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Well, I’m a bit nervous about posting this but here goes anyways… Yes, it’s unconventional but it works for me! Make it easier for yourself and possibly save as well. I’m happily sharing my Alternate Eco-Printing processing method.

What I love:

This amazing and mysterious art form called ‘Eco Printing’ or ‘Printing with Botanicals’ has got me hooked for quite a while now. How amazing is it to use nature’s gifts and try to decipher how to make it react according to your wishes! Check out some of my posts of the different techniques here. Let’s just say it’s like performing magic tricks…

What I did not like:

I love that I can use what nature discards and up-cycle fabric but the part that involved a high use of energy did not impress me that much. Sure, if you live in a rural setting and have tons of firewood and places to cook outdoors like India Flint you are very fortunate! I could try to do that but I may just burn down the forest. So I figured out another option…

Generally, there are 2 options for processing the tied bundles (in whatever format you’d like); steaming or boiling in liquid. I tend to prefer the steaming as it gives some nice distinct prints and there is more control of ‘wetness’. 

How to Prepare your bundle:

Ok, please don’t shoot me for using plastic. I know I know, it’s not environmentally good. I DO however reuse the bags from food packaging and barrier sheets so many times, just saying.

After the usual rolling and placing the leaves (pre-dying and/or using iron blankets) roll as tight as possible. I use a barrier layer and have used the same ones for over a year. Tie tightly.

The fuzzy fabric that you see is a piece of an old wool blanket. Wheyn dyeing some wool I noticed how wool does not like to hold onto moisture; it kept dripping out. Other fabrics are not quite like that and wool can take quite a beating. I wet the wool and wrap my bundle in it. One or 2 layers is quite enough as I just want to create a nice damp place for the bundle.

Once its wrapped I pop it into a recycled bag and roll the excess using an elastic to keep it closed.  (wrapped bundle on the right above) It is quite air tight.

The Secret Heat:

Here it is; I use a microwave! BUT, and a big BUT! you can NOT use any metal pipes or utensils in it! I use my wood curtain-rod dowels. You may also have some size restrictions; as with the width of the microwave. I measured the small one I have (dedicated to dyeing and eco-printing) and made sure my bundles can fit on the turn table.

It is a bit of guess-work to decide on ‘cooking’ times. I love my temperature gun for figuring out how hot a surface is. I set the microwave for 2 minutes and then I check the temperature with the gun and with my hand. Traditional steaming may build slower but will probably be around 180F or so. Turn the bundle and set for another minute if need be. A microwave heats by vibrating (exciting) the water molecules so it is important to have a damp environment (wet wool encased in plastic) and watch that it does not overheat. It is also important not to have your roll too wet if distinct prints are wanted. It will possibly start to ‘puff up’ which is signalling that it’s boiling. Stop it at that point as I feel boiling is too strong.

When comparing to steaming in a pot on the stove or turkey roaster there will be times when turning or checking that you will lose heat so it too does not hold a constant temperature.

Here the temperature gun is showing 154F but I aim for 160-180F as I believe the internal temperature will be higher. The encasement keeps the smells down as well.

The Other Secret:

If you ‘zapped’ it repeatedly it would be getting too hot and possibly start to melt things. Insulation is a great alternative to keep an almost constant heat. We all know it can work wonders as I use that to keep food hot when having people for dinner, a trick I saw when catering was dropped off. I keep a big thick wool blend blanket close to the microwave to quickly pop the roll into after it’s heating cycle. I snuggle it under many layers of the blanket and let it be for a while… A roll lets you also turn it easily and stick your finger in to see how darn hot it still is.

How long? Well that can vary to what I am doing, but it’s not using any energy so I am flexible. I may come back after an hour and feel how hot it is and just give it a ‘zap’ for a minute and then back under the covers. The moisture stays put and the heat lasts quite a while…

Many times I just let them ‘sleep’ overnight and have something to look forward to in the morning. They are pretty happy in there.

I realize it seems to be far from the rustic way that I picture India Flint over an iron cauldron on a wood fire and emitting quite the aroma. Since my bundles are encased I do not find excess aroma but some may be more sensitive than I. My microwave is in a large laundry room away from living space. The most aroma I have is when I unbundle.

