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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.

Amazing Colour:

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.

Stock Piling:

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

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

This Post Has 32 Comments

  1. Hi Barb
    I am a fa of yours. I will be trying out this project this weekend coming up. My question is will you be showing us how to add colour to the background as I have seen on pinterest by you?

  2. Wow!!! Next season I will start collecting them too. I just learned about eco dyeing and thought you could only use the green leaves. All leaves are gone now, here in Sweden, so I will have to wait six months.

    1. You may also make friends with a florist as they sometimes clip off a lot of rose leaves (not petals) and they print well too! It will give you time to research…

  3. These are wonderful, Barb. is the wee doggie sitting on the printed fabric.? It looks almost too vibrant to be the finished product!

  4. Beautiful. I have 3 sugar maples in my yard and reallly want to try this. Your instructions are very clear, but how do you prepare (make) the iron water and chalk solution? You are a very talented lady!

    1. Check out some of the other posts here/ You can make the iron water with some rusty bits or buy some iron sulphate. I make my chalk (calcium carbonate) solution by using some dried egg shells that have been ground in the coffee grinder. You can also buy it at a wine making store. It’s so much fun to print with the leaves!

  5. Wore your scary yesterday!!!thank you again. when you store your leaves don’t. They dry out?How long would they stay ok in a plastic bag?We do not have those beautiful maples in Texas.Would love to try it but since my husband died,I live in a small duplex and a little yard out back.I guess I need to to study what would work for me in my small little place and living in Texas.Would love to make some. For limy daughter.The one I got from you was a early 76 birthday for myself.My budget will not allow another one for awhile.Thank you ever so much.I look forward to your newsletters..Thank you again,Donna

    1. I am so glad that you are enjoying it! I press the leaves until pretty dry them put in containers (some use paper envelopes) When I use them I rehydrate them in water fro a bit. Plastic may be a problem if they are not completely dry. I have been getting leaves in the local park as well. So nice to hear that you enjoy my site! It’s quite the labour of love…

  6. Thanks so much for sharing the simple methods! Too many EP are turning it into an expensive mystery. And SO many people don’t have a clue what it is so stop apologizing for deviating from the so called sacred norm lol!

  7. I admire your work, it is very beautiful and I would like to try eco-printing myself. My question is how long do the colours last? Are they stable in the washing machine? Thank you!

    1. Yes, if you mordant correctly and use botanicals that are not ‘fugitive’ they can be washed. You may want to be a bit more gentle though as many detergents are quite harsh. The silk scarves and these maples have been washed a few times after the printing already. I admit there is a learning curve for this art form but that is what makes it so special… Anything that is a bit more difficult is more valued in the end. Good luck and check out more under the ‘home’ menu

  8. Barb, How do you do your vinegar and baking soda solution before you add it to Alum solution. I would love to try this. Like a tablespoon of baking soda to a cup of vinegar. I live in the country hard to get AA. But this I have in cupboard. Your blog is excellent. You are fearless.

    1. I could not find an exact recipe at the time but I may try this next. I would keep adding baking soda into about 600ml of vinegar slowly until it would not fizz any more. I read that when you get to that point it is sodium acetate and water. I would then add that to the alum solution. I admit it was a bit of an estimate but it did seem to make the cotton print. I can’t find AA easily either. Yes, I am a bit fearless, but I’d just call it stubborn!

      1. Hi Barb, – just wanted to say thanks for sharing your experiences, love your results. Just wondering why you add the homemade sodium acetate solution to an alum solution – aren’t they both mordants? (ie isn’t the sodium acetate a replacement for Alum (potassium aluminium sulphate)?). 🙂

  9. Thanks Barb for such generous sharing of your knowledge.
    I am in Pakistan and having lot of kinds of plants but how I can test that which one having more tannins?

    1. Well, there is information floating around and a few books. The best way is with running test prints! Rose leaves, sumac, eucalyptus, walnut, all kinds of maple, weigela, Smoke bush, are a few of the best. ‘But conditions of where they are are etc will have some effect on the prints. Dive in, you’ll love it!

      1. Wow its amazing how you explain about mordanting the cottons. I can’t wait to try it
        . Did you soak the fabric in cold solution or with hot solution?

  10. Hey Barb! Thanks.
    I’m from India. I tried some native leaves today.
    Soured my cotton fabric well, Mordanted with myrobalan, placed my fresh leaves and boiled for an hour! Only step that I missed, is dipping the leaves in iron solution. That must be the mistake.
    Believe me, not even a single leaf got printed. This is my first project and failures do not stop me!
    But, I’d like to know where I went wrong, so that I’ll do it right in future!

    1. Thank you for your reply Barb!
      My rust water is in progress. Will make my iron blanket and try with it soon!☑️🥰

  11. Barb you’re an angel for sharing your knowledge! I am just dipping my toes into eco printing and NO ONE will message me and tell me their ways! Except you! Thank you for sharing your beautiful craft. Do you find soaking the leaves in iron to produce more colorful and clear prints vs. the iron blanket? I did an iron blanket with okay results for my first time! Next experiment is to soak leaves in iron to see the difference. Then I will try to play with cochineal and logwood. How long do you soak in the chalk bath after mordanting? Thank you again, I read your comments and blog daily!!

    1. There’s differences in the ‘look’ between the ‘blanket’ and the ‘dip’ method. The blanket has more ‘outlines’. It also depends on the strength of the iron in both, and the tannin levels in the leaves… Nope, so many variables so experimenting is key!

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