Discharge eco-printing is a method that has been mostly developed and refined by Irit Dulman. She has some very useful information about this technique on her blog. It is a type of eco-printing where fabric is dyed a solid colour, then leaves are placed on top. When the bundle is cooked, some of the leaf acids and other compounds react with the solid dye and ‘discharge’ it, leaving a leaf print surrounded by colour.
As with other types of eco-printing, most people seem to do discharge printing on wool and silk. But because I prefer using plant-based fibres, I have been experimenting with this technique on cotton. This is my most successful piece so far.
I used logwood dye for the background, which has created a rich earthy purple. And I used 2 varieties of geranium leaves to create the discharge prints.
As you can see in this video, one variety creates far clearer discharge prints than the other. But I am happy with both, because I wasn’t going for an even, uniform appearance with isolated, clear leaf prints. I like the moodiness of this tope, which reminds me of night skies and fireworks and magic.
I am still very new to this technique. But here is what is working best for me so far: First I mordant my fabric with aluminium acetate, then soak it in a warm dye bath until it is the colour I want. I choose a leaf with good discharging potential (Irit Dulman shares many examples of these on her blog). Generally the back of the leaf discharges more, but I like to use both sides and see the different effects. After placing the leaves on the dyed fabric, I fold it up, clamp it between tiles and cook as usual.
El ebook le guía a cada paso del proceso, desde elegir y preparar las hojas hasta desenrollar los paquetes y ver qué colores han surgido. Mi objetivo es ayudarle a obtener estampados claros y brillantes en algodón, tanto si es nuevo en este oficio como si ya tiene experiencia con el ecoestampado en lana o seda. Haga clic aquí para obtener más información.
[For the English speakers: I am very happy to announce that my eco-printing on cotton ebook is now available in Spanish. I have been working with a wonderful translator to make it happen.]
But there are different factors affecting the quality of iron mordants. Here’s three pieces of cotton cut from the same piece of fabric and eco-printed with the same eucalyptus leaves, but with quite different results:
The difference between each sample was the quality of the iron mordant used. Let’s take a closer look at each.
Sample 1: A poor quality eco-print
The mordant on this piece had been diluted with water a few days before eco-printing. It was a strong mordant that I was trying to dilute. The results are very pale and fuzzy:
The problem is that the vinegar is a vital component of the mordant because of its acidity. When water is added to iron mordant, it raises the pH and changes the iron from a dissolved form to a solid form. This is sometimes quite visible, it looks almost like the mordant has curdled. In this state, during the mordanting process it stays suspended in the liquid rather than bonding to the fabric.
This process is not immediate (otherwise it would not be possible to put iron mordant into water to mordant fabric). But it will be visible if you save any leftover mordanting water for a few days or longer, especially if it was quite strong. You will be able to observe the iron separating into small clumps and settling at the bottom of the container.
So, the moral is don’t add water to your mordant. If you have an overly strong mordant, you can either use less of it or add vinegar to dilute it.
Sample 2: A mediocre eco-print
The mordant on this piece was very old, and had been soaking for over 2 years. Although the mordant itself looked great, very dark and strong, the prints are fairly washed out, without the crisp detail I sometimes get on cotton:
The reason for this is that vinegar will lost its acidity over time, creating a similar problem to adding water to a mordant. Ideally you will be using your mordant regularly, and topping it up with more vinegar each time. If you have a very old mordant (unused for 6 months or longer), try adding new vinegar, letting it rest at least a few days before you use it again. If you still get disappointing results, you may need to make a new mordant instead.
So here the lesson is that the colour and darkness of the mordant won’t necessarily predict results. And that it is important to keep topping up your mordant with vinegar.
Sample 3: A high quality eco-print
This last piece was made from a mordant that was only 2 months old but contained a lot of rusty metal so was a good strong colour. There is crisp vein detail on each leaf and lovely blue dots dappled across the brown leaf prints:
These are optimal results for eco-printing on cotton – crisp, detailed and dark. The pale prints still look nice but will fade much faster.
This sample shows that iron, vinegar and the right amount of time (not too little, not too much) are all you need to create a great iron mordant.
Other iron mordant considerations
Often people think that the brightness or paleness of a print is caused by using more or less mordant. But actually, other factors are far more important. How well the fabric was scoured, how much pigment is in the leaves, and the quality of the mordant can all drastically impact the results you get. The fabric will only absorb a certain amount of mordant, and a small amount is surprisingly potent. So even when using homemade mordants that aren’t measurable, it is not easy to drastically over- or under-mordant your fabric.
One final mordant variable is when you have used up the liquid of a mordant, but have iron sludge at the bottom of the jar. Once you top it up with fresh vinegar, you need to let it sit for a few days or longer otherwise it will also give pale results.
