Eco-printing workshop

Last weekend I ran my first full-day eco-printing on cotton workshop. I had a lovely group of enthusiastic women join me at my house to explore the theoretical and practical aspects of this method of natural dyeing.

We spent the morning talking about choosing and preparing leaves and fabric and making a mordant. I demonstrated a few ways to place leaves and wrap bundles, then it was their turn. It was so interesting to see the different ways everyone arranged their leaves.

Arranging eucalyptus leaves on cotton for natural dyeing

We put our bundles on to cook while we enjoyed a shared lunch. Then it was time for the most exciting part of the day- unwrapping! We took turns unwrapping our bundles, and there were many exclaimations of joy at the beautiful leaf prints that had emerged on our fabric.

Eco-printing on cotton workshop

Again, it was so lovely to see the different results everyone got. We each dyed two pieces of clothing and many of us got quite different colours on each piece.

Eucalyptus leaf eco-printed clothing being unwrapped

Everyone left with wonderful prints, but more importantly with the knowledge to be able to go home and continue this on their own. I had a great day and am looking forward to teaching many more workshops. To see what I have scheduled, check out the ‘workshops’ tab on the menu.

Learning how to eco-print on cotton: everyone’s beautiful results at my workshop

Eco-printing on paper with St John’s Wort

St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) is an incredible plant. It can be identified by crushing the flower buds, which will release a beautiful deep plum liquid. This colour comes from hypericin, which gives an indication of the plant’s dyeing potential and is also one of its medicinal constituents.

Crushing St John’s Wort to release Hypericin

The flowers and top few centimetres of each plant can be soaked in alcohol or oil to create herbal tinctures and oils. Over time, the hypericin in the flowers will turn the liquid a lovely deep red colour. Some of the medicinal uses include taking the tincture for depression and anxiety, and using the oil externally on aching muscles, cuts and tension headaches.

St John’s Wort herbal medicine

St John’s Wort can be used to create a dye bath, as Jenny Dean describes in her wonderful book Wild Color, but my very favourite use for it is eco-printing on paper. Pressed between pieces of watercolour paper, immobilised between 2 tiles and simmered under water for about an hour, it will produce a beautiful clear print with yellow and olive green leaves and blue and green flowers.

Eco-printing on paper with herbs

The paper can also be mordanted with iron, which has the typical ‘saddening’ effect on the plant dyes. The example below shows prints from the same plant which was pressed between iron-mordanted and unmordanted paper.

Mordanting paper with iron for eco-printing

I hope this has inspired you to explore some of the dye potential of this very special ‘weed’.

How to eco-print on paper with the natural dyes of St John’s Wort

Dyeing with Australian Indigo

I’ve been wanting to try dyeing with Australian indigo (Indigofera australis) for a long time. I’ve got a small bush growing but it is still too young for harvesting. So I was very excited when some friends offered me clippings from their huge plant.

There are a few tutorials online specifically for Australian indigo, at Turkey Red Journal and Tinker Maker. But I really wanted to keep it natural and avoid using Sodium Hydrosulphite. I kept researching and came across a method for Japanese indigo which uses cold processing of fresh leaves. Although Japanese indigo (Persicaria yinctorium) is not related to Australian indigo, both plants contain indican which is the precursor to indigo.

I used cotton prepared with a soy milk binder, and followed the instructions on The Dogwood Dyer’s blog. This involved whizzing up fresh leaves in a blender with cold water and straining the green liquid out. I folded and tied some small cotton samples and soaked them in the dye. After the first soak the cotton has turned this vivid green:

Dyeing with Indigofera Australis

The next day I did many rounds of short dips and each time the cotton got darker and more blue.

 

Naturally dyed with australian indigo

This is the darkest that the triangle got, plus some lighter, greener samples and an Indigofera australis leaf. Isn’t it magic that these leaves can produce such a dark blue?!

Naturally dyed with Indigofera Australis

This was my first time trying shibori. It was so exciting to unwrap my little triangle and discover the beautiful patterns that folding and tying had made on this top.

Shibori with Australian indigo

And here are a few other shibori samples, tied with rubber bands and soaked for different lengths of time.

Australian Indigo shibori dyeing samples

I really enjoyed beginning to explore the many hues that Australian Indigo can produce. Now to find and grow more plants!

Shibori dyeing with Indigofera Australis

Eco-printing with maple leaves

Maple leaves are high in tannins and so are well-suited to the eco-print process. Tannins help natural dyes bond to fabric and often also impart colour. Tannin levels increase over the growing season. So maple leaves picked in autumn will print more vividly than those picked in spring.