I have used this technique for a very many bundles but I’d like any feedback that you’d like to share. As you may also find it is difficult to find exact information on this technique as many who have somewhat ‘cracked the code’ would like to only share in pricey workshops. I understand as it takes much energy and supplies to figure out a technique so freely sharing seems silly.

As many Eco printers will agree; sometimes it just works and sometimes it’s a mysterious flub. I don’t see that this method has had any negative impact on my prints but do proceed with usual caution and care and above all be safe.

Happy printing!

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

This Post Has 79 Comments

  1. Thank you. I don’t own a mirooven, but now I migth think of netting an old one for ecoPrinting as I too has felt bad about the excess energy. My results do not come near yours, but I’m experimenting and having fun – and thatøs part of the goal isn’t it? I have gone with steaming them in the top of my dye pot tied to a string in the top.
    And … I love your take on sharing. I do the very same thing. Thank you so much.

  2. As usual, great information! I’m seeing all kinds of alternate methods such as a heat press on paper lol but the microwave sounds like a fun way to try a few pieces. Thanks for sharing!

    1. I’ve done maybe 50 prints and don’t see that it has any adverse effect. I usually get too heavy with iron or something else that impacts. So much more I want to try!

  3. Just gorgeous. Did you start with a white cotton sheet or was the background fabric already red? I love working with products from nature. Thank-you for sharing your creative process. I’ve already got too many projects going to start this one, but next year…..

    1. The red one is actually silk that was dyed with Madder first. There are so many ways to do this art form. I think I’m addicted! Please by a scarf and help fund some more silk to print 🙂

  4. Thankyou I have wanted to do some more printing for a while but there’s so much preparation with lots of bundles -this is a great way to trial just a few….can I ask was the last lovely pink print done on silk please and was it mordanted. Thanks for the inspiration x

    1. Hi Barb I love your idea and couldn’t wait to try it- I have done a bit of conventional eco printing but have never achieved anything very clear on silk. This weekend I have tried your microwave method on silk scarf blanks a couple of times but sadly all I got was a few really pastel marks…I did wrap the bundle in plastic before I wrapped it in wet wool and wonder if my scarf got too dry inside….( I think the wet wool blanket should have wrapped around the silk scarf before adding the plastic???) thanks

      1. You should be able to get some good prints on silk (hope it’s real) as it prints the easiest of all. Are you using iron water or an iron blanket? Rolled very tight and flat? Using good printing leaves? I don’t think it’s the processing if you are getting similar results both ways. Great thing is you can keep repeating the printing. I often do a second dye round if the first is ‘so-so’. Keep at it, it’s all a process! You should see what I got as my first prints!

        1. Thanks Barb,
          Def silk I used to sell dyed silk scarves…used iron water ( kept it weak as you suggested) laid out scarf covered half width with leaves (eucalyptus, smoke bush, geranium, all of which I had results with on wool) then I covered that half with plastic and laid out leaves on it face down and folded the scarf over that. Then I rolled a dowel in the end and rolled as tightly as poss. and bound it with string. Covered it with plastic then wet blanket then sealed it with plastic wrap. Maybe the roll wasn’t hot enough although it felt extremely hot. The blanket kept it warm for ages!! After about 1 1/2 hrs I zapped it again for a couple of minutes. Sue

        1. Yes, the fabric is damp, as is the ‘blanket’ and then an insulation in wet wool also ensures a damp environment to mimic steaming. In the usual eco printing fabrics are also wet/damp. I don’t think anyone uses anything dry.

      1. Hi,

        Enjoying reading about your experiments ,also what your followers have to say. Haven’t started but I understand it is all about experimenting. Thanks for sharing!
        Neeti Hegde

        1. Of all the arts I’ve practiced it has been the most intriguing! Challenging yes, but so rewarding as well. I’m glad you have that understanding, you will enjoy it… Happy printing!

    1. Could not agree more! I felt a bit ripped off by her book. If you wanted to keep it a secret, don’t write a book about it! This site is THE BEST!

  5. Fantastic! I’ve been microwaving bundles without the wool layer for awhile also, seemed so wasteful to have the oven or stove on for hours (plus sometimes I’m not free to keep an eye that long). Only once did I have an issue with plastic melting into my fabric and I’ve stuck to thicker plastic I reuse and had no issue. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks for letting me know. I think you’ll find it a bit safer with the damp wool. And wool is naturally flame resistant. Some factories use it for apparel for their workers!

      1. No imaginas lo feliz que estoy con toda la información tan valiosa que compartiste .llevo días ensayando diferentes informaciones. Hoy me tradujo el celular y pude leer toda tu información estoy ansiosa y muy agradecida voy a comenzar a experimentar. Muchas gracias.

        1. “You cannot imagine how happy I am with all the valuable information you shared. I have been rehearsing different information for days. Today I translated my cell phone and I was able to read all your information. I am anxious and very grateful I will begin to experiment. Thank you.” Good luck! It’s a fun art form as it keeps you guessing… and interested!

  6. Hi Barb, I live in Northern British Columbia and will find it hard to print outside this winter. I’m fairly new to this. I’ve been doing it for about 6 month’s and have become obsessed. This is a technique that will keep me productive over the winter. I’ve have good luck with your rust soaking and steaming process for cotton. Thanks for all the info. I’m finding it invaluable.

    1. Yes, us Canadians have a bit shorter season and weather restrictions. I totally understand the obsession part… I now have to limit my ‘bundling’ or nothing else will get done. I do have a nice stock of leaves and know I can steam whenever I like. Just be cautious of safety 🙂

  7. You can put metal in the microwave as long as there are not any metals touching each other or the turn table. The microwaves won’t pass through the metal, but if it is inside the bundle the outer layers should get hot.

  8. Buenas noches, disculpe las molestias, me llamo Roberto Giménez y vivo en Mendoza, Argentina, no se leer ni hablar inglés, pero por las fotografías se ven lindos trabajos de teñidos, me gustaría saber si usted tiene la explicación en español, desde y
    a muchas gracias, y le deseo un muy bien 2019.

    1. Good evening, sorry for the inconvenience, my name is Roberto Giménez and I live in Mendoza, Argentina, I do not read or speak English, but for the pictures you can see pretty dyeing works, I would like to know if you have the explanation in Spanish, from and
      Thank you very much, and I wish you a very good 2019.’ There are translate help in Google, as I used that to translate this… Good luck. There may be way to translate full sites…

  9. Do you describe the iron water somewhere? Does iron act as a mordant? Do you pre-wash your fabric and/or is it PFD (or is that even necessary? I’ve not done this before because I thought it was too messy (limited space) & took too long. But your method sounds more manageable., and your results are gorgeous! Thanks!

    1. I am not sure what PFD is? Personal Flotation Device? Or Post Fabric Dye? This post is really just meant to explain the alternate way of processing. There are more posts under the ‘Home’ menu > Eco Printing. Iron water is a rusty water made with rusty found objects or you can also use iron sulphate. Yes it helps mordant but will also affect dyes in various ways. There are a multitude of ways to print so experimentation is best. Messiness depends on how much and how diverse you want to get. Printing on paper is also easy. Good Luck

      1. PFD means : Fabric you buy witch are prepared for dye. Somebody still wash them. I have used Procion mx dye and did never wash PFD fabric before dyeing. 🙂

        1. Oh yes! I knew that… The way the fibre reactive dyes work is much different than the nature-based. Altering the PH makes them adhere to the fibres. It’s all so much fun!

      2. PFD = “Prepared fro Dyeing”, usually for synthetic dyes like Procion. 🙂 I still scour it for natural dyes and ecoprinting.

  10. Hi barb
    Thank u for sharing info

    I Hv made several silk scarves by steaming but do not get distinct prints like u do

    Do share on those lines pls

  11. Barb, adore this post and the other eco printing posts. I need more time… finals are the first week of May. There will be some time then.

    Keep these coming. Awesome projects.

    1. Oh, I know! Teaching at a college also has me busy until may. I’m looking forward to the burst of greens soon! And some pleasant walks of gathering…

  12. I am very keen to try your micro method for eco printing .. when I use the conventional steaming method, I use a piece of plastic down pipe to wrap the cloth around .. can I use the same in a microwave oven? Thanks for sharing x

    1. I would test it in the microwave to see if it heats up too much. It’s like how some dishes just heat too much. I use the wood dowels (old curtain rods) and they work great. I’m hoping to find a flexible type to use in the micro as well. Good luck!

  13. Your information on process and tools is so helpful; thank you for being so generous with your knowledge and skills. Your work is just beautiful. I haven’t done any eco printing yet, but I’m thinking of two other alternative methods in addition to the microwave: my Instant Pot (pressure cooker), and my crock pot! I’m off now to google both, and see if anyone is having success with those two appliances. Ann, in Raleigh, NC.

    1. Eco printing is quite intriguing & magical! Just be aware that whatever you use should not be shared with food. Many will use an old turkey roaster which is like a crock pot and also long enough to hold longer rolls/bundles. Good luck and don’t be discouraged if results are a bit evasive as it will keep you interested! Happy printing…

  14. I did my first piece and is a bit dissapointed. Some of my leaves didn’t print at all. I’m on a farm and have a wood stove, so I used the long steaming method and ferrous sulphate to soak the leaves. I’m still trying to figure out which plants will be suitable, because our vegetation here in Namibia is very different from yours. I’ll keep trying. Thank you for sharing your expertise.

    1. There could multiple factors, as having prepared the fabric properly is also quite crucial. My first pieces looked like dirty fabric. I find that the leaves print best from the underside (vein side). Do you have any eucalyptus? Rose leaves (not petals) usually print well. Don’t despair, it’s a process to learn but when things work it’s glorious. I’m hoping to post some methods using tannins as well which may help get better prints. Even try some use of pomegranate My favourite method is using the iron blanket Good luck!

  15. Barb: me encantaron tus ecoteñidos. Es una solución mas fácil para quienes no tenemos como opción el fuego y la leña. He tenido que experimentar mucho porque en donde vivo solo hay eucapiltus que tiñe café oscuro. Con rosas he conseguido algunos tonos mas rojizos. Suerte y sigue compartiendo. Saludos desde el fin del mundo.

    1. “Barb: I loved your ecoteñidos. It is an easier solution for those who do not have fire and firewood as an option. I have had to experiment a lot because where I live there is only eucapiltus that dyes dark coffee. With roses I have achieved some reddish tones. Good luck and keep sharing. Greetings from the end of the world.”

      Thanks! There are even spices like carrot tops that will print. If a leaf does not have enough tannin you can still use them in a different way… I’ll be posting some methods soon! Keep experimenting!!! Good luck

  16. I have been doing a little eco printing on paper. So far I am not really pleased with the results. I was so excited to start and was so disappointed when I revealed the. Any suggestions?

    1. I know when I started I needed to find the best printing leaves, have the right concentrations and have the fabric/paper prepared right. Have you looked here Myrobalan can be an easy ‘help’. Hang in there, my first prints looked like ‘dirt’!

  17. Thanks for sharing your method. I’m brand new to this wonderful art and gathering supplies to do my first eco-print (my rusty chain is currently soaking as per your suggestions). My questions is, after the printing process, do I need to wash or soak my silk scarf in anything special to help to make the print permanent, or is a simple wash in soapy water sufficient?

    1. If it is a new ready-to-dye scarf then you can do one of a few things; mordant in some Alum solution (15% Weight of fiber), or 50% vinegar solution, or nothing (silk loves to dye) If it is a used scarf then a good wash would help rid any oils or grime. Don’t use washing soda, it will harm the fibers. I’ll admit I’d rather be an artist than scientist so I tend to ‘wing-it’ often and see what surprises I get! It’s a learning curve so embrace what you get and keep experimenting! Good Luck!

  18. Thank you so much for sharing. I’ve never tried this before but am excited to try! You explain your process very clearly and I appreciate that you’re willing to share your secrets!

  19. Hello,

    This is Namrata frm Bangalore, India. Thank you for all the information on our website. A true treasure. I have just started to experiment on eco print and notice that there is a lot of smudging effect i get when doing larger pcs. When doing samples the print is clear, defined, but when doing a mtr or more the colour spreads and am not sure of the reason. I do put in a layer of plastic sheet over the blanket for the leaves to come into direct contact while rolling. However, i am not sure why does this happen. I would be happy to share an image on your email id of the fabrics.
    I am wondering if its because i am leaving the bundle for more than 2 hrs in the steam? or is the fabric too wet while placing the leaves and rolling it into bundle?

    Your valuable input would be of great help!

    Thank you
    Warm regards

    1. It may be that once the layers/rolling gets thick the contact is not as flat and rigid as against the wood dowel. I tend to not like rolling large pieces for this reason. I also like to print and then sew so it’s easier to roll. Wetness can play a factor, as well as turning often. I like to ‘accept’ the imperfections as that’s part of the charm. ‘Or make that be part of your design intentions… You will start to obersve what gave different outcome…

  20. I like your ideas on short cuts. I do the same thing with dyeing fleece. I don’t have the time to slave over a boiling pot and it tends to make the resulting fleece harsh. When I do find the time, I will look forward to trying your method.
    Tthank you for sharing.

  21. Hi Barb, I was wondering if you have tried the microwave method on paper and if so, did you wrap that in the wool and plastic as well?
    Thanks for sharing all your knowledge!

  22. I’ve a successfully made dye from some lichen. Do you have step by step instructions on how I use it on cotton fabric ( t-shirts). Thank you.

    1. I have not had the opportunity to make lichen dye. I wonder if it is PH sensitive? Like to play with some drips to see how it reacts with iron, an alkali and acids. Otherwise you could do some small test on old cotton sheet pieces, mordant with Aluminum Acetate, alum/tannin, or soy dips.

      1. I am just starting and needed to buy a wooden dowel. I wanted to pass along that I found really big ones (2 inch diameter) at Home Depot and they are not only larger around than wooden closet rods but cheaper. No idea why! Also, the plastic that our newspaper comes in can be recycled to cover the wool (that you wrap around the fabric).

  23. Hello Barb,
    Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and experience, it is so valuable. I would like to ask whether the microwave can then be used for cooking or you need a microwave just for ecoprinting. Thank you.

  24. I am mesmerized by your eco printing on wool. I have previously dyed 100’s of pounds of mohair when we raised Angora Goats so am familiar with the dyeing process. I now make purses, bags wallets and hats from upcycled natural fibre garments. This process would be fabulous for bags. Can’t wait for spring to collect leaves and try this out. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and inspiration. I live in the North Okanagan in BC

    1. Yes, I know the feeling! The fact that it’s unpredictable in ways makes for even more intrigue. This would definitely add to your art form! I’d love to see when you get going. Yup, lotsa snow here in Ontario right now…

  25. Thank you for posting this – I too live in the cold and now with all the snow on the ground, I had happy thoughts of gathering the blessings of the forest and trying this. I adore the pillows you made – they are absolutely beautiful and so natural. Thank you for the inspiration!! I will pass it on.
    Ki in Northern Panhandle of West Virginia

    1. I’m sure you could adapt with local species by having a barrier in the fold and arranging the leaves similarly. I will have to try that! ‘Cause I love my maples I have a stock pile of dried leaves, wish I had ‘stock pile’ of time! Stay warm!

  26. Me encanta el resultado del teñido. Es una pena, para mi, no saber inglés, me pierdo todas sus explicaciones. Traduzco un poco en Google, pero no es lo mismo. Muchas gracias por compartir. Un gran saludo desde España.

    1. (I love the result of the dyeing. It’s a shame, for me, not knowing English, I miss all his explanations. I translate a bit on Google, but it’s not the same. Thank you very much for sharing. A big greeting from Spain.) That is how I felt when I started as many did not share any info. Try and experiment and you will start to learn… That’s the best way!

  27. Is your cloth in the pictures already dyed? Do you use any mordants when you do this microwave dyeing?
    I love that you are sharing your process with all of us. Thank you!

  28. I have a question how can I eco print a piece of cotton of 60 cm in width and 170 in length?
    Thank you already for all the good tips and tutorials on your website.

    1. You can roll it on a bendable type of hose. See this post You can also do a doubled over type of rolling to get more width. I like to print first and then sew. You could also try a more squared type of folding like shibori and place leaves in the folds; like I did here

  29. I have just watched a tutorial on eco dying a journal and wondered if a microwave would work instead of steaming. Quite looking forward to trying this method and reading the rest of your blog for information.

  30. Barb I really appreciate your thoughtfulness around energy use. I have that same concerns. I plan to try this soon when I get a designated microwave. As I have solar panels, using electricity just makes sense l. I love your tutorials. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Oh for sure! I have a small one right above my washing machine & a pile of blankets for insulation. The only drawback is size sometimes… If you have sun & heat making a solar cooker would also be an option.

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