Dirty Pot Eco Printing with Eucalyptus

I finally dove into the ‘Dirty Pot’ method of Eco Printing! It sounds quite nasty but, trust me; it really isn’t at all! Come see the amazing results of Dirty Pot Eco Printing with Eucalyptus.

Eucalyptus Eco Printing:

I have a collection of Eucalyptus from arrangements and from local florists. This means I am not able to get all kinds of varieties and just need to use the ones I get. To get the leaves ready it is advised to soak them in a vinegar & water solution for a day. I decided to cut time down by using very hot water to soften them up in an hour.

For this experiment I am using an old wool blanket that has been washed a fair number of times. It is not fluffy any more so it is less bulky. Thrift shopping in Canada brings quite a few wool blankets out of closets. As this is becoming a hooded vest I rough cut the piece into shape according to my pattern.

Ready the Wool:

The fabric should be well hydrated to get ready for Eco printing. The scales on the wool ‘hairs’ should open up to allow for good dye adhesion.

I soaked the blanket in a hot water & vinegar mix, (about 1 litre 5% vinegar to a bucket of very hot tap water) for an hour.

The cooking pot:

This pot is a large canning aluminum pot. I added a couple rusty railroad iron spikes, onions skins and vinegar to the water. This will be the mordant for the wool eco printing. If you were printing cotton/linen then dipping it in an iron/rust water would ensure some prints since cellulose fabric/fibre is more difficult to print on. Wool is a protein fibre like silk so it much easier to accept prints and natural dyes.

The Ingredients:

Onion skins give rich orange dye colours but the addition of rusty spikes (iron water) will significantly darken the colour. The Aluminum pot will impart some aluminum as a mordant. A copper pipe can be used as well, but I kept i simple this time…

Start the cook:

Before adding the fabric (wool blanket) I let this pot boil for 30 minutes. I see the colour start to richen the water to an orange and then darker as the iron from the rusty nails/spikes reacts with the onion skins. I learnt a lot of this from dyeing the Easter Eggs and Onion Skin Shibori.

Get the Leaves ready:

The leaves were taken out of the soak and left to blot on an old towel so there would be no drips. Sometimes we do not realize that a drip can transfer a tannin somewhere else.


This is only half of the large piece since I am going to fold it over the midline mark. The beauty of eucalyptus is that it can print from either side when boiled enough. That allows for a wonderful mirror design option; almost like a Kaleidoscope! Here’s to hoping for some red eucalyptus prints, even if I am from North America; Canada in fact! Oh, how I envy those who can just pick up eucalyptus off he ground in Australia or even Ireland.

In my years of this eco printing process I have found that a lot of energy is used to process the bundles. I developed a method that does not use that much energy; a more mindful way, by using the microwave; a method I designed does not submerge the fabric. That alternate method does still give good results on wool but I do miss that there are no string marks.

I reuse the cotton string over & over and use the leverage of wrapping it around a dowel to allow better pulling. Another tip; if you like the look of thicker string marks you can also make your own t-shirt yarn by cutting strips of old t-shirts and knotting them. They last well, can be washed and reused over and over. I already love that leaves are usually from zero cost so the best way of keeping costs down is with reusing what you have and not needing to purchase.

The Design:

The seeds pods also print. Since this pattern for a jacket uses the existing edges the frayed edge is in tact. Can you see the half a heart?

There are many species of eucalyptus, not all providing a red print.

To be able to fit this piece in my pot I knew I would have to be able to bend it. Most often I use a wooden dowel to roll on but in this case I just rolled it on itself; no stick at all. It is heavy and still hard on the hnads to roll tightly. Keeping the roll as tight as possible will ensure you get really defined crisp prints.

After rolling the bundle it is forced into a curve to fit the pot.

Into the boiling water the bundle goes… The water has already taken on some rich colour.

After about an hour of boiling (fan on to take seam outside) the wool is definitely darker already.

Eucalyptus leaves need a long hot processing. Three hours felt like enough, as it still does somewhat bother me to use so much gas.

‘But oh look at those prints! The dark edges come from not having used any barrier at all here and also from the dark dye colour that onion skins impart.

Oh the colours of Eco Printing:

The Eucalyptus that does not print red is still a lovely shade of purple; similar to what I often get from sumac.

The Challenge of Bundling:

Without using a barrier as I usually do with the microwave method the placement of the string marks is a bit unpredictable. If you want complete control it is often easier to print and then cut to use the best pasts where you want them.

Did I say I love ‘string marks’! They are so unique and almost 3 dimensional to add such a level of detail.

Washing the Wool:

This wool was probably already abused so I wanted to be kind to it. I hand washed it with some shampoo and not too much agitation. After rinsing well I gave it a bit of extra softness with some hair conditioner soak. I can not even imagine how old this wool is! It held onto the moisture for quite a while, I was amazed.

Finishing The Sewing of the Vest:

After drying well and finalizing the cutting of the pattern the small seams finish it off. Since the front & bottom edges are kept for their details it was just the neck and shoulder seams needed.

I love how quickly it assembles. Since there was very little fraying a zigzag and fold-over worked well a the arm holes. Every fabric is different so assess what works best for what you have.

I am happy with the result; from a $7 blanket… Is it perfect? No, it has some unique prints and even folds.

The edges are the natural ones from the onion skin dye, perhaps a looser bundle would have yielded more depth similar to black walnut colour. No ferrous sulfate was added and the iron from the rusty spikes acted as a modifier to the onion skins to darken the edges.

I did not calculate WOF (weight of fibre) or weight of onion skins or use a dye blanket, just an onion skin dye bath.

What do you think? Do you like to use the Dirty Pot Eco printing method? Do not feel this is the only way to get results… there are many many variations to this love of Eco printing

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    1. I had put my eco printing aside after making many scarves but this has inspired me to pull it out and try again. Like you, I have saved a bag of eucalyptus from flower arrangements and just need the wool now. Your work is so inspiring and really appreciate all the detailed directions!

  1. Beautiful, creative work, Barb!

    I first found your site when sewing masks. You’re so talented! Thank you for sharing your gifts.

  2. So great Barb. Canadian winter! Saving euc as well from florists. Where did you find the vest patter, it is delicious. Thanks so much.

  3. Spectacular results! Wool isn’t very useful in the climate where I live, but silk would be. How different would the colours be using silk? Here I can pick up eucalyptus leaves from the ground, but I think the variety you’d get in a bouquet might be greater.

    1. Don’t forget wool also makes hard wearing cushions. Since silk is also a protein fibre it would behave much the same. The thin quality may allow more of the brew to travel through though so there may be more ‘ghosting’. It IS fun to experiment though… I did get some lovely oranges when I used the microwave on silk from arrangements I don’t think the florist specie would be any better… and often you only get whatever one they get.

  4. Barb, that is just beautiful! Someday I really would like to try it. I’ll be moving in a few months and I’d like to set up an area for my art. Thank you for sharing, you are so inspiring!

  5. Beautiful! I am new to this and wondering why the wool fabric doesn’t felt and shrink in the hot water processing. thanks

    1. This blanket was pretty well used and I suspect it was washed before, but did not really seem felted. It was quite dense though. Others that I have found or washed do become quite felted which I do not mind. Wool can be washed in hot water but it’s the agitation that will make the fibres tangle together and felt. Temperature shock also does this. These projects use felted wool

  6. What a gorgeous result!! And your tie lines are to die (dye?!) for!!
    I love the dirty pot method and still feel guilty using so many hours of gas to achieve red prints from eucalyptus. 😕 It doesn’t stop me from using that method but I do try to do a bunch of bundles at once!