The different sides of maple leaves produce quite different effects. I like the delicate details of the sky-facing side of the leaves:

But the earth-facing side will produce darker prints and be more colourfast:

Tannin rich maple leaves eco-printed on cotton

Before eco-printing, I soaked the maple leaves for a month to get rid of excess tannins, which bleed when combined with the iron mordant. The soaking process helps produce clear, crisp prints. Find out more about which leaves can be used for eco-printing on cotton and how to prepare them with my ebook, The Leaf Guide.

 

 

Eco-printing on paper tutorial

Eco-printing on paper is a fast, easy and satisfying way to get started with this wonderful craft process. You don’t need much in the way of special tools or equipment and you can experiment with the plants growing around you.

This tutorial shares a particularly simple yet effective method for eco-printing on paper, using a tin can and whatever paper you already have. It’s my favourite method for paper, because it is so easy to get interesting results. The effects you get will depend on your local flora, the paper you use and many other variables. Have fun experimenting!

Materials for eco-printing on paper

  • Paper
  • Mordant- iron soaked in vinegar
  • Plastic gloves
  • Leaves and flowers
  • Onion skins
  • Tin cans (rusty if possible)
  • String
  • Dye pot

Method of eco-printing on paper

Step one

Select and prepare your paper. I like to use cotton-rag watercolour paper that I buy at art stores. It has a beautiful texture and doesn’t tear easily when wet. But you will get some sort of result on any paper. Even basic paper like printer paper can give stunning results.

Cut your paper to the desired size. For this tutorial I cut narrow strips that can be wrapped around the tin can. You could also make small cards.

I mordanted my paper using a similar technique as that described in my eco-printing on paper ebook – giving the paper a short soak in water with a dash of iron-vinegar. Wear gloves to protect your hands from the mordant. You can let the paper dry after mordanting, or continue with the process. But if you are using a rusty tin can, you can omit the mordanting process and just let the rust work it’s magic.

Step two

Gather plant matter. For my paper prints, I’ve been exploring a range of both native Australian and introduced flowers and leaves. Most were gathered fresh, though some had been soaking in water for a few weeks. When choosing plants to use, look for interesting outlines, and leaves or flowers that will press fairly flat. And please avoid any toxic plants as you will be touching them and breathing in their fumes!

Eco-printing on paper

Step three

Arrange the leaves on the paper. Leave some gaps and spaces so that the outlines have more chance of being visible. You can also try experimenting with layering materials for a different effect. Try sprinkling crushed onion skins over the paper, to add extra colour.

Ecoprinting on paper tutorial for beginners

Step four

Roll the paper around the tin can. If you are using a rusty can, the paper in contact with the rust will print darker than other sections. When you have rolled all the paper around the can, tie it with string or fabric strips to hold it in place.

Using a rusty tin can to eco-print paper

Step five

Place your paper bundle in a dye pot (a cooking pot dedicated to dyeing only, to avoid food contamination) and cover with boiling water. Bring to the boil, then simmer for about 1 hour. If possible, do this step outside or open doors and windows to ensure good ventilation.

Step six

After the bundle has cooled down, it can be left overnight, or for a few days, to allow the natural colours to continue to develop. Or you may choose to open it immediately. Unwrap slowly and carefully to avoid ripping the paper. If some of the leaves seem stuck, don’t pull them off. Instead, submerge the paper in some water and rub them gently.

Eco-printing on paper using rusty tin cans and native flora

Step 7

Allow your eco-printed paper to dry, noticing how some colours shift or fade in this process. Then enjoy your beautiful paper- use it for cards or scrapbooking, or display it as an art piece. And if you didn’t get the results you were after, keep trying!

More techniques for eco-printing on paper

If you are interested in learning more techniques for getting good eco-prints on paper, check out my ebook Plant Poetry. It’s a comprehensive guide which includes many examples of specific plants to use, comparisons of results on different types of paper, and special effects such as soy mordants, dye blankets, iron blankets and discharge printing. Check it out by clicking here and take your paper eco-prints to the next level.

I also have some more free tutorials for eco-printing on paper:

Have fun creating!

Learn how to eco-print on paper using flowers and leaves

Combining iron and alum mordants for eco-printing

Although iron is my trusty favourite mordant- easy to make, relatively low toxicity, and easy to dispose of- I have been experimenting with alum lately. My first results of eucalyptus on alum were not very promising. Fluro yellow is not my favourite colour. But then I tried double-mordanting, combining both iron and alum. I hoped that the saddening effect of iron would help tone down the brightness of the alum and bring in more subtleties. And it worked beautifully!

