Look closely; can you see it?! This endeavour was close to the heart for me…
You may have seen someone picking up leaves and wondered ‘what the heck’?! Here in Canada we are in ‘full colour’ and as an ‘Eco Printer’ I am gathering up these gems just like the squirrels with their nuts. Oh, ya it may look like I’m nuts… but these are such Marvellous Maples to Eco Print. Let me convince you.
I am fortunate to have a forest view and am mesmerized by the amazing colour each year. I am not if it’s because I have discovered Eco Printing or because it’s an amazing year but I am ‘Uber’ excited this year! The rain has possibly made sure that the leaves have held well and not dried so quickly. Being an artist and painter I admire how mother nature can mix up such vibrant pigments!
During the year the maples are nice as well but almost all just green, whereas in Autumn each tree gives a bit of it’s own show; colour variations that let us differentiate the species even more.
Maples are everywhere here so I have not given them their true credit. There are many many varieties and due to their high tannin content they are fabulous for eco printing. Usually I have grumbled for the mountains of leaves that I need to rake but this year I am more likely stooped over and finding the most perfectly coloured ones.
There are many ways to make sure that you have enough to get you through the winter. I like to save them flat but they need to dry first. I will layer them between newspaper (3-6 sheets) and check on them to make sure they don’t get mouldy. The piles can be stacked but preferably not too tightly as they will not get the air they need to dry. Keeping things organized by kind & specie is a good idea. Reusing the clear containers from salads is a perfect storage system.
You should realize however that the colour r see may not; probably will not be the colour that prints, hence the magic and surprise!
Due to the abundance of maples for me I am working to get some yardage for sewing projects. For these prints I have used cotton sheeting and some linen as well. Make sure to scour your fibres well by a good long soak in hot water & washing soda and a squirt of soap. It’s amazing what ‘yuck’ will wash out even the cleanest new fabric.
For the most simplicity of printing this method only involves preparing/mordanting the fabric and soaking the leaves in iron/rust water.
Mordanting the Cotton:
I have mordanted these with Aluminum Acetate. I make a homemade Sodium Acetate by mixing baking soda and vinegar, adding vinegar until it no longer fizzes. This is then mixed with a solution of Potassium Aluminum Sulphate (Alum) to create the Aluminum Acetate. My proportions of the mix are somewhat estimated, a tablespoon of alum to 600ml of water and the 600ml of the sodium acetate in a bucket of water. Let the fabric soak in this over night and then let dry. Rinse and then soak in a bucket of a solution of chalk (calcium carbonate). Rinse well, wring out well and then the fun begins!
I let the leaves soak in the iron water for about 20-30 minutes (stronger solution will give darker/duller colours) blot them and then place on the fabric with the vein side down. You may experiment to placing them the other way as well but I have found that they print much better from the bottom.
The world of eco printing is like art, there are so many ways to variate for different results. Do be safe and wear gloves to protect from absorbing the metals and chemicals. Once the leaves are placed the fabric is rolled on to thick poles with a barrier layer of plastic (which I reuse many many times) and tied tightly. See some basics in my post here and here. It is processed with heat and I like to steam mine for about 1.5 -2 hours or use my ‘alternative’ method which uses much less power.
Bundles of Joy:
My bundles of joy are always so exciting to open! You plan and take notes to recreate but sometimes mother nature just likes to play with you.
Once cooked you can wait and let them cool or be impatient and open right away. Peeling off each leaf and seeing a surprise never seems to get old.
Before and after:
These 2 images show the leaves before and after processing. A dark red becomes a brown, a pink becomes a cool green and golds become ochres. This is by no means the limit. Varying the mordants and pretreatments can also impact the colours.
Here is another before & after; there are such wonderful variations of the tones, like a watercolour painting! These designs are bonded permanently to the fabrics and will wash well.
I love my eco printed silk scarves but these have a simplicity about them… wait what they will become. There are a few bags of leaves calling my name right now and some fabrics to wring out. Hopefully there is some maple tree smiling down at you too!
Oh, how do I love our national leaf! How wonderful and magical… I hope you stop to pick up a few leaves for your own Eco Printing