How to Make Eco Prints on Viscose or Rayon (Bamboo Silk)

Are you confused about Eco printing? What about figuring out the fibres like viscose, rayon & bamboo silk? It’s not that as strange as you may think… I have also discovered how to easily get rid of the extra rust colour in my eco prints. Let’s figure out how to make eco prints on viscose or rayon.

What is Rayon, Viscose or Bamboo silk?

If you are new to eco printing you need to realize that you can not print on unnatural fibres. The fibre content needs to be either a plant (cellulose) based one like cotton, linen, flax, hemp, rayon, viscose, bamboo or animal (protein) based like wool, alpaca, angora, cashmere, or mohair. It is broken into 2 simple categories.

The cellulose fibres (plant material) that are derived from the wood pulp or bamboo plants makes a very soft fabric that has been compared to silk. The cost is much less and the impact on the environment is also less so it a great alternative source for a comfortable fabric choice to eco print. Modal, Lyocell and Tencel also fall into the same categories with some differences in manufacturing process and copyright. Add in Oeko Tex into the equation and your head will spin. But don’t worry, you are making a good choice.

I have worked with and used bamboo rayons and viscose in my projects quite often. The way it feels to the skin, cool in the summer is great! I particularly like my bamboo rayon fitted sheet and also the scarves that I print. This type of fiber also accepts natural and fibre reactive dyes very well.

What Leaves will Eco Print on Rayon & Viscose?

It is fall here and the vibrant leaves seem to be calling out to me! I have a preference for maples, especially the Silver maple, Cotinus or the Red Maple. Walnut, and Sumac are always good printers as well. The great part about Canada this time of year is that I can grab some in the back yard and print right away or keep in the fridge for a bit. If I have excess I will often press them to dry for future use.

The underside of the leaves is where they ‘breathe’ so it allows the tannins/colours to escape and print. Place that side in contact with the fabric.

What Mordant to use:

Since rayon and viscose is essentially a plant fibre (cellulose fibers) like cotton it can be mordanted in Aluminum Acetate. There are a variety of homemade versions that can be easily mixed with ingredients available from the local stores. After mordanting, let the fabric dry and then use a quick dip in a chalk (calcium carbonate) solution to rid of excess mordant. I have used versions of this mordant in my printing of Maples with cotton quite successfully, especially during the fall months!

Adding a Modifier:

‘Iron’ is something that I use all the time with eco printing. It can be used in various ways from applying to the fabric, the leaves or even an ‘Iron Blanket’ that is laid on top. Each of the these methods does bring the iron to the tannins to make prints. The final look will depend on your choices. I suggest that you really experiment to get the best ideas of the outcome! I have a few examples compared in this post.

As you can see above the level of iron I used has been quite strong. I like to try different levels as some fabrics absorb more than others and I like to have pretty strong prints.

The fabric and ‘iron blankets‘ are damp but not too wet as that may make the prints ‘run’. You are welcome to try less. I also feel that the rayon does really absorb the iron more than other fabrics I’ve used.

See the video for the process of how the large scarf was layered in the bundle and folded to allow using a shorter dowel for bundling.

How to process the Eco Prints:

To make the reactions to occur and become permanent on the fabric you will need a few things like heat and time. I have developed a method that uses the microwave as an eco-friendly alternative to hours of cooking or steaming on a stove. We use natural fibres, natural materials & plants so it seems better to use less energy to process. Do be mindful of what you place in the oven and also how long. The most of the work is done with insulation and time…

Unwrapping the bundle:

After the processing (possibly a few short bursts) and quiet some insulating time to keep the heat, it is time to unroll. (I often leave it overnight) It is always so exciting! Be aware: this is a process that has many variables that can affect the outcome; so embrace and observe what has happened to better understand. If you want an exact outcome perhaps you should consider another form of art on fabric.

I do see that the iron has made the fabric quite a rusty colour… But I do have an idea (see below)

Such wonderful prints that the silver maple makes! Can you notice the difference where the leaf was folded?

