Category Archives: eco dyeing and printing

Eco printing using flowers

Having been on a day’s workshop at Hawkwood College with Babs Behan, on which we used flowers from the garden to print a silk scarf and being pleased withe results, I got rather carried away back home.  I mordanted silk with alum, cotton and linen with aluminium acetate which gives much better results on plant fibres.  Here are just a few of my results.  I sprayed everything with vinegar before rolling up and  all bundles were steamed.

I also printed some papers for my project on Nature Journaling with Roxanne Evans Stout. The first three are paper – mulberry paper, Japanese rice paper and Nepalese mixed fibres.

I used dahlia and rose petals, hollyhocks, mallow, anthemis tinctoria, calendula,  French marigolds, some elderberries still on the stalks, which I crushed, elderberry and rose leaves a, purple sage,  purple carrot, thinly sliced,hibiscus and ordinary teabags, plus a small quantity of iron filings.

Japanese silk  which has a flower motive integrated into the cloth.

Cotton sheeting

Another piece of Japanese silk.  The circular blue marks are from the purple carrot, a spectacular result.

Linen.  Here the leaf marks are quite noticeable.


Eco-printed hangings

These were done in the months following the workshop with India.  Different bits of fabric were sewn together on to a backing fabric and then put into the aluminium dye pot, having been wrapped around plant material.

This is the first one.  I used quite a lot of elderberries and onion skins as well as leaves, with more onion skins and teabags in the pot.  The top left pink piece had previously been dyed with madder.  The stitching and buttons were added after dyeing.


Here I used mainly indigo dyed fabrics, with lots of onion skins and green walnut skins within the bundle.  Both works have a mixture of cotton, linen and silk fabrics.



Leaf prints

I’ve been struggling to get really good leaf prints on fabric and have done a lot more reading on the web.  My latest experiments have been on cloth I soaked overnight in ash water and with leaves I have placed into a weak solution of ferrous sulphate.  This has worked well in getting good prints, but usually destroys whatever colour was in the leaves themselves.



The two pieces above are different areas of the same cloth, wrapped around two copper pipes placed at the beginning of the roll and then halfway along.  The leaves are mainly from Kew gardens, edible chestnut, maple coming out really well.

The next two pieces are again part of the same cloth – this one had been previously dyed with rust.  As well as leaves there are pieces of onion skins, some flowers of anthemis tinctoria and bits of lichen.



The following piece had previously been dyed with madder and is fairly thick linen sheeting.  All the following use leaves collected from Westonbirt arboretum, mainly different acers.  They were not put in an ash soak as they had been previously mordanted and not all the leaves were put in ferrous sulphate, notably the oak leaves, which have kept their colour.


This piece had been previously dyed with onion skins, same thick sheeting.


The following images are from the same piece of cloth, same sheeting.  It had been previously bundled and dyed but not successfully, so I wanted to see if I could get a better result.  There are also some flowers used – dahlias, anthemis and small tagetes with their stems.




Below is a piece of silk which was wrapped around a piece of bark heavily encrusted with lichen which I found on the ground.


I also did some more paper prints recently, but rather than make another book, I wanted to experiment with combining them into hanging work.


I first applied a layer of gesso onto thick canvas, laid on the prints and then finally added some stitching to bring the separate elements together .  The prints are from mainly beech and cotinus leaves, anthemis and tagetes flowers.  I think the idea works well and I have plans for a larger piece from the same print run.

Eco book

I had another session steam printing paper with plant material and decided to make a book from them.  First I followed a suggestion by the author of the website dipandstain.blogspot to dip my sheets in a bath of washing soda – one cup hot water in which to disolve one teaspoon of soda, plus one cup of cold water. This brightens the colour a little.  When they were dry I determined the order, glued each pair of pages together using a narrow piece of thin khadi paper along the spines and PVA glue.  In my second dyeing session I had folded a couple of A4 sheets rather than tear them to fit in my steamer, so these obviously needed no further treatment.  I used each pair as a separate signature and stitched them to form the book.  I glued a strip of abaca paper along the spines and then glued on the cover.  This had been pounded with flowers – dahlias, tagetes, using the stems as well from the miniature ones, cosmos.  (You use a soft mallet, protecting the surface with another piece of paper over your work).  I used the same method on some of the pages where I felt it enhanced the page.  I am not sure how long the colour will last, but the effect is lovely.  Finally I added a coat of acrylic wax to give some protection.

Front and back covers:


Inside front and back covers:


Some inside pages:




Eco prints on paper

I thought I would experiment eco-printing on paper as well as fabric.  I tore the sheets into A5 size which would fit in my steamer,  wet them first, then laid on the flora,  with sheets back to back, so as to only get one image on each sheet.  The bundle was placed between two pieces of card, tied, weighted down and steamed for 2 hours, turning the bundle over half way through.  It was left to cool in situ until the following morning.  These are some of the best.

