my students but also for me personally. I really appreciated staying busy, and feeling uplifted by everyone’s kind, supportive comments.
I’m also really glad that I offered it as ‘pay what you can’, to make it accessible to lots of people, especially at this time when so many of us are out of work or underemployed. Going forward, I want to bring this pricing model to more of my business, because it is a small way that I can help to create a more equitable world. Or as Charles Eisenstein puts it, The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible.
I want to share some of what we did in the course, because I really enjoyed creating simple lessons using materials that people would be able to access easily at home or in their neighbourhood, yet still get some stunning results. This craft doesn’t have to be complicated or precise. At it’s most basic, you just put leaves on paper or fabric, hold it together somehow and heat it up! And I encouraged everyone in the course to embrace the results they got, because sometimes in eco-printing, as in life, we don’t get what we expected and it can be very healing to learn to accept this.
Week 1: Rolled Bundles
For Week 1, we started with some simple rolled bundles, on both paper and fabric. We rolled around jars and cans – even rusty cans, if people were lucky enough to have these highly coveted, utterly magical eco-printing tools!
We used plain fabric and paper, to see how even the most simple technique could still give us some beautiful colours and patterns:
Week 2: Simple Homemade Mordants and Binders
In Week 2, we prepared our fabric and paper with homemade iron mordants and with protein binders (from kitchen scraps of yogurt, cow’s milk, nut milk or other protein-rich liquids). As well as leaves and flowers, I also demonstrated with some ingredients from the kitchen – onion skins, tea leaves and a sprinkling of turmeric – because some of the students were in isolation in apartments, or still emerging from the depths of winter. Here you can see the different colours and strength of results on plain cotton, and that prepared with a protein binder and iron mordant (from left to right).
Week 3: Folded Bundles
This week, we folded our paper and fabric and cooked them in dyebaths. On paper we experimented with creating different amounts of colour in the background. These bundles are both the same paper with the same leaves, cooked in the same dye bath, but I shared a simple trick for creating either dark or light backgrounds:
And on cotton, we created some shibori patterns around our leaf prints. This was one of my favourite lessons from the whole course. The leaves were eco-printed on fabric prepared with a simple yogurt binder, with a few tricks to get these vibrant results:
Week 4: Fun Things to do with Pale Results
When eco-printing, it is inevitable that some of your results will be pale or uninteresting. So we finished the course by exploring 3 ways to improve our pale prints. One option was to re-print the paper or fabric, with the addition of iron to bring out more colour and detail:
Another option was to draw over our paper eco-prints, either what we could see or what we could imagine. I shared some simple tips to encourage even the most reluctant artist to give it a try:
And we finished the course with a bonus lesson, because I wanted to thank everyone who was involved. So we used some of our pale fabric results to create some mini shibori moons:
This is another contender for my most favourite lesson. Sometimes the marks and leaf prints already on the fabric creates the most wonderful serendipitous results:
I hope you enjoyed this peek into the ecourse. If you are interested in joining us, I have left enrollments open because I want this course to be available to anyone who wants to be comforted or inspired by the magical combination of plants, creativity and community. Read more or join us here – the sliding scale starts at about the price of a coffee!
And whether you are enrolled in the course, or just enjoying this preview, I’d love to know which week or lesson is your favourite?!