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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…

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

This Post Has 102 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. No, you don’t have to dry them. Sometimes I do collect for later though. That dark is probably from the reaction of the iron water and the tannin in the leaves. Each specie is different. Doing tests is key!

  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. I’ve used cosmos and the color was a beautiful bright red – the cosmos were orange, so it was a nice surprise. I’ll also used golden rod and got the yellow. I was printing on watercolor paper both times.

      1. Yes, I love paper printing too! We have finally have a good abundance of green here now, so I better get steaming! I need to get some flowers too!

  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. Barb.., you are an amazing artist. I’m in awe of your beautiful handiwork. I’m 68 in a few days and caring for my dying Mom, in my sisters home. Once I am in my own home, I am going to give this a try. In the meantime, I’ll send all my friends to Etsy to buy a scarf. And me too. Love it.

    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.

    1. Yes, I’ve seen that done with eggs too. Could be great but you are at the ‘mercy’ of the silk ties. Leaves are pretty well free and oh-so unique! See some of the scarves here

  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.


    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!

    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

    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…

  12. Hello everyone

    Once I’ve done all the procedure domI immerse the materials in water to boil or do I just steam it? Also do I add anything to the water to do that procedure?

    Thank you

    1. If you have read the post, then the roll will be a damp silk with the leaves placed. I steam it so there will need to be water in the pot to provide the steam. You may look at the other posts as well.

  13. Son Maravillosos, muchas gracias por entregar tu conocimiento estoy recién comenzando en Ecoprint y estoy bastante enamorada se puede decir, muchas gracias un abrazo

  14. I have done some eco dyeing with immersion technique last year, ( we are just starting to get leaves) but the wound string has given the interesting effect of lines which I tried to vary in angle etc.. However, I really like yours without any of the lines from the string. Is this because you steamed rather than boiled, or because you used the plastic to block the color? I’m thinking it is probably because you are steaming rather than immersing the scarves?

    1. Yes, I have usually steamed and completely wrapped with plastic. I like the look of strings but it’s a bit of a risk at how they turn out. There really is no right or wrong.

  15. thanks for this great tutorial!!! I was gifted a handwoven wool (lightweight) blanket in India and would LOVE to eco dye it. Would i use the same method? can i use the eucalyptus from Michael’s or does it need to be alive? any ideas for leaves that might bring a blue or purple color? Nasturtium? TIA!!!!

    1. Eco printing is wonderful but also can yield various results, some experimenting is best before working on a precious piece. I have printed wool The eucalyptus at Michaels may be dyed, but you ca use dried leaves. Depending on where you live it may be hard to find. I would suggest some small trial runs first, with different leaves and process. I have not found a leaf that prints blue or purple but cochineal is very PH sensitive so I do get a fair amount of purple from it. See here

  16. Hello,
    I make ring slings for baby wearing and was wondering if the finished product would be toxic to put in baby’s mouth. I understand that I would have to find non poisonous leaves, but didn’t know if it would be harmful because of the process. Thank you.

    1. That’s a tough one! I don’t imagine that the baby spends that much time with it in it’s mouth. They can be washed quite well so how much ‘free’ excess would still be there is questionable. I know when working with fibre reactive dye there are many safety precautions and I bet that is what much commercial fabrics are dyed with. But that’s just my logic, not any scientific backup. Maybe there could be an outer and inner layer to avoid contact. Good luck!

  17. I suggest reading India Flint
    Eco Colour and Second Skin.
    She is the expert, all you need to know and more.
    She teaches workshops through
    Highly recommended.

    1. Yes, I have! You must agree that this art form is quite unique as that exact recipes may not yield exact results due to the variables of so many aspects of eco printing. I wish I could have access to the euca in Australia…
      Accepting each as a gift is part of the fun…

  18. Hi. I have been eco dying paper but have not tried scarves. There are so many style and kinds on the website that you suggested . I do not know the difference in materials. Is there a certain type of silk scarf that you suggest?

  19. You mention garbage bags and leaving them in the sun. In north Australia the days are long and hot. How much success have you had using this technique. It seems to be much simpler. I have an eco-oven that is made of the silver type reflection material that you put in the front of the car to help reduce the heat in the car while parking in the sun!!