Those dark spots of colour are from the ends of the stems where tannin leaks out and is affected with the iron. You can plan to hide those stems above some leaves or just include that as part of the process.

Lovely Cotinus (Smoke tree) Leaves:

The iron Blanket adds a bit extra definition around the leaf edges where as the iron dip fills the leaf shapes. Eventually you will start to understand how it all comes together!

Some leaves do impart some other pigments as well.

Here, there was also a dip in an old weak cochineal dye, but I did not expect much to stay as it was quite exhausted (used up). It is also clear here that the level of iron was stronger in one section. The delineation seems to show that the blanket was probably the issue…

It’s almost as if the leaf is waving to me!

Washing the Eco Print:

After removing the plant material it needs to be rinsed and washed well. I like to use a bit of blue Dawn dish soap ( or use synthrapol). Do be extra gentle when working with this rayon/iscose fibre as it is weak when wet, but stronger when dry. Some of the scarves weaves are also quite thin and thread count might be larger risking some easy damage if over worked.

How to get rid of extra ‘Iron’:

After I washed the scarves and still had a lot of the tell-tale yellow iron staining I decided to experiment to rid of it. I have tried soaking in baking soda but was not happy with the results.

I also was intrigued by this Iron Remover. There are other brands of iron remover available as well. It has been an accepted practice to use citric acid to remove the rust stains of eco printing as well as your fingers. That is still a good option but I wanted a bit stronger chemical here.

This chemical ( be safe in using ) has other ingredients that will help rid the iron. It will probably also take some of the pigments but I wanted to achieve something that was less orange so I was willing to risk that. The extra sodium hydrosulfite, sodium carbonate (washing soda), sodium metabisulfite, sodium sulfite and citric acid do make this work quiet well.

Please be cautious when using (safety equipment like gloves, eye protection, splash coverage) and protect yourself. It is made to clean your washing machine and toilets from extra iron so it is made for household use.

After Using the Iron Remover:

Well, I am quite happy to report that it is much less ‘rusty’ looking now. It has more brightness now that some of the staining is gone and seems more defined as well. I also like the more monochrome nature of the leaf prints since it pairs well with blacks and greys!

Using the rayon scarves is great as they are readily available, even at thrift stores (harder to find silk and wool ones these days)

How does Rayon feel & Wear?

The family of rayon, viscose and the like tend to feel quite soft on the skin. They usually have quiet a nice drape, flowing easily. They only thing that might be concerning is the amount of wrinkle. Some may wrinkle more than others, being mindful of how it is hung may help excessive ironing. Depending on the weave and thread-count too much rubbing can cause pilling.

I wish you could feel how soft this scarf is! It feels quite luxurious around the neck! Another advantage is the weight is quite light for the large sizes of these scarves so they can also be used as accessory shawls.

Up-cycling a Bed Sheet:

Can you believe that this used to be a bed sheet?! The bamboo plant grows very fast so it helps the planet. I look for any fibres that contain bamboo even bamboo lyocell.

If you would like to buy instead of printing check my shop for Eco Printed scarves and other things. I tend to make quiet a few as I perfect & experiment but can keep them all!

Staghorn Sumac seems to always be a reliable printer.

How amazing it is to be able to up-cycle an existing scarf with patterns and images that come directly from nature!? Add in another natural element (iron) and a bit of science and behold the magical beauty!

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4 Comments

  1. All of this is so gorgeous! I especially like the sumac leaves, but no longer have access to them. Do you think this technique would work on synthetic fabrics?
    Thanks!

    1. Yes, it depends on where you live but I think my sumac are also gone! I do dry some but they can be a bit difficult to not get moldy. Other ones tend to dry better. Synthetics don’t hold on to the natural pigments (just like they tend not to stain that easily) I have heard that Nylon will print but I don’t usually find anything I want to print on. Some print on lingerie! Look around the Eco print category and be amazed! Happy making!

  2. Thank you for all you do and share. Your talent and generosity does not go unappreciated and is quite inspiring and a blessing really