Eco-printing on wool

Tracking down those elusive orange eco-prints

I love the bright orange eco-prints you can get from eucalyptus leaves on wool. It’s not just a matter of grabbing the closest eucalyptus leaves you can find and bunging them on some wool though. Only some species will offer up this magical colour.

There are over 700 types of eucalyptus trees, and it can be hard to identify individual species because many look alike. So while it is possible to find lists of eucalyptus leaves that eco-print well on wool, these lists aren’t always useful if A. you don’t know how to identify that species and B. you don’t have that species growing near you.

So rather than relying on finding particular species, I prefer to simply test what is growing around me. Sometimes I will try any leaf I can find. Other times I prefer to be more strategic and look for certain traits – silvery leaves; small, skinny, thin leaves; ‘milky green’ or pale green colours all seem to be more likely to print orange on wool, than using thick, dark green leaves. Of course, for every rule there will be an exception. But when it comes to leaves that I predict will give good colour, that’s what I look for.

There are two methods I can use to test whether certain leaves will give orange on wool. The first is, of course, to test them on wool. Place it on the wool, roll or fold it up, tie it tightly and then boil for two hours. The other method is to test the leaves on cotton prepared with iron mordant, as per the method in my Gum Leaf Alchemy ebook. If the leaves print brown, they will print orange on wool. If the leaves print blue or grey or very pale on iron mordanted cotton, they will print yellow or beige on wool.

I recently made a series of tests sandwiched between both wool and iron mordanted cotton, so that I could show you the leaves I used, and the results they gave on both types of fabric.

Test 1

For this test I went with some fairly reliable leaf choices. In the lower right corner is a branch of Eucalyptus cinerea (silver dollar), which is easy to identify with its rounded, silvery blue leaves that grow in pairs. I also used another silvery blue leaf as these colours of leaf usually give good results on wool. And I also tried one with small, skinny, thin leaves. Again, this particular leaf shape is somewhat reliable, and gives me good results more often than larger, thicker leaves.

You can see from the results that the E cinerea was, as usual, a good choice. The other two gave some yellow-orange but it was a bit washed out. It has been raining a lot where I live, which can water down the dyes, so it would be interesting to try these leaves again in a drier time and see if they produced a stronger orange.

The E. cinerea printed brown on the iron mordanted cotton. The other two printed far less brown than I expected, considering the colour they gave on wool. But I wonder if this was also impacted by the rainy weather. They did both print with a touch of brown that is more visible in real life, and I suspect that with some soaking the blue/grey would lighten and more brown would come out.

Test 2

For this test I went with leaves whose shape or colour made me think they’d give good results.

And what beautiful oranges I got! All three printed wonderfully bright shades of orange on wool, with brown prints on the cotton. All of the leaves in these tests were used fresh. But if I soaked them as recommended in my Gum Leaf Alchemy ebook, I’d have clearer brown prints with less of those blue bleeding dots.

Test 3

Here I’ve tried some leaves from my backyard. The other leaves were all picked down in Lithgow. I know that many of the street trees in Lithgow give great results on wool, while my local ones in Katoomba rarely do. But I thought it was worth trying a few out just for the sake of comparison.

And as expected, I didn’t get orange prints. These results are a good example of the rule I shared about how leaves that print blue and grey on iron mordanted cotton print beige on wool. There is only the tiniest hint of orange on one of the leaves. There is nothing wrong with the colours of these prints, they are quite nice really, but they certainly aren’t orange.

Test 4

Here I threw in a couple of wild cards. A heart shaped leaf that is probably E. polyanthemos, more skinny leaves of that ‘milky green’ colour that usually works so well, plus two bigger leaves that I just wasn’t sure about.

