Step by step tutorial for Eco Dyeing or Eco Printing on Silk and Cotton Fabric
This cool natural dyeing technique goes by many different names from Eco Print and Eco Printing or Eco Dyeing.
Here, I will show you step by step the basic technique of Eco Printing with black walnut and maple leaves printed on silk chiffon and cotton fabric using an iron modifier.
Basic steps of Eco Printing on Fabric:
- Mordant the Fabric
- Soak the Plant Materials
- Place the Leaves and Flowers the fabric and fold it over or cover with a second piece of fabric
- Tightly roll the folded fabric onto a PVC pipe or heavy stick
- Steam or simmer the bundle
>>> These are my favorite flour sack kitchen towels for eco printing 🙂
UPDATE! My second prints worked out much better! Scroll to the bottom to see the new pictures.
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What is Eco Printing or Eco Dyeing?
The way I understand it, Eco Printing is a form of natural dyeing where the colors from plant material are transferred to paper or fabric via steaming or boiling. (If anyone out there has a better definition, by all means let me know).
Eco Leaf Printing was first created (discovered?) by fiber artist and teacher, India Flint. Ms. Flint is the author of Eco Colour – Botanical Dyes for Beautiful Textiles and Second Skin: Choosing and Caring for Textiles and Clothing.
SAFETY NOTE: Even though it is called ‘Natural Dyeing’ and ‘Eco Printing’ and ‘Eco Dyeing’, be aware that some substances used can be very toxic. Follow safety precautions by using gloves and a dust mask.
- White Silk Chiffon, Habotai Silk or Cotton Fabric
- Various Leaves
- Ferrous Oxide
- PVC Pipe or Dowel Rod
- Old Roasting Pan
- Stove or Portable Burner (so you can do this outside)
This Eco Printing Kit contains Silk Fabric, Alum, Craft Thread, Collection of plants materials, Pdf of Instructions with pictures
So, here is my very first piece of Eco Printed fabric. For this project, I chose silk chiffon (only because I have plenty of it left over from nuno felting).
Also, because the info I have read says that silk does not need a mordant for eco printing. However, you can use mordants to achieve different colors and textures.
Don’t miss my 9 Top Eco Printing Tips & Tricks and How to Eco Print on Paper
For my first eco printing experiment, I used whatever leaves I happened to have available in the yard: black walnut, red maple, green maple, cleome, croton and redbud. These were laid out on half of the dry silk chiffon fabric.
Lay out The Leaves
Roll up the fabric
I folded the other half of the chiffon over the leaves and rolled the whole thing, very tightly onto a piece of pvc pipe. You can use a dowel, stick or even a piece of pipe for this.
Note: depending on what metal the pipe is, it may act as a mordant s.a. a copper pipe which will alter the result.
Next, I wrapped a cotton string around the package, again very tightly to make sure there is good contact between the fabric and the leaves for printing.
Steam the bundle
Then, I steamed the bundle over plain water for about 1 1/2 hours. Let this cool completely and left the bundle to set overnight. The longer the better but I don’t have the patience to wait. It’s too much fun opening it up to see what you got!
Not surprisingly, the black walnut leaves printed the best. Black walnut contains its own mordant (tannin??) and is washfast and colorfast.
I was also very happy with the red maple leaves which left a pale but very pretty lavender/lilac colored print.
The other leaves didn’t do much, altho I did get a pale yellowish print from the redbud leaves.
Considering this was the first attempt at eco printing on fabric, I was very happy my results. The second batch turned out much much better.
I learned how to make an iron modifier which dramatically changes and deepens the colors of the printed leaves. (See my UPDATE below)
There are so many wonderful websites out there with great info on eco printing but I must give a special shout out to Threadborne. So much information there on eco printing, I think I read every word on the whole site.
For my second Eco Printing project, I used an Iron Modifier. People sometimes call it a Mordant but in this case it’s used to “modify” the color. (See how to make an iron modifier below)
Instead of silk chiffon, I used cotton flour sack dish towels. FYI, those are the BEST kitchen towels ever made.
I dipped the leaves in my iron modifier before laying them on the fabric. That’s really the only difference in the technique. The rest of the process was the same as above.
As you can see, the resulting prints are much deeper and clearer.
A friend recently gave me some eucalyptus leaves so that’ll be my next eco printing experiment. I’ve seen some beautiful results with those.
This is worth repeating …..
SAFETY NOTE: Even though it is called ‘Natural Dyeing’ and ‘Eco Printing’, beware that some substances used can be very toxic.
Before you try any natural dyeing methods at home, please do your homework first! Here’s a great article on various mordants and their uses.
Grab the Free Guide
Includes: Which Dyes to Use, Yarn Dyeing Safety plus a complete Supply List
Who invented eco printing?
A fiber artist named India Flint first discovered this art form. She describes herself as “botanical alchemist, forest wanderer & tumbleweed, stargazer & stitcher, string twiner, working traveller, dreamer, writer and the original discoverer of the eucalyptus ecoprint, dyeing for a living in the deep south of Australia.”
You can find out more about Ms. Flint here.
Is eco printing permanent?
As with all forms of natural dyeing, the answer is ‘that depends’. It depends on what kind of fabric you used, how well your fabric is mordanted and if the prints are thoroughly ‘set’ by steaming or simmering.
Even if all of the above steps are done correctly, your prints may still fade with time or if exposed to sunlight for long periods of time.
How do you make an iron water mordant or modifier
Liquid iron or rust water is one of those substances that really bring out the colors in the leaves and flowers. It darkens and deepens the natural dye where the print may normally be very light or even non-existent without it.
Making your own rust water is easy but it does take a few weeks of time. All you need are some rusted bits of hardware: nuts, bolts, screws or, etc. Check out how to make an iron modifier for step by step instructions.
Keep in mind, that when you use your homemade iron, there is absolutely no way to determine the strength of the mix. Therefore, if you are short on time or need to know the exact formula, I recommend you make your mordant using ferrous oxide powder.
Can you ecoprint with dry leaves?
Well, I used to think that you can’t but I was wrong! You absolutely can use dried leaves. They may not have the same amount of natural dye in them as fresh leaves but there is still some.
The trick to using dry leaves is to reconstitute them by soaking them in warm water before use.
Hint: Collect fresh leaves in the growing months, and then press them or freeze them for use in the Winter when you can’t find any.
Can you print on synthetic fabric?
If you have done even a little bit of online research into natural dyeing, in general, then you have probably read that you cannot print on synthetic fabric. In my experience, that is not true!
In one of my earlier eco dyeing experiments, I used polyester hankerchiefs that I happened to find at the dollar stores. My plan was to use these as a barrier layer on top of the leaves, to keep the prints from bleeding through.
Well, as it turned out, those hankies took the leaf prints beautifully! This does not mean that I recommend you run out and get some polyester to print on. You are better off sticking with the tried and true fabrics like silk, wool and cotton, especially if you are a beginner.
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