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.
My favorite fabrics to eco print are flour sack kitchen towels!
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.
Eco Print Supplies:
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.
For my first eco printing experiment, I used whatever leaves I 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.
Laying Out The Leaves
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.
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.
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.
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How to make an Iron Modifier
You can very easily make an iron (or copper) modifier at home. All you need are some rusted bits of hardware: nuts, bolts, screws or copper pipe, tubing, etc. Check out how to make an iron modifier.