    1. I have also used an eco oven and it gave quite hot temps for me but I had to keep chasing the sunny spots due to the forest. It may just be perfect for you. I’d put an oven thermometer in and keep an eye. I used a covered roaster pan inside to keep things damp. It’s pretty logical… I actually have that same material as I was going to improve my oven. It all comes down to some tests. Happy printing!

  20. The only mordant you are using for the silk is vinegar? I used alum and leaves didn’t print as well as flowers. Also, do you use fresh leaves always or can you use leaves fallen from trees, like in the fall?

    1. Yes, most of the time I just use vinegar. You do also need to use some form of the iron as I do in an iron blanket or dipping the leaves. Yes, I rehydrate leaves that I have dried prior by soaking a bit in warm water. Flowers may print but see if it lasts. Many only make fugitive prints. See also here Don’t give up, it’s worth it once you figure out the particulars.

      1. Thank you! I tried it and it did work nicely. I used a plastic barrier as you suggest but it seems that the leaves run quilt often. What am I doing wrong?

        1. You may have too much moisture. Also to prevent running, turn your bundles often during the process. Different fabrics absorb differently. Don’t worry, it’s all about learning and accepting what prints you get. I’ve had too wet and too dry as well.

  21. Could you give the amounts of vinegar and water you use. Like 1 quart water and 3 quarts vinegar and the amount of iron and water you use or what you use?

    1. When I do a pre-dip it is usually about 50% – 50% water/vinegar. The amount of iron is a bit of a learning curve. If you are ‘heavy’ on the iron it will be darker and less vivid colours. It’s hard to gauge especially if you make your own. It also depends on the amount of fibre. Best thing is to do some tests, as if it is weak you can always print a second round. I am more artist than chemist and do sometimes ‘wing it’ as exact measuring takes some of the fun away. Maybe you want to take a workshop with some of the eco printers in your area… I hope this tutorial helps but having exact recipes that are extensively tested would require me to sell the results. Go for it and have fun!

    1. Wow, such specific questions! I’m not sure how that will affect the ‘making’. It is a hand rolled hem and was probably about 11″ x 58″ or one size larger.

  22. I am trying the ego dyeing of silk scarves as a project with my fourth graders. I am beginning by reading and reading and reading to find the best advice and instructions. So far you seem to be doing the best at quiding us first timers. My questions are: Do you wash your scarves in Dawn water before doing the vinegar/water dip? I will be usng a turkey roaster without a basket, so if I put bricks in the bottom to keep the scarves out of the water would that work.? Is it best to process a certain number of scarves or can you pack the roaster, leaving a little space between the rolls? Does the amount processed change the process time? Please give any and all advice to this nervous teacher.(I really want this to work for my students.)

    1. Oh boy! I am nervous too! I would make sure to do a test run with the fabric (real silk scarves?) and the leaves before doing a whole bunch. It’s a very unpredictable art form as sometimes small differences in the process/supplies can make a big change. I don’t wash the scarves from Dharma as they are dye ready. I will give them a soak in diluted vinegar water. I do not use a turkey roaster but yes some way of keeping the bundles raised from the water is good. Maybe some canning jars? Bricks seem so heavy. I would also suggest that you do it outside or where there is good fresh air as the fumes from some of the leaves may be irritating. The bundles need to have good access to the steam/heat so you also need to turn them. Yes, the amount of time does affect the prints as well. Some do anywhere from 90 minutes to 3 hours. The more I think about this I am not sure I would do it with such young kids! The careful rolling, prep, tieing, is a fairly involved process. I would also not want them to have their hands in the iron water! Maybe I would suggest a simpler eco-printing project like printing on paper. Paper prints can give a variety of results and make for beautiful framable prints. If you can grab an old microwave; that is how I process mine. I would still do a test round before the class though. You just never exactly know how your specific leaves will print, as not ALL leaves do. Children these days have shorter attention spans especially if they don’t see immediate results. Kudos for your enthusiasm though!

  23. hi Barb

    im new at this eco printing. would like to know what the standard size for a scarve should be> i went on the website that supplies the scarves – which one do you use – the size and length idont want the scarves to be to short or to long thank you your scarves are beautiful . im from Africa .