The alum has brought out these beautiful oranges and yellows from the eucalyptus leaves, while the iron gave more depth and detail:

Double mordanted with alum and iron

The colours vary according to how much alum and iron are used, and the particularities of each piece of cotton too. It is important when eco-printing to be open to the different possibilities and to embrace the results you get. Each print is a gift from the leaves, so be grateful.

How to mordant cotton

This onesie was bit of a failure originally. It had pale, faded grey prints, probably from not being scoured properly. The alum and iron mordanting prepared it well for a second round of eco-printing, and it was transformed into one of my favourite pieces so far. Aren’t the gumnuts exquisite?!

Mordanting cotton with alum and iron

To do this double mordanting, I scoured the cotton, gave it a short dunk in one mordant, let it dry and cure, then dunked it in the other. Then I eco-printed the fabric in my usual way, using the instructions I share in my ebook Gum Leaf Alchemy.

Combining alum and iron mordants to eco-print on cotton
Combining alum and iron mordants to eco-print on cotton

If you’d like to learn more, I have a lesson about combining alum and iron mordants in my ecourse, Living Colour.

How to prevent fading of eco-print fabrics

All dyed fabric will fade eventually, from washing and sun exposure. Eco-printed cotton does fade more quickly than synthetically dyed cotton but there are a few ways you can reduce this to enjoy your fabric for longer.

I find that machine washing eco-printed fabric is fine, although I recommend hand washing for very special items. More important is to use a mild washing detergent. Most washing powders and liquids are too harsh and will quickly strip off the natural plant dyes. I use soap nuts, which can often be bought from health food stores or co-ops. Simply soak the soap nuts in boiling water for a few minutes, then add this liquid to the washing machine.

UV rays in sunlight will also fade dyed fabric over time. After washing eco-printed clothing, dry them in the shade or at least turned inside out. Bring them in as soon as they have dried and store in the dark. Also, try to avoid wearing eco-printed clothing if you will be in direct sun all day.

I have some eco-printed clothing that is still looking quite good after a couple of years of gentle wear. Once they become faded, clothes that have previously been eco-printed also tend to re-dye well. Re-mordant the fabric then dye as usual. Faint traces of the previous print can be seen on the cotton sample below, providing a lovely ghost effect.

How to prevent eco-print fabric from fading

 

 

 

Good leaves to use for eco-printing: experiment two

I get asked a lot if the method I described in my ebook will work for non-eucalypts. These samplers are a good example of the results you can get using different types of leaves. Following on from the first experiment I documented, these leaves were left to soak for about 2 months before I used them, and it really made a difference! Some of the leaves printed better than others, but I really enjoyed seeing how so many different types of leaves, some native to Australia and some introduced species, can produce such clear and beautiful prints.

I sandwiched the leaves between two different pieces of cotton, to observe the difference in the prints produced from each side of each leaf:

Green eco-printed leaves

These prints are of the ‘sky-facing side’ of the leaves (where applicable). Most produced a lot of colour, and the leaf outlines and veins are crisp and clear. They are printed onto a yellow woven cotton, which has created beautiful green hues for many of the leaves, in contrast with the bluer prints below.

Blue eco-print leaves on cotton

These prints are of the ‘earth-facing side’ of each leaf, on a white stretch cotton. Some still printed very clearly, especially the maple, oak and blackberry leaves, while others produced only faint outlines.

 

Interview with the Studio Fae Project

I was recently interviewed by the lovely Skye Scott from The Studio Fae Project. Skye is currently teaching herself floristy and she interviewed me about my process and challenges in being a self-taught eco-print artist. I really enjoyed reflecting on my journey so far. You can read the interview here.

Eco-printing with eucalyptus leaves

Natural dyeing with avocado seeds

I’ve recently been naturally dyeing some solid colours, rather than eco-printing. I’ve been aided in my experiments by Rebecca Desnos’ beautiful ebook. She inspired me to try dyeing soy-mordanted cotton with avocado seeds (avocado stones/pits). When I first put the fabric in the dye bath I didn’t quite believe it would do anything. The dye looked quite pale. But I left the fabric in the pot for a day and a half and it slowly turned this vivid pink!

Avocado stone dye- dyeing with avodado seeds/pits on soy mordanted cotton

I tried eco-printing over this fabric but didn’t have much success. But I was able to use it as a dye blanket to create a beautiful resist effect on some watercolour paper. I covered some iron-mordanted watercolour paper with gum leaves, then laid a piece of my avocado-dyed cotton on top, pressed it between 2 tiles and boiled for an hour. Some of the avocado dye transferred to the paper and the pink turned to purple in reaction with the iron.

Watercolour paper eco-printed with avocado and gum leaves

 

You can Pin the below image if you want to come back to this later.

 

Use avocado dyed fabric as a dye blanket when eco-printing on paper