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This is so mysterious that I get email questions about Eco printing all the time! I really do know how it is; as I had many of the same questions when I first started. Let me help you out a bit with my Eco Printing tips & Tricks.

You have to start somewhere:

I know how you may feel; you see some amazing Eco Print and think it’s really just that simple! ‘Roll up some fabric and leaves and steam (or boil) and you get an amazing print, right? Well maybe, but probably not. I went through quite a few early attempts and with each would learn something. Some of my first prints looked like I just drove over them with my car; dirty blotches. But I was determined to figure it all out; and I would not even attest that I have, but I now have some (yes some, no one does get all) control on the results.

Many who have figured it out with their experimentation are not that happy to just give away the secret recipes, hence there are quite a few expensive workshops. Myself; well, that stubborn streak in me sent me on a mission.

Finally some prints:

When I look back at my first true prints I chuckle now; they were exciting at the time but I see how I have progressed in these years of making bundles. They were basic and heavy on the use of iron.

I had started to learn that preparing the fabric is so important! Do make sure the fabric is super clean by scouring well. Also, mordanting according to what fibre you are using makes all the difference. Eco printing on cotton and other cellulose fibres are quite a challenge. Soy milk dips and drying make the cellulose fibre become somewhat ‘protein-like’. As of late I have have been using homemade Aluminum Acetate with quite good results as with the Maple Leaves.

It’s how we roll:

Even with perfectly prepared fabric things can go awry. How it is bundled can also affect the outcome of the prints. This is a contact type of mark making so it has to be tight and flat. I dry my leaves to store for later use so they are quite flat (rehydrate before use).

Another issue about bundling is ‘ghosting’ which happens when the prints travel through the layers of the fabric. It’s all about what you prefer but I like clear prints so I use a barrier layer. I use a plastic barrier made from drop sheets and reuse many many times. Paper or other fabric can also be used and then have another purpose afterward.

If you look closely above you will see the lines across the maple leaf. The string wrapping was not dense enough and this translated into the striping across the print.

Making sure the bundles are tied really tight is important. Stay tuned (post coming soon) for my unique innovative method for tight tying without the cut fingers.

‘Why is my print so blurry’? The amount of wetness is also a possible problem in Eco Printing. If there is a lot of water it can flow and leak through causing blurs. I suggest that you wring as best as possible and also don’t submerge the bundle in a water bath to simmer. Some fabrics like thick wool have added challenges as the amount of contact is less due to fibre size and may need extra moisture. That is why tests should be done.

Perfect recipes are not quite easy in this art form as the variables are so great.

Drying & Storing leaves:

I found out the hard way that using books to store leaves is not a good idea. The uneven pressure and tight quarters makes for mold growing when attempting to dry the leaves. Too heavy weight on the stacks will not allow air to pass and dry the leaves.

Which Side is best?

When placing the Leaves to Eco Print there is also the question about which side to use. The top side is usually a brighter colour but that does not mean that it will give that colour print. The cells on the bottom vein side of the leaf have thinner walls so they print easier. However this may be one way to achieve the type of print you prefer so it’s not a rule…

All are not Equal:

Don’t be fooled by fancy colours or shapes; not all leaves print well. It is not the colour on the leaf but the tannin that it holds. Every country has it’s best ones and more are discovered by testing all the time.

But there are still ways to use the lesser performers in a resist method.

I love my many maples as well as rose, sumac, weigela, some oak, plum not to mention the wonderful eucalyptus available to some.

Take note how colours are not printed as they were. There are ways to have brighter colours but rarely the exact colour seen before steaming.

Protein Fibres print well:

It’s inexpensive to test on old cotton sheets but lovely silk fabrics prints so easily and well. How exciting is it when the bundle gives you the hint of great things to come?! Don’t despair when not every print is great.

Wool is also a protein fibre and also loves to accept the tannic prints. Wool does not hold moisture well so it brings it’s own challenges but it’s worth it!

Oh, the Iron Question:

When I first started Eco Printing I thought it was great that I could just make my own rusty iron water to aid in the printing. It is true but sometimes I would not know exactly how strong it was or what other metals were in it.

I now use fresh iron water solutions that I make with Iron Sulphate. Do I have an exact recipe for the strength? No, as I like to vary it and sometimes take an artistic risk to see what might happen. It’s art and I don’t measure my colours when I paint either. But it may be a good idea to keep notes…

Look at this leaf (above)! That dark marking is the reaction of the natural tannins and the iron solution; the basics of eco printing. It was a leftover leaf in the iron water.

