Eco-printing on wool versus cotton

I prefer eco-printing on cotton rather than wool for a few reasons. Cotton clothing is easier to find at op-shops, and in a wider range of styles, than wool. Upcycling clothing that already exists feels like the most ethical way I can do a lot of eco-printing, so it makes sense to go with what is readily available. I also love the wider range of colours and textures that I can get on cotton. Eucalyptus leaves mostly print solid colours on wool, whereas prints on cotton often have extra details like blue dots.

Eco-printing on wool versus cotton
When I was writing my ebook, I wanted to show the difference between wool and cotton eco-prints. I did a range of small samples with the same leaf sandwiched between one piece of wool and one piece of cotton. It was so interesting to see the different colours that came from the exact same leaf on the different types of fabric. All of these photos show the wool on the left and the cotton on the right.

Eco-printing on mordanted wool

Some of the mordant on the cotton did transfer somewhat onto the wool, seen most starkly in the dark borders around the leaves and gumnuts above, so I can’t expect the same results with these leaves on unmordanted wool.

Eco-printed wool and cotton colour comparisons

I was especially excited to get some more insight into which leaves dye best on wool. Lots of the eucalyptus leaves here in the Blue Mountains dye quite pale, especially without any mordant. I noticed that I got beautiful bright oranges from silvery-blue leaves, while the greener leaves dyed pale yellows on the wool. Almost all of my local gumtrees have dark green leaves, so I guess it’s lucky I’m not often wanting to get bright prints on wool!

Bright orange and brown gum leaf eco-prints, from the same leaves on different fabric

Even more interesting, the leaves that dyed orange on wool consistently dyed brown on (iron-mordanted) cotton, while the leaves that dyed pale yellow on wool dyed blue or blue-green on cotton. I know that some green eucalyptus leaves do dye brilliant reds or oranges, but my local ones don’t seem to have the right chemical components for that.

Gum leaf and gumnut eco print experiments

I still have a lot that I want to investigate about different types of gumleaves and what factors influence which colour they dye, but this was certainly a useful experiment and a very good way to get to know more about my local leaves.

Comparisons of eucalyptus leaves eco-printed on wool versus cotton

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.

How to Eco-Print on Cotton

Eco-printing on cotton can be a bit more fiddly than eco-printing on wool or silk. Cellulose fibres don’t take up plant dyes as easily as protein fibres do. I have spent about 5 years experimenting with how to best prepare cotton and leaves for eco-printing, and am now able to fairly consistently get bright, clear leaf prints.

Natural dyeing with eucalyptus leaves on cotton

I am delighted to be releasing my ebook, Gum Leaf Alchemy, to share this method with others. The process I have developed works particularly well with eucalyptus leaves, but I have also been getting some good results from experiments with other types of leaves, from both native Australian and introduced plants.

Learn how to eco-print on cotton

The ebook guides you through each step of the process, from finding and preparing leaves and fabric, to arranging the leaves and rolling bundles. Find out more here.

Rolling bundles for eco-printing on cotton