In Week One of my eco-printing ecourse, we explore how to combine eco-printing and shibori dyeing on wool. Shibori is a Japanese dyeing technique, where you fold or tie up the fabric in order to create resists. Then you submerge the fabric in dye. The resist area stays plain, while the exposed area picks up the dye. This produces a pattern. By placing leaves inside the areas of resist, you can get organic leaf prints surrounded by geometric patterns of solid colours. Here is a vest dyed in a similar way to what we explore in the ecourse:
To create this, I used eucalyptus leaves for the eco-printing, and created a dyebath of eucalyptus sawdust with iron mordant to darken it.
I am delighted to announce the release of my new ecourse, Living Colour, which explores different techniques of eco-printing on cotton. It’s my way of lovingly guiding you through the process if you are too far away to attend a workshop. We’ll be creating our own wardrobe of living colour, using the natural dyes in plants.
Eco-printing newbies are welcome as we will cover the basics of preparing leaves and fabric and rolling bundles. But we will also explore some things that I haven’t shared in any workshops yet, such as combining eco-print and shibori methods, and using a soy binder. You can view the trailer and curriculum or register now over at learn.gumnutmagic.com
I’ve been making an exciting foray into the world of natural paints and inks. It’s not so different from natural dyeing really. You can use the same dye plants but just create a really strong dye bath by using a higher proportion of plant material to water. If the colour isn’t quite strong enough when you strain it, simmer it down until you reach the desired effect.
For my first paints, I’ve gone with some classic dye plants. Above is red onion skin, brown onion skin and marigold flowers. I cooked these for about 2 hours, but the beauty of it is that there is no right or wrong length of time, just different colours and strengths. A lot of plant dyes will brown if you cook them at too high a heat though, so keep it at a low simmer.
Here I tried painting circles on watercolour paper with the red and brown onion skin paints, and adding in a drop of iron mordant (rusty iron dissolved in vinegar). It is so beautiful watching the plant dyes and the iron mix and blend. And I love having a new use for the mordants that I already use for my natural dyeing.
Next up was some avocado seed ink. The gorgeous peachy colour at the top was made after a short amount of cooking. The right sample is a simple brushstroke of the final colour, a beautiful earthy pink. The middle sample shows how beautifully it spreads on Japanese paper. And the bottom left two pieces have some iron mordant dropped in to modify the colour- which createspatches of gorgeous lavender purple and smoky blue.
After cooking, you do need to strain the liquid very well to remove any small particles of plant material. Use a coffee filter, or a piece of fabric folded over several times and placed within a metal strainer. Then you can use the paint as-is, or add a binder such as gum arabic to give it a more painterly consistency. Add a clove to each jar of paint or keep them in the fridge to prevent moulds from developing.
Here is my collection of paints so far. They look much darker and sometimes even a different colour in the jar to how they turn out on paper.
If you want more inspiration on making your own natural paints, I highly recommend the books Make Ink by Jason Logan and The Organic Artist by Nick Neddo.
If you want to come back to this idea later, you can pin the image below.
This video gives step-by-step instructions for eco-printing on paper using a rusty can. I love this method because it is easy to get interesting prints with most types of paper and leaves, although I have used some of my favourites for this demonstration.
I’ve been working on something a little different. Sculpting this dress from many years worth of naturally dyed fabric scraps. Beautiful leftovers from wrapping bundles, with so many unique marks and memories. Using what I have, embracing imperfection and delighting in texture.
Here’s an old experiment that I haven’t shared on here yet. Waratahs are native Australian plants with luscious, bright red flower heads.
I had a beautiful waratah that was looking a bit old. It had turned purple and the individual flowers were starting to fall off. So I gathered them up and decided to try eco-printing on paper with them.
First I sprinkled them over a small piece of watercolour paper.
Then I wrapped and tied this around a rusty metal tin.
I cooked the tin in simmering water in a dye pot for about half an hour then let it cool before unwrapping it to see what colours and patterns had emerged.
The shapes of each flower showed up clearly, outlined in dark black where the natural dyes have interacted with the rusty tin. The rust also created lovely orange speckles across the background.
Using a rusty tin is one of my favourite methods for eco-printing on paper. It helps you get striking results even if your plant materials don’t contain much dye. This simple technique can be adapted to any leaf or flower that you want to try (as long as they are not toxic, of course!)
Here’s a quick video of how I wrap and unwrap eco-print bundles. Unlike many eco-printers, I don’t wrap around a stick or other firm object. I prefer to just fold the bundle in on itself and then tie tightly. This creates a semi-flexible bundle that fits easily into the dyepot.
This piece was mordanted with iron and eco-printed with eucalyptus leaves. If you would like to see a full video of the process in real time, with each step explained, please check out my eco-printing ecourse, Living Colour. It is such a beautiful and delighting process and I love to teach it to students around the world.