1)  Copper beech leaves (picked from the tree – they say you get the best results from fallen leaves and this is probably true for fabric) on Khadi paper.


2)  Rose flower, stem and leaves of Japanese rice paper.


3) The same stem on Khadi paper.


4) Tagetes flowers – breaking up as I cut away the thick calyx- on Khadi paper paper.


5) The same image on Japanese rice paper.


6)  Another rose stem, with Alder leaves fallen from the tree and calendula flowers, which haven’t printed clearly but have left colour, on watercolour paper.


7)  Blackcurrant leaves and a dark leaved dahlia stem on Khadi paper.


These colours look somewhat brighter than the actual papers and I don’t know how much they will fade, but it was fun.

Compost dyeing

I recently learned about “compost dyeing” through buying an e-book from Kimberly Baxter Packwood, so though I would give it a go.  I used a piece of old sheeting, quite lightweight and rather worn after constant use.  I made a bundle using a few previously used pieces of pomegranate skin and a few fresh radish slices, a small piece of copper pipe and a bit of fine rusted wire, with elastic bands to hold it together.  I soaked it in vinegar solution and then buried it in the compost heap for a week.



These are two parts of the cloth.  Some areas didn’t take at all, maybe the piece of fabric was too big and maybe more would have happened if I had left the bundle in for longer.  It was not a fresh heap, so there wasn’t any heat there.  I think the results are quite impressive and I look forward to doing some more experiments.  I don’t know what the butterfly shapes are from in the second image,  but I like them!


more plant dyeing

A few more experiments:

Bundle 5: silk, organza, thin cotton.  Slices of radish, pieces of pomegranate, some bolted red cabbage leaves and a rooibos teabag sprinkled over the whole piece, around copper pipe.  This had some success, except for the cabbage leaves that didn’t work at all, so I redyed the whole lot with the cotton on the inside as this had the fewest marks on it from the previous time:  more radish slices (these were plants left in from last year, so quite woody, but they still yielded good impressions), 4 calendula flowers, dandelion flowers, leaves and root, pomegranate skins, pinch of black tea:

piece of silk fabric:


The radish is very clear and the yellow mainly from the dandelion and calendula.



I think the above two pieces are really successful.  Silk does dye more easily than cotton with copper as the mordant.

The cotton was still not very interesting so I gave it a final 30 minute steam this time around a rusted iron pipe and some wire wool, with a little black tea, the same calendula flowers and pomegranate skins:


This is half the piece. The tannin of black tea certainly darkens the piece.

Plant dyes

I have become more and more interested in trying out plant dyes, particularly as I have so many possibilities growing in the garden.  There were a couple of old red cabbages that had bolted, so having researched the web and found references to making bundles (thanks especially to Wendy Feldberg), this is how I decided to proceed.  All bundles were first soaked in a 20-25 % vinegar solution, then steamed for a couple of hours. turning the bundle over half way through.   I unwrapped them the following day.  I know some people leave them for much longer – I should experiment, but am impatient by nature!

Bundle one: Red cabbage leaves, including green ones up the stem,  2 calendula flowers, loose black tea leaves around rusted tongs.

4 pieces of fabric, from inner to outer: medium weight silk:


thin old sheeting: (the red marks bottom right are from a previous bit of printing)


silk organza:


silk, with some matted pieces of wire wool (already rusted) between these two last layers:


I used some knobbly wool and cotton string to bind the bundles, which you can really see in this last piece.  I neutralised the rust with baking soda solution,  but there is quite a patina on this last piece, so I am not sure what will happen.   I think the almost black colours come from the combination of rust and tea.

Bundle two : cabbage leaves, spent daffodil flowers,  pinch of black tea rolled and bound around a copper pipe.

Inner layer, silk.  The effect is much more subtle, but the colours are beautiful:


Outer layer was a thick curtain cotton that didn’t work very well.

Bundle three: red cabbage, spent daffodils, pinch of black tea, pomegranate skins, around copper pipe:

Inner layer silk:


I did think the pomegranate skins might need to be soaked, but they have left their mark, as well as the subtle blue from the cabbage.

Outer layer thin cotton sheeting:



Bundle four : I decided to over-dye some previously rusted fabrics, eucalyptus leaves on stem, pomegranate skins around copper pipe:

Inner layer small piece of cotton with faint rust marks:


silk organza:


Outer layer, muslin.  This is a part of it only:


Wools used for tying bundles: top round the iron tongs, bottom for the copper bundles.