Eco-printing on cotton

The Iso Dye Club ecourse reflection

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?!

Introducing the Iso Dye Club

In this time of isolation and quarantine, I wanted to offer some moments of peace and joy. The healing power of nature and creativity. And so I have created the Iso Dye Club.

This ecourse is a gentle introduction to natural dyeing and eco-printing techniques, for cotton and paper. The focus is on making do with what we have. Simple methods and simple materials. Finding joy in the process and in unexpected results.

It’s also a chance to slow down, to connect with plants and with fellow artists/makers in isolation. Creativity and nature ground me, especially in uncertain and changing times. I look forward to sharing this with you too.

We’ll be using kitchen scraps to make natural dyes and binders, and eco-printing on paper and fabric that we find around the house. Here’s some results on printer paper:

This is a bit different from my other courses, because I wanted to offer something more affordable, and more accessible to those of you who can’t access fancy materials or lots of plants at this time. So our results might be softer and simpler, but this feels like good medicine for these times.

Join the Iso Dye Club to learn how to eco-print on paper and fabric using materials from around your house and garden. Use what you have, pay what you can.

 

The course is 4 weeks long, with 2 videos each week that cover both paper and fabric projects. There’s also a bonus video to get you started, about natural dyeing with easter eggs. Here’s a preview:

 

If you are interested in this offering, click here to read more or to join us. There’s a lovely group already, beginning to share their results on Facebook, and on Instagram #isodyeclub.

You’ll have access to the course for as long as it exists, so you can do it in your own time and come back to it as often as you like.

Soy Milk Binder eco-printing module

Last year I created my eco-printing ecourse, Living Colour. It is a comprehensive guide to eco-printing on natural and semi-synthetic fabrics, using alum, iron and soy milk, and a whole range of techniques. But for those of you who are interested in just one topic, rather than the whole course, I have begun breaking up the ecourse into four modules: ‘Intro to Cotton’, ‘Advanced Cotton’, ‘Soy Milk Binders’ and ‘Wool and Shibori’.

I released the Soy Milk Binder module in November, and will make the rest of the modules available through 2020. Here are some samples of work by my students:

This lovely piece was eco-printed by Debbie Lucas. She prepared the cotton with soy milk binder, then used geranium and herb Robert leaves which have created a bright, layered pattern.

 

These soft, harmonious prints were created by Bobbi Stowers, using rose, passion vine and eucalyptus leaves. Again, the cotton was prepared with soy milk binder.

 

It is also possible to prepare fabric with cow’s milk, which creates a similar effect to soy milk because both are protein rich. Kathy Little has used this to great effect in this sample of eucalyptus leaves eco-printed on cotton. You can see how the cow’s milk makes the cotton take the dyes very similarly to wool, creating vivid orange prints.

 

You can view more samples of my student’s work in the Student Gallery on my ecourse website. There you can also browse the ecourse curriculums and some sample lessons.

Discharge eco-printing on cotton with logwood and geranium

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.

Geranium leaves eco-printed onto logwood dyed cotton, creating a discharge effect

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.

Discharge eco-printing on cotton

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.

Discharge eco-printing: Geranium leaves and logwood on cotton

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.

Examples of a cotton top dyed with logwood and discharge eco-printed with geranium leaves

Living Colour: Eco-printing on Cotton Ecourse

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.

Learn how to eco-print on cotton with Louise Upshall from Gumnut Magic

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

Wrapping eco-print bundles

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.

How long to boil eco-print bundles

When I first started eco-printing, I boiled my bundles for 3 hours. I got good results, so I kept doing this. But one day I noticed that after a short amount of boiling the leaves had already produced a lot of beautiful colour.

So I decided to take a more systematic approach to working out the optimal length of boiling. I made up a batch of small bundles using leaves from 3 different eucalyptus varieties on pieces of the same pre-mordanted cotton. I set them to boil, then removed them at 15 minute intervals.

I was suprised to see that there wasn’t much difference between the bundle that had been boiled for just 15 minutes (left), and the very last one which was left in for 1 hour and 45 minutes (right).

Comparing different boiling times for eco-print bundles

The colour of the leaves on the top sides did shift from brown to blue with longer boiling times, but the centre green and botton brown leaf prints didn’t really vary. The blue band on the right side print is from the piece of dowel that the bundles were wrapped around. This band got progressively darker and bled more the longer that each sample was boiled for, because wood has its own tannins.

Even though much of the dye has already emerged after 15 minutes, I do cook my bundles for longer, to ensure that the maximum amount of colour is transferred to the fabric and to really give it time to set. I find that about 1 hour is a good length of time when eco-printing on cotton. It’s enough time to get strong prints, while being mindful of energy use.

A comparision of cooking times for cotton eco-print bundles

Shibori eco-printing on cotton

Following on from my recent post about combining shibori dyeing and eco-printing on wool, here are some similar effects achieved on cotton. I really enjoy combining organic eco-prints with geometric grids or lines from shibori dyeing methods.

Liquidambar leaves eco-printed on cotton with iron and alum mordants

This pattern was created by folding the tshirt up into a small bundle, adding liquidambar and Japanese maple leaves as I went. Then I tied it tightly with string and submerged it in a dye bath of eucalyptus bark and iron, cooking it for about 1 hour. The fabric was mordanted with homemade iron and alum mordants, following the instructions in my ebook, Gum Leaf Alchemy.

Cotton naturally dyed with eucalyptus leaves and bark

Here is a close up of a similar pattern, this time with eucalyptus leaves and an iron mordant. The large section of lines show which part of the tshirt ended up on the outside of the bundle, wrapped tightly with string. There are smaller sections of lines where other parts of the tshirt were also on the outside of the bundle, because of how it was folded.

Creating a geometric grid overlaid with eucalyptus leaf eco-prints

This long-sleeved tshirt was also folded up, but into a smaller bundle which was pressed between two square pieces of hardwood. This helped to create a very even, geometric pattern to contrast with the organic shape of the leaf prints. This piece was also mordanted with iron and alum.

Rose leaves eco-printed on cotton by Gumnut Magic

This piece of fabric was mordanted with iron, covered in rose leaves and folded into large squares. I pressed the fabric between 2 tiles, clipped the tiles together then submerged the bundle in a dye bath and cooked it.

If you would like to come back to this idea later, you can pin the below image.

Examples of cotton clothing naturally dyed with 2 different techniques: shibori and eco-printing

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 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.