How to make Eco Printed Ceramic Christmas Ornaments

This is for all the nature lovers out there! If you are new to Eco printing let me introduce this magical method of making permanent prints with nature’s leaves and flowers. I’ve been experimenting for a few years and it’s quite fun! So, it’s natural that I make some for Christmas decorations! ‘Not to mention it was a quick method utilizing the microwave… Here’s how to make Eco Printed Ceramic Christmas Ornaments

What can you Eco Print on?

As history has it, I believe that is was discovered when some leaves happened to print on eggs. Generally speaking the printing is most often on fabrics that are made with natural fibres. I have discovered other things like eggs and bisque print well too. There are many combinations of methods, ingredients, leaves and mordants to create these beautiful marks. There’s ways to bring colour into the equation as well by adding natural (or synthetic) dyes.

The Blank Canvas:

In this case I am using some pre-made white ceramic ornaments since time is of the essence. They are available at my local craft shop at a very deep discount. They were available in a few different shapes (round shape, oval shape) including a heart. If you work with clay you can also make your own high-quality shapes.

My Favourite Eco Print Method:

For these beautiful ornaments I am using one of my favourite methods that combines the use of a tannin and iron. If you are confused; this magical reaction/bond happens between iron and tannin. Tannin is an element in some leaves (similar to tea) and other natural material like nuts. I have gotten many good prints using Myrobalan (also high tannin content) and in this case some Burr Oak acorns (more to come soon). Once the iron combines with the tannin it creates ‘marks’. Naturally, much depends on the strengths of each element. Check here for some comparisons of basic Eco Print Methods.

To bring the ‘Iron’ into the equation I am using Iron Blankets. I use some old flannel sheeting that is dipped in a solution of water and Iron Sulfate (about teaspoon/32oz water). The challenge with printing on a material that is not flat is having good contact with the elements. Keeping it tight is easier if you use something that is able to stretch so I used some t-shirt fabric that is cut in strips (also soaked in Iron sulphate solution)

I applied the tannin to the Ornament blanks. After noticing that it was absorbed very quickly I decided to soak the ornaments in the tannin brew. Brewing some Harde Powder (Myrobalan) or some cracked acorns will create a tannin solution. Even leaves like Sumac can be used to make a tannin tea. The things I can forage in the wild are great!

What leaves to use:

After experimenting (check out the Eco print section) for quite a while, you will start to see, which leaves give you good prints. Some leaves have more tannins in them than others so they will provide more detailed or darker prints. The colour of the leaves is not what you can expect the print to be like. Since these are small ornaments I decided to use small leaves, such as Japanese maple and also some strawberry tops. The bottoms of the leaves (where you see the veins) is where there are more openings so that’s where the prints are strongest and should be in direct contact with the material.

If I see good leaves on the ground, I tend to collect them and press them between paper until they were dry. Then I store these leaves to keep for use when I have time. They will still print years after they have been dried, similar to tea.

Rehydrate the leaves:

If the leaves are dry, they need to be rehydrated with some warm water for a couple minutes so that they do not crumpled as you try to apply them. I do not like to soak them for too long as then, some of their tannin and colour will reach out. The water is then drained away.

The Method of Bundling & Wrapping:

To achieve good detailed prints you need to have tight application of the leaves to the base material; in this case a 3D shape. When I printed the Easter eggs I used pantyhose to hold the leaves to the eggs. It did work well but I did submerge those here I will be using another process method. These hollow objects will not sink so I decided to use other heat.

It will be a bit challenging to place and then wrap the strip of iron-soaked fabric around the shape. Smaller leaves tend to be easier. I had even thought since this method pretty well guarantees some type of silhouette print you could even use some super small leaves like parsley or weeds.

Since the ornament is soaked in tannin and the ‘blanket’ brings iron the 2 together will create some form of a dark grey or even purplish colour. The leaf may then be an outline shape.

Pull tightly as you wrap, keeping it as even as possible