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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