    1. Well that’s quite a question. I am a scarf-o-holic and I have certain preferences about how many times I’d like to wrap around and whether it’s for warmth etc. Yes I do like them long but it also depends how they drape. You may have a restriction of how wide a roll you can heat process. My latest way has some width restrictions. My favourite is 14″ x 72″ or more but I’ve sold all sizes. Start with much experimentation… Good luck

  24. Thank you for sharing, I use 8mm Habotai silk, how would the 5mm Habotai work? is it more like a chiffon? I am in South Africa and trying to buy silk from China and they keep offering me this. Dharma will not send to South Africa so I’m stuck for a supplier. Thanks again

    1. I have not used it but from my quick research it does seem quite thin. It would probably print but the effects would be so light. It might be worth finding another supplier. I bet you can find one! Good Luck!

  25. Have you tried making an onion skin dye first for white silk and then doing the eco printing?

    1. I have not tried it since the onion skin does dye quite nicely on the silk and I am not sure if it would be too strong to dye over. Many do use it in the dye pot to boil their bundles so it gets into sections of it. But, everything is worth a try; that’s how some new methods develop! Happy making!

    1. Well, that is a common debate. I do not use cling wrap as it would get thrown away. I use one sheet of plastic drop cloth and cut in strips. I reuse them over and over for a long time (so far since last year) Parchment paper can be used but just think about all the energy that goes into the making and packaging for a single use. I do try to use local found leaves and simple dye products instead of fancy chemicals. If there is no barrier used the prints will leach through layers, which could be an interesting effect so you are welcome to not use it!

  26. Thank you for your posts about Ecodyeing I have experimented with these processes using red hibiscus on watercolour paper; some beautiful blue tones resulted.

    1. It is a wonderful process, I love it. Do be aware that even though some flowers give great colour it may be fugitive; meaning that it will disappear, sadly. I love printing on paper and even use any paper I scrounge up.

  27. Hello, my name is Ligia and I am from Brazil. Your work is wonderful and I really want to try to do it at home, but here in Brazil there are not most plants you use. Would you recommend that I test native plants in my region until I select the best ones? thank you, you are awesome!

    1. Maybe you can find some connections to see which plants work well. Look for high tannin plants. Eucalyptus is great but not sure if it grows there. I’m sure you will find some good ones! The resist method can be used with leaves that don’t have much tannins. Good luck!

  28. Loving your work and now I want to play. I am going to get some iron water started but am impatient. Any shortcuts to be able to make a solution faster or anything else I can use now to start playing?

  29. Might you share what temperature you set your oven to for steaming silk scarves in the roaster? I have been cautious about silk and high temperatures and am most likely not getting enough steam. Thank you.

    1. Actually I have not used the oven, I used to steam (simmeringwater) on the side burner of the BBQ but found the amount of gas seemed alot. I now just use my alternative method. As long as you are aware of not using metals objects I have great success this way and sooooo much less energy!

  30. Hi Barb I am really enjoying your site. I live in northern Ontario and have been experimenting for a year now with eco printing on silk. I love this art form! I started using flowers and leaves and yes the leaves print better if a clearer print is wanted. If anyone wants purple my smoke bush leaves produce a dark purple without the iron mordant dip. Haven’t tried it with and must do that. It would give a more distinct shape I think. So much to learn. Thanks for sharing your expertise art Barb. How do you get the wrinkles out of your finished scarf? I’m finding steam ironing doesn’t work.

    1. Yes, so much to learn and not always exactly the same results! Try a damp pressing cloth to help get the wrinkles out, or embrace them! Who needs perfection anyways?!

  31. Can you tell me how and when to do a base colour. I want to try the leaf dyeing but on different colour backgrounds. I’m not sure if you would dye the silk scarves first or afterwards and would you add the colour to the mordant or do it separately?

  32. These are BEAUTIFUL and the process looks like something that will be highly addictive for me. Thank you for sharing your beautiful work and the process! I’m going to see what I can find for leaves before we get frost.

  33. Your results look just great. Do you always use fresh leaves or have you been known to use pressed ones from previous seasons?

    Also, I guess the 30cm wide lengths of scarves will need to be stitched at some point. Do you do this prior to dyeing or after the event?

    Lovely easy project to follow. Thank you, Barb.

  34. Hi Barb
    I love your blog and have learned so much from you, I was wondering if after you are done steaming and unwrapping your silk do you need to rinse it in baking soda water or salt water to keep the iron resist from continuing to activate?

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