The two bottom leaves gave surprising good colour, and the skinny leaves are a brilliant dark orange. But the E. polyanthemos results are quite disappointing. I’ve seen other eco-printers get wonderful colour from them. But I got some good advice from Jacqueline at Beautiful Wasteland, that E. polyanthemos is particularly sensitive to wet weather, and needs some hot dry weather and to be quite established to give it’s best colour. The tree I collected from was quite young, and as I mentioned the weather has not been very conducive to brilliant oranges. You can see that for some of the samples it didn’t matter so much, but the E. polyanthemos is very washed out.

Final thoughts

There are certain traits you can look for to predict whether a eucalyptus leaf will print orange on wool. But as these samples show, there are always surprises. So at the end of the day, nothing beats simply trying every leaf you can get your hands on. Thanks for reading and please share your own methods of tracking down those elusive orange eco-prints. Have you noticed any relationship between leaf colour or shape and the final eco-print colour? Do you have good trees growing near you or like me do you need to look further afield? Does rainfall have much impact on the colours of your local leaves?

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Eco-printing and shibori dyeing on wool

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.

A piece of woollen fabric dyed with a dark grid, interspersed with bright orange leaf shaped prints

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Shibori eco-printing on wool

I’ve had plenty of luck lately finding lovely second-hand woollens to dye. Although cotton is my favourite for eco-printing, it is always a nice treat to use wool for a change. It gives such different results, especially when using eucalyptus leaves.

Eco-printing on wool

My favourite method for eco-printing on wool is to fold up the garment into a square, adding leaves as I go. Here I have used eucalyptus leaves. Then I press the bundle between tiles or blocks of wood and tie it firmly to hold the leaves in places. For thin bundles, clamps or clips can also be used.

A method for shibori plus eco-printing on wool

I submerge this bundle in a dye bath and cook it for 2-3 hours (longer than I would do for cotton).

Eucalyptus leaf eco-print and shibori on wool

When it has cooled down, I unwrap it to reveal bright orange prints where the leaves were touching the fabric, and dark patches where the edges of the bundle were exposed to the dye bath.

Shibori folding with eucalyptus leaf prints

Sometimes the dye seeps into the bundle and surrounds the leaf prints. And lines are created wherever the string was pressing firmly into the fabric.

Eco-printed, naturally dyed wool coat by Gumnut Magic

Here is one of the finished pieces. The shibori patches have dried quite light on this one and just add gentle areas of warm brown to contrast with the bright leaf prints.

This piece I folded up into very small squares and tied between two pieces of hardwood. The fabric was already dyed blue with synthethic dyes when I bought it.

Shibori natural dyeing and eco-print woollen vest by Gumnut Magic

You can see how well the eucalyptus leaves have printed over the synthetic dye, and the lines created from the folding method.

Find out more about combining eco-printing plus shibori on


If you want to learn this technique with step-by-step instructions, I have an ecourse all about wool and shibori. It is suitable for complete beginners, or for anyone who wants to learn how to combine eco-printing and shibori techniques on wool.

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Eco-prints and shibori on wool

Eco-prints and shibori on wool

Combining shibori and eco-printing methods can create dynamic designs that have both structured and organic elements. To create this design, I used woollen thermal garments, eucalyptus leaves, wooden boards and string.

Wool eco-print bundle

The eucalyptus leaves were placed onto wool, which was then folded up using a simple shibori accordion fold. The garments were pressed between the wood boards and tied tightly to hold the shape. Then these bundles were boiled in water for about 2 hours. I added eucalyptus leaves and iron to the water, to dye the exposed bits of fabric.

Shibori eco-printing with eucalyptus leaves

Here you can see how the exposed wool has picked up dark colours from the dyebath, while the wood has masked the inner bits of fabric. This creates strong contrast against the leaf prints.

Eucalyptus leaf eco-prints on wool

Beginning to unwrap…

Shibori eco-prints on wool by Gumnut Magic

This is the back of the final design. I love how this way of folding creates many lines of symmetry, and some bits of the fabric get more exposed to the dyebath than others.


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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

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