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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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?
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.
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.