Why Are my prints so dark?

Yes, I love what iron brings to the art form most of the time! It’s been an important player in the history of dyeing and pigments but it can also be frustrating. Here the prints are quite dark and dulled due to an overuse of iron. Thinner and lighter fabrics need less…

Where does this colour come from?

When you see some amazing colour in Eco Printing it is often from a combination with a natural dye. Madder Root, Cochineal and Logwood all bring amazing colours and effects to the table. Other ‘helpers’ such as tannins can come in the forms of teas, such as Myrobalan and Pomegranate.

Look at all the amazing combinations of colours! Even indigo can be brought into the mix before or after and eco printing round.

Some great Byproducts:

I’ll admit that my favourite method is usually with the use of the iron blanket, and it gives some great prints on the iron blankets as well. These can used for various purposes!

It’s a lot of Science:

I won’t even pretend that I am a science-pro but I am a good observer! Eco printing is a testament to reactions of PH levels. Many colours from natural dyes are so sensitive to acids that amazing magical things happen! What was all one bright pink is now many colours of the rainbow! How wonderful can nature be?!

Can we really anticipate exactly what result we will get?! I think not! If we could then it would not be as interesting or give us the drive to take on the challenge.

Go Ahead and get your fingers dirty!

Yup, fingers of all colours! These are ‘cochineal’ pink since we are a ‘protein fibre’! Other times mine are dark from iron staining. But don’t worry a soak in some lemon juice (or citric acid) will brighten and clean them up!

You’ll collect a few buckets (for soaking, mordanting, washing and dyeing) and be seen bent over picking up leaves quite often!

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

This Post Has 39 Comments

  1. Please, Barb, please write an email book about eco-printing ! Better yet, how about a real book or pamphlet ? It has been interesting to follow your journey of learning and experimenting about eco-printing, but it would be so great to have a tutorial incorporating your knowledge all in one place. Thanks for allowing us to see your process. You’re inspiring !

    1. I always want to write more when posting but not everyone wants to read that much. It’s great that you would be interested! I’l put that on my ‘to-do-list’! There is a whole section under the ‘Home’ Menu for eco printing. Happy ‘Mark making’!

    2. I too wish you would write a book! You have sooooo much knowledge and experience. I appreciate you sharing
      . do you offer classes? I would love to see how you do what you do!

      1. I am looking into it. I learn by doing & experimenting. It’s a very interesting art form, with so much underlying chemistry. I do still have another job so doing classes is not possible right now. I need to clone myself…

        1. So generous of you to share these valuable tips, I can imagine how long these took to learn through trial and error! Thank you.

          1. I learn especially well from doing rather than reading… This art form is quite interesting and many want to profit from divulging some so-called secrets.

    3. Thank you Barb. I’ve learned a lot from your posts. Only started eco printing about 6 months ago and living in S Africa our plants are quite different, but I think my prints are becoming quite successful

    1. Thanks so much! I observe a lot during prep and clean up! It’s best to wear gloves but sometimes as with the cochineal (it’s food safe) it’s an indicator how well the dye holds. I do really feel like a child ‘playing’ when testing these different medias. And I feel that is what is needed to discover new things! I love seeing the wee one observing and figuring out his new world, with those tiny fingers; we can learn from them…

  2. Barb, I know its asking alot, but would you share your AA recipe. I’ve tried to make it with very imperfect results, but then its hard to know exactly what goes wrong. Thank you.

      1. Stains? Maybe the prints are bleeding through; I use a barrier layer of thin plastic and reuse them for years. Or maybe the fabric is too wet and the prints run. Make sure it’s really flat and be sparing with the use of iron. If you contact through the form I may be able to help more…

  3. This is so helpful for many of us so I put a link on my FB to your blog. Would you mind if I translate some of your text for the people in my country who do not speek English? Of cours with the credits for you!

    1. Yes, sure! with the link backs to my site! I thought Google does give the option (maybe the browser) of translating each page as you visit. My browser (Chrome) asks if I’d like a web page translated when I visit.

    1. Oh, that’s a nice thought… I would not complain! I joke often that one of these days I’ll just fall over in total exhaustion… ‘Death by Blog’ Enjoy as it lasts!

  4. Hi Barb,
    Your Blog is wonderful and I recommend to many who are interested in different aspects of crafting. I have been Eco-printing and natural dyeing for about six years. There wasn’t much information out at that time and it took me some time to finally feel pleased with the prints I’m getting. You’re right, you have to “play” and figure out what you like in this process.
    Your printing is lovely. Thank you for sharing with others and… Keep up the happy work!

    1. I agree, as it’s like painting, each has their own style. I hate to turn it into just science recipes. Testing to create exact recipes seems too much like work not art…

  5. Hi Barb. Still reading through your blog posts. I’m from the upcycle group where you posted your gnome. I press flowers to make tings like bookmarks . Mostly just the petals and leaves. I then laminate them. Years ago i was too impatient to wait for them to dry in books, or cornstarch or borax and they were not flat either. One day i had my 1960s hotplate/warming tray out that I had bought for $5 at a thrift store. And said hmmm. So I layered up foil, parchment paper and paper towels, laid some fern leaves on layers similar in reverse order, laid a big rectangle glass casserole dish on that and put several phone books on top. They only took a minute or two depending on what it was to dry and dry flat and preserve color which is important for my projects. Sometimes I skip the paper towel, depend on density of item. I’m sure a real blotting paper would work better. But I’m cheap

    1. That’s interesting! I’m sure there’s new discoveries always possible. I like using the microwave to save energy when eco printing. I really want to try more paper printing… Fun stuff!

  6. Dear 
    I am writing to you to ask for your advice with eco printing.
    i have read several how tos, and i followed the instructions.
    i did the mordanting with alumn, then put the leaves on the fabrics ( silk, cotton, and linen), and steamed them.
    what happened is, that nothing happened. no leaves released any colour so its like it never happened.
    what do you think the problem was? 
    i used dry leaves and normal fresh leaves as well. i even hammered them, like i read in one of the advices. 
    i did not soak the leaves in any iron solution or vinegar though. 
    so i am wondering what did i miss? maybe you can help me? 
    thank you!!!Petra Csetneki from Hungary 

    1. So far in pretty well all my methods there is a use of iron in some form. Fabric soaked in a solution, or leaves, or and blanket. Each brings the iron to create reactions with the tannins in the leaves and make prints. Too much will make them dark. Check all my posts under the home menu Good luck, it will come…

  7. Wow so beautiful! I’ve been doing research lately about eco printing and natural dying it is the next thing I want to learn. I will make sure to use your tips. Thank you!!

  8. Great all that printing. But how do you get the color on cotton and how it stays on it. With the colored cotton cloths, which are first dyed in a separate bath?
    They are such beautiful colors.
    With cotton, the color does not want to stay with me.
    I hope you will make a book about this. With warm regards.


  9. Je viens de lire votre article avec beaucoup d’intérêt. J’ai fait des expériences d’écoprinting mais je suis toujours en quête d’amélioration. Ainsi je viens de comprendre que mes ombres sont certainement trop fortes parce que j’utilise trop de fer. Il faudra que j’aie la main plus légère une autre fois. Pour les couleurs de fond, je vois qu’il est possible d’employer, par exemple, de la cochenille pour rosir le fond des impressions. Mais est-ce dans le même bain, saupoudre-t-on le tissu avant la cuisson “vapeur” ? J’aurais besoin de plus d’explications, probablement. En tout cas, je garde ce blog parmi mes favoris et je vais entreprendre sa lecture. Parfois j’arrive à remonter jusqu’au jour 1 du blog …. Merci pour ces explications très utiles et même indispensables !!!

  10. I wanna know that how many washes it can bear. and how long last the prints of natural products are. Can you please guide me . if any mordant is used to make it long last or what??

    1. That’s a lot of questions. If properly mordanted and use of non-fugitive dyes and high tannin leaves then it will last long. Sunlight is always very harsh so that is not recommended. In early days dyes were mostly of the natural type and some have stood the test of time. Detergents used also matters. I can not give a wide general statement but yes, my scarves have lasted well and there many ways to mordant and prepare the fabrics. Choice of fabric also does matter.

  11. Thank you so much for all the info, and what a beautiful prints you have made. How did you get that beautiful dark red colour?
    Just starting with all this, and loving it, and all the experimenting. Great inspiration!

    1. Haha, there are links in the post to the different use of the natural dyes. I think the one you may see is madder root Experimenting is the key as all the varying factors can influence results. Get ready to be addicted…

  12. Hi Barb. I love your blogs. Learned a lot. Have started printing about 2 months ago and have been quit successful on cotton and silk. I live in South Africa and it seems our indiginous trees print very well.

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