Sometimes amazing things happen when you are open to experimentation! Combining some usual techniques yielded unbelievable Indigo & Eco Printing magic! Come, see how simple it is and be blown away…
The ‘Usual’ Eco Print start:
I know, I know, eco printing can get very complicated, especially if you are trying to follow some detailed recipe or technique. I don’t always have the time or energy to do all kinds of prep, or weighing (actually not a fan of weighing) so I just use my intuition! Artists usually work that way, scientists not.
Reliable printing leaves are everywhere right now so it’s quick to pick, grab the basic tools and use some iron. In this case I am using silk; scarves that are pre-hemmed and ready for dyeing. I do a quick alum mordant, rinse and ready to go. Yes, those are probably the easiest fibre to get great prints on and a breeze to bundle around my used curtain rod dowels.
Reused iron blankets, barriers and bags from fruit are my typical tools. You may have your own different foliage that you know gives great prints. For this magic technique I am using my ‘printing with an iron blanket technique’.
I love the way that using an iron blanket gives definition around the leaf shape but also gives some detail in the veins. You do need to use high tannin leaves in this technique to get the most contrast though. Not all maple leaves are the same but I do love my staghorn sumac and walnut!
The large bucket of ‘iron water’ had a concentration of 2 teaspoons of iron sulphate but about 5 long flannel blankets were soaked in it for at least a half hour. I get them in while getting setup.
Bundled tightly with a barrier for no bleeding and steamed in my microwave makes my life so much easier. I do wish I had a larger microwave though…
Zap, zap, insulate, maybe zap a bit more and later in the afternoon I have these beauties to unbundle! They are a bit strong on the use of iron, but feel free to adjust as you like! I tend to be quite ‘contrasty’ in all my art so this is my style.
Ready, set, Indigo!
In they go! Haha. I am using the 1-2-3 Indigo Vat I made fresh for this magic. I tested if the silk could be dyed fresh from unbundling with the leaves or after drying/washing and I did not see a difference. It is probably better to rinse and wash first so that you will not be introducing any additional acid or other contaminate to the vat, you would not want to make the vat unhappy!
I’m using the medium vat (5 gram/litre indigo strength) for a fairly dark blue. Gloves on, and gently move the ‘flower’ over to submerge the silk as gracefully as possible (no splashing) into the vat. To keep it from the bottom sediment I just keep massaging it in my hand under the surface to make sure it gets into everywhere, maybe a minute or two. It is better to dip multiple times with time to oxidize in-between than long dips. Each dip will make it stronger darker blue.
When the dyed piece comes out squeeze carefully so that less air is brought into the vat. It will seem green and that’s a good sign, if it’s already blue then the vat probably needs adjusting.
As soon as the air hits the greenish dye it will turn to blue. I love watching this! So satisfying… I was quite worried that the scarf was so dark but do remember that it will still rinse out unattached indigo and also lighten as it dries.
Rinse once you are sure it has all oxidized completely. After the water runs clear wash with a PH neutral soap and let dry.
My first light vat (2 grams indigo per litre) didn’t give me that much blue colour but multiple dips may have. It is still pretty though.
Never Two alike!
Silk scarves can be different weights, finishes and fabric styles so each will give different results. The lighter vat lets the prints stand out more obviously but I do love the contrast of the golden tones.
These walnut prints stand out from the blue background even more due to the colour now! How amazing that the areas of tannin print do not fully take up the indigo. My ‘science-brain’ would say it’s because the acid in the tannin fights the alkalinity in the indigo vat; correct me if I’m wrong.
Ah, my beloved silver maples and their little ‘sparks’ of tannin loss where I cut the stems – as if they are lit up. The greens are from Purple leaf Weigela and most of my reliable strong printers will give some contrast. Tip: if you are not sure, consider that the arrangement of leaves allows the possibility of some leaves not printing and then there will not be such large ‘holes’ in the design.
The variation from one stem to another is what makes this much more like art than perfection. As much as I like good definition of prints I do not want to mimic perfect commercial prints.
The imperfections are sometimes just as difficult to achieve as the perfections. It adds depth when they are not all the same strength, and gives focal points. As an illustrator this is what elevates it from duplicated predictable surface design.
And you ask; what about other fabrics? Well, so far I have yet to test that extensively. I know indigo will print cotton, but I wonder if the tannin would really have enough power on such an absorbent fabric. The size of the fibres does play into this magic… but never say never!
Let me know what Indigo & Eco printing magic you’ve discovered… Happy Eco Printing!