Eco-printing on paper

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.

Eco-printing on paper video tutorial: St John’s wort

Here’s a simple video tutorial for eco-printing on paper using St John’s wort. I’ve used three different variables to get quite different results from a single plant:

  • plain watercolour paper
  • paper soaked in iron mordant
  • paper soaked in logwood dye

Although I love the bright results St John’s wort gives on plain paper, the discharge print is really special. As mentioned in the video, you can learn more about discharge eco-printing on paper from my ebook, Plant Poetry. That ebook covers a whole range of methods for eco-printing on paper, and has many examples of plants that are suitable to use.

Here’s a quick version of the tutorial, if you just want to see the process without all the explanations:

Please excuse the sideways orientation, it’s to make it easier to view for those of you on phones!

Here’s the three variations together:

If you’d like to learn more about St John’s wort, or check out some more prints using this plant, take a look at my earlier blog post.

Eco-printing on paper video tutorial

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.

This is one of the methods I share in my eco-printing on paper ebook, Plant Poetry, along with lots of information about plants, papers and bundling techniques to try.

If you just want to watch a quick preview of the whole process, check out this short video:

I hope that this inspires you to get creative with the plants around you. Have fun experimenting!

Meditative drawing on eco-printed paper

Drawing over the top of eco-printed paper is a lovely project to do with all the samples that accumulate. It can be a meditative process, and can also inspire new ways of drawing. Even if you don’t consider yourself an artist, the natural shapes and colours already present make it easy to be inspired.

Notanical line drawing over eco-printed, naturally dyed paper

The photo below shows symmetrical paper eco-prints that I created by sandwiching plant matter between two pieces of paper and wrapping them around a rusty tin, before heating in water. You can see how adding simple line drawings with a black fineliner can create a very striking and organic artwork out of what was quite a subdued print.

Drawing on eco-printed paper

Ideas for mark-making

 

If you have some eco-printed paper that you want to try drawing over but don’t know where to start, here are some ideas.

Begin by drawing outlines around each leaf, then let your thinking mind relax so your subconscious can take over. As you daydream, experiment with different types of lines and marks on different parts of the paper. For example:

  • squiggly lines
  • dots
  • light feathery lines
  • dark bold lines

Keep some areas simple and build others up to create contrast and detail.

Paper eco-print with simple line drawing

If you want help learning how to eco-print on paper so that you can try out these drawings, I have in-depth instructions in my Plant Poetry ebook.

An introduction to simple line drawings over eco-printed paper

Let me know below if you have tried drawing over your eco-printed paper, or whether this post has inspired you to give it a try.

How to eco-print on paper

Eco-printing on paper is a fun and easy way to introduce children to the wonders of natural dyeing or to get started with it yourself. Here’s a tutorial for one particular method, using autumn leaves. Autumn leaves print particularly well because they are high in tannins and carotenoid and anthocyanin pigments, which all give colour. But you could also try this process at any time of year, with any leaves that you have around you (results will obviously vary).

Materials:

  • Strips of watercolour paper
  • Wood blocks or tiles to press the paper between
  • String
  • Autumn leaves- especially red and purple. I used maple, liquidambar and claret ash

Eco-printing on paper tutorial

A simple method for eco-printing on paper

 

Step 1

Fold your paper into a concertina booklet, slightly smaller than the blocks or tiles you are using. Wet it lightly, then arrange the leaves on each page.

Plant dyes on paper

Step 2

Fold your paper up with the leaves inside. You can also put a leaf on the front and back covers. Then press between the wood blocks or tiles.

Eco-printing on paper

Step 3

Wrap your wood blocks with string to hold the bundle together. You want firm pressure so that each leaf is pushed into the paper, to make a clear print. With tiles, you can clamp them together with bulldog clips.

Wrapping eco-print paper bundles

Step 4

Once your bundles are wrapped, put them in a pot of boiling water and simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour. It is always best to use a dedicated dyepot, not one you also use for cooking. If the wood blocks float, weigh them down with a rock.

Eco-print bundle

Step 5

Let them cool, then carefully unwrap, remove the leaves and let the paper dry.

Autumn leaves eco-printed on paper

If you want to learn further eco-printing on paper techniques, or find out about more types of leaves that will give good prints, have a look at my eco-printing on paper ebook, Plant Poetry. Or if you want to return to this project later, you can pin the below image.Eco-printing on paper tutorial using autumn leaves and watercolour paper. Step by step instructions.

 

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

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

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