Why I love, love, love Eco Printing!

Don’t you just marvel when things just come together? That’s how I feel about discovering this method of making art and why I love, love, love Eco Printing. Let me share my personal story with you…

It started early:

My life has always involved making things, from an early age on. I also love nature, and for that reason I became an illustrator (I can’t believe that was 40 years ago!). I wanted a career that allowed me to support myself and create beautiful things. It served me well for many many years. I painted many scenes with the beauty of light coming through the trees. This is one of my favourite streams near me.

But then I discovered something even more interesting but still in the same direction…

Eco Printing involves the use of nature’s leaves and other elements to print permanently on fabric and paper. Historically I believe it started with this wonderful lady. It’s not exact, or completely predictable but so interesting as it does depend on so many factors, many beyond our insistent control .

I grew up with nature hikes each weekend, cottaging and appreciating the natural element. Never had I thought that all that pretty ‘material’ dropped at my feet could be an art supply.

Perfect Reason to go Outside:

It’s healthy to get out, breathe and admire how amazing our world is. Slow down a bit, take a close look, take a walk! Each leaf, each tiny cell, like us, is such magic. Collect leaves, find out what kind they are, look up! Make a collection! Study the species and how they print.

Being creative does not really hinge on the fact that you can draw. There are so many ways to express art and admire amazing design, shapes of leaves, intricate lines of texture… The hard work has been done, you just need to be able to appreciate it and work with it.

And so much Free Colour!

Maybe you have never mixed oil paint or watercolour but here it’s all in a perfect palette! How can it have all the vibrant hues and subtleties?! I just have to stop and glare! Many just drive by in a rush but I call it my treasure; my palette of colour for this Eco Printing, and it’s free at no cost growing in the ditches and road-sides. I have never realized how many types of trees, bushes and plants are creating our natural backdrop.

That Strange Allure!

I’ve asked myself; what keeps me so interested in this Eco Printing? I think it’s that factor of the unknown result; somewhat like playing the lottery or the slot machines! You imagine some amazing magnificent print waiting in that bundle you made, some mind-boggling combination of colours and shapes that can only be achieved once!

No matter what marks you get, it’s so satisfying as you seem to break the ‘secret codes’. You may whisper some sweet encouragement to your bundle hoping that ‘ever amazing one’ is next. Hmmm, maybe it IS an addiction…

Oh well, too bad! There are much worse vices! I find my supplies on the ground, they are not made in some far off factory from questionable materials. I can use an old sheet, linen tablecloth or wool sweater.

Taking a look back to some old practices of dyeing and easily found elements is refreshing in our crazy rushed artificial world. Some tea or some little bugs can bring their natural dye into the mix for stunning colour.

I like a challenge; as that is what makes us keep trying. That exciting element of surprise; trying to anticipate the magical chemistry keeps us Eco Printers coming back for more! Nothing that is easy usually has much value.

Opening a special gift!

How satisfying it is to open a bundle after steaming & see such amazing details permanently printed on fabric, colours that are not as they started.

Science meets chemistry which meets design and just maybe a bit of luck! How can this be?!

Simple Supplies:

Supplies are easily found or made with up-cycled materials. Vintage fabrics and even paper get a second life. Mordants can be made with alum and soy milk as well as iron water with just some rusty junk. There are no hard-fast rules…

So many changes are always going on, colours change, tannins develop. You can even make sure that you have a supply by drying for future use.

You can use what you print in so many ways. Old vintage natural fibres work the best and allow for endless uses. You don’t need any fancy equipment and it can all be done at home ( even in a microwave)

I also grew up making my own clothes and those for my children after watching my resourceful mom. She taught me how to take care of my family with many ways of making, even upholstery. A new jacket from an old wool jacket. I wish I could have shared this with her but I bet she’s keeping a close watch.

I hope you are inspired to join in this unique way of ‘making’ and also love Eco Printing! Go, take a walk and see what you find.

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      1. Barb, I’ve been working on designing silk scarves, ponchos, etc. for several years. Lately wantungvto learn how to make natural dies, eco printing etc..found you on Pinterest…is there a special formula to use the bug which gives a reddish dye, but how to? If you know of written info to share would appreciate it..thanks Esther

  1. Your painting is just gorgeous. It would seem you’ve always been able to capture the magic of nature!
    Thank you for writing this piece. It’s inspiring and as beautiful as your botanical printing.

  2. Hi,

    I keep reading your posts, absolutely amazing work , very inspiring. Actually motivating me to do some eco printing, instead of just looking at it. Loved the post, your enthusiasm & love to create came out beautifully in the post. Thanks once again


    Thanks for

  3. Hi Barb,
    Lovely work and special like usual. I read and reread to find illustration about these lovely rich colors but i was not able 🙁
    Did you paint some leaves with oil or water color? Ireally appreciate if you help, NOT THE VINTAGE BUT THE PIECE OF MANY FIRE COLOR. Thank you in advance. Best wishes.


    1. It is a magical art form! And it depends on more than just what colour you see on a leaf; that’s what makes the interest and allure! You should check out some of these posts as some do have a dye with some natural material as well. I started by trying and trying… and reading. It will come!

  4. Thank you for generously sharing your practice. I respect and support people who make a living teaching natural dying and printing, which requires like any business certain degree of secrecy, however as a becoming artist I admire your generosity and relate to the need to learn informally from likeminded creatives. It is particularly valuable when one is just embarking on the artistic journey. If you take this seriously you won’t escape hard work, mistakes and expenses anyway! Thank you. May I have your Instagram account name please to follow?

    1. Yes, I sometimes struggle with how to make this journey worth the extreme effort. I am an artist foremost and really do hate selling, but I do need to support myself as well. The nature of this craft/art form is so elusive as well so exact recipes don’t really apply. I do hope I can continue… Enjoy! Instagram

  5. Help! I’m eco printing onto silk and using an iron blanket. Have cut way down on the amount of iron to use – 1-teaspoon per gallon, barely cover the cotton to soak -and still I get a dark smeary blob to form onto the silk wherever I have cut a leave off a twig. This happens always with high tannin oak, maple, walnut and pecan but also to a lesser extent with silver dollar eucalyptus.
    How to avoid the blobs and any ideas how to fix the blobs already on my scarves???
    Thanks mucho…

    1. That’s odd, I know I get some ‘blobs’ but not that it bothers me that much. If it’s dark then it must be the tannin leaking out. Maybe try a concentrated solution of citric acid or lemon juice as that gets the iron stains off my hands/nails. I would do a small test and be wary that it does not bleed and bleach your good prints. You could also design the placement so that there is some leaf form covering to make it camouflaged. Good luck!

  6. Your site has been so helpful and inspiring. Quick question…… how do you eco dye a wide piece of fabric? Is it acceptable to fold the piece into a size that will roll on my dowel and then steam? Will that leave fold marks in the finished piece? Thank you for your help!

    1. It depends on a few factors. The method of dyeing may actually accentuate the folds ie if you use an iron blanket. Honestly It’s a bit of an aggravating challenge to fold and bundle, especially if it’s thick. You can also find heater hose to bundle on as I did here Since I have been using the microwave for most of my processing it’s a challenge to find a suitable tubing since the best heater hose has metal in it. Sometimes I just plan the fabric pieces (clothing) to be smaller panels and less folding. But when you can’t beat it, join it and make the fold as an intentional design! Happy printing!