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Oh my gosh, I have never really known how amazing silk is. ‘And even better than that is how easy it takes Eco Printing. How wonderful can it be when all you need is nature to make permanent impressions for you. Make yourself a Stunning Eco Printing scarf or give as a very unique gift.

I have collected a lot of leaves to get me through the winter (sounding like a squirrel). Placed in old books or in stacks of newspaper they store well. Just make sure to not apply too much pressure as then they will turn black. Check on them as they dry. For some basics of Eco Printing check my post here

Step #1: Preparing the silk fabric

Silk is known as a protein fibre since it made by animals; silk worm. Protein fibres are easier to take dye and printing so they perform quite well with just a dip (at least 30 minutes) in vinegar water (about a 1 : 3 ratio water to vinegar). I have found that silk is expensive and finding fabric to make scarves is a challenge. You can buy finished scarves here. They work quite well and save time on hemming etc.


Step #2: The Layout

After wringing out the vinegar water, lay the silk out smooth and flat. Silk is quite strong even though it has always seemed like a fancy fabric.

As a choice of leaves I tend to use my regulars. I like sumac, maple, japanese maple, rose, walnut, and eucalyptus. But don’t feel limited to that. Depending where you are, you may have other choices that I don’t.

As seen in the cotton printing the leaves are dipped in ‘iron water’ (a solution of water and rusty items) to make the prints permanent. I have learnt that too strong of a solution will print very black. So with the silk I use a very diluted ‘iron water’. When in doubt, do a test.

My theory; I go light so that if it prints too light I can always do another printing.

As you see in the picture the scarf is quite wide. It is too wide to fit in my steaming pot so I plan to fold it in half. Place the leaves up to the midpoint and then fold the other half over. This will allow the leaves to print both sides.

Step #3: The Barrier Layer

Since the silk is so thin, I did not want any bleed through to other layers. Plastic paint drop clothes can be easily cut to the width of strip that you require. (keep folded, cut and then unfold)

Place the Barrier layer over the top of the folded silk.

Step #4: Roll it up

Very carefully flatten and smooth the layers as you roll tightly around the centre dowel or pipe. Silk smooths nicely to provide the best prints.

Tie it up tightly and evenly. The best ‘clean’ prints happen when the leaves are well contacted to the fabric. I usually let the plastic wrap around the outside as well.

This is a natural technique but it does use energy to steam or boil the rolls. So I make sure I do a few together to make it worthwhile.

The leaves will emit some odours that may be somewhat disturbing to some, so I steam them outside or under a good vent fan. Put enough water in the bottom of the pot to keep it from running out. Use the canning insert or other steamer basket to keep the rolls elevated. Turning the rolls often will help distribute the heat and allow even printing.

I usually steam for about 2 hours. As an extra way of letting more printing happen I often leave them in a bag to cool down. In the summer they can heat up in a garbage bag in the sun.

Step #5: Check out the Magic!

Cut the string and unwind. Try to contain your excitement as it’s feeling like ‘Christmas morning’! This the part that makes Eco Printing all worthwhile and so much fun.

Peel off the leaves and be amazed at how they provided colour and detail.

Notice how the top and bottom printed differently. Take notes so that you can start to predict what you will get.

The Japanese maple has printed with reds; so lovely

The silk scarf will be lovely as it is a somewhat symmetrical design. Let it dry or wash and rinse right away. I use a ph neutral detergent (Dawn) and wash by hand.

Eucalyptus has been known as quite a colourful printer, however it also depends on the specific species. In canada it is harder to acquire so I stay with local (free) leaves.

Step #6: Make Many

With Silk Eco printing before you now it you will be making another… and another… and ordering more scarves or looking at the labels of your clothes to see if you can dye it.

After a gentle ironing it looks so exquisite. Soft neutral and earthy tones depending on your choice of leaves. Won’t these make some OOAK (One of a Kind) gifts?!

This is by no means the limit though. This is still the start as the next stage is to add stronger colour with natural dyes. Stay tuned…

barbmaker

I'm an artist & I make things... all kinds of things.

This Post Has 34 Comments
    1. It would seem that flowers give even better prints, but that does not usually happen. There are a few that I’ve seen print but I stick to my predictable leaves. Flowers are usually too delicate to take the steaming and the colours fade or can’t take the heat. But don’t get discouraged, there stronger colours in more posts.

  1. Along the flowers line….I am thinking about high pigment items, such as: sunflower petals, echinacea petals, marigolds, nasturtiums. I think I might do some experimenting next summer, and let folks know what happens.

    1. Yes, that’s about the only way to get a sense as so many factors play into it. I have in my research seen some of those print but because of the shapes and contact it is not always obvious that it was a flower. I like the clear prints that actually look representational so I stick to my faithful ones. I would be interested to see how it goes…

  2. Love the information on Eco printing! Your scarves are beautiful. I have just started to do some myself and yes, it is addicting! I appreciate you sharing your craft and can’t wait to see more posts on the use of natural dyes.

    1. Oh thanks! I just had to list some of the scarves on my Etsy Store since the line I had hanging across my studio was chock full. It’s always great to have a place to be able to see them constantly and compare (and admire the hard work) I have to stop my self from making some every day.

    1. I have a large bucket that I soak some railroad spikes in. The water turns a rusty colour and smells like iron. I do not really know the strength other than with experimentation. If you want exact recipe you may need to take a course or research some more. Many artisans have needed to do much testing to get results and are not too happy to just give out recipes.I know it’s taken me many months and many pieces until I have some expectable results.

  3. I met a woman who was doing that with silk ties. She would buy silk ties at thrift stores, take them apart,, discard the lining and wrap them in the white silk scarves similar to what you do and process them. The scarf I saw was unique in color and pattern. Just a thought.

  4. Really nice to see your work .It’s amazing.I am also an artist.I usually paint silk dresses and cotton dresses.Now a days I am painting silk scarves.Can we do this on cotton fabric.

  5. I have just found you and many thanks for sharing of knowledge. Living in Australia I would be happy to send you some eucalyptus l;eaves, we have plenty her and many different varieties. I love dyeing on paper and my garden is full of Australian native shrubs too which can be just as effective as eucalypt . I will be 90 this year and still love pottering around with different art and craft. Joyhce.

    1. Oh,my goodness! That is such a sweet offer! It’s the great thing about this ‘new world of the internet’! We are in deep freeze and snow and you are in heat! I’ll send you a message. I am blessed with great sumac and maple leaves here, but I’d love the chance at printing the great reds of the euca! I am thrilled that you enjoy my site! Greetings from Canada!

  6. Ah! At last an informative post that I can use! Thank you so much for sharing, I’ve read so many eco-dying posts… tried it once and it failed. No one ever explained that the leaves had to be dipped in a mordant as well. I’ll be trying your method on a silk scarf my dad brought me from India <3 Oh, on printing with flowers, I've seen a few ladies press them beforehand and then use them for eco dying. Also, I wonder how natural dyes like Hibiscus or Bougainvillaea would eco dye.

    1. There is so much that to learn in regards to dyeing. Perhaps some small tests prior to investing with a special scarf. It is sometimes difficult to figure out how strong the ‘iron’ water is. But then it makes for some surprises! I am still figuring out…

  7. Hello from a fellow Canadian,
    I have been painting on silk for over 17 years and find your lovely work absolutely fascinating. I have some silk scarves which are pre-dyed in dark purple, wine, green, brown and black. These have been steamed already and are color-fast. If I follow your instructions for leaf printing, will those shapes and colors show up on the pre-dyed dark backgrounds? I am so excited at the thought of trying your techniques. Thank you so much for your creativity and your gift of sharing.

    Nicolette

    1. Hello from Ontario! It will depend on the strength of the prints that you will get as to how they will stand out from the colour background. The interesting thing that happens with the natural background dye is that it will be affected by the tannins/iron to change the colours and sometimes displace them so the effect is quite contrasted. I am afraid that a dark background would not show subtle prints. But you never know what can happen… When in doubt, do a small test. This art form is ever evolving with the sharing of everyones’ testing. Let me know how it goes.

  8. Hello! I just found your blog via Pinterest. Thank you for this very informative post! I have never dyed anything before, but am so interested to try it out this summer. This may be a silly question, but do you have to worry about any of the leaves used being skin irritants or poisonous? Or does the whole process kind of mellow them out? In other words, will any leaf work, or are there some to avoid on principles of safety?
    Thank you!

    1. Yes, there is a lot of information needed to be careful of. There are some sumac plants that are poisonous. That is one of the reasons I tend to stick with my favourites like maple, sumac and rose. I don’t just pick any plants that I don’t of. There are apps available that help you identify leaves as well. Once they steam and cook they tend to release certain smells and fumes (can be irritating to some) so I like to do the big cooking outdoors (or with good fans). When just starting out it’s a good idea to read up on plants as much as possible. There are a few good books like India Flint’s as well.

  9. Hi — Thank you for sharing your beautiful work – and also for the great instructions — I’m returning to the world of dyeing after 15 years — so much to absorb and I’m especially entranced with the “eco dyeing” that incorporates shibori techniques! I was wondering — do you dye the itajime pattern 1st, and then the leaves, etc. over that?
    Thanks again — your site is truly inspirational!
    Cynthia

    1. I suspect you are asking about one of the scarves in the Etsy store. If my memory serves me right the leaves were printed at a separate time from the folded shibori. The leaves were printed after the piece was dyed with madder. The onion skin and leaves were then placed, rolled up, and bundled. As far as my research goes I’ve read that too much high heat will ‘kill’ the rich reds of the madder so cooking the shibori long enough for the leaves to print may be too much for the madder. It’s all such an experimenting… But isn’t that the fun part?! Glad I have inspired you!

      I’m always trying to figure out some more unique designs…

  10. Thanks for the lovely tutorial. I have just a small query.
    Does washing affect the print? How to maintain leaf printed clothes ?
    Thanks again for the post….. truly inspirational!!

    1. When I make the scarves, I wash them a few times with PH neutral soap (dawn). I don’t have any clothes printed but I know many who do. I would just suggest a milder detergent as they have some strong things in them like enzymes etc. India Flint wears much eco printed clothes and then just re-dyes them when they fade. It is the type of art form that where you need to accept what results you get and appreciate them. With proper fibre prep and mordanting they are as permanent as the rugs that used to be made dyed with botanical dyes. Good luck and enjoy!

  11. Thank you so much for sharing your experience.
    I sew blue sumac leaves with colorful result after dying/steaming. I assume that the blue color on top the sumac and the sumac colorful print was achieved with a special technic.
    May I ask how please?
    Thank you so much
    Rachel

    1. The blue you may be seeing is the indigo dyeing as well as eco printing. Check the here to see how the layering is done and then substitute the indigo for the cochineal dye. It may take some experimentation to achieve exact results. Good luck and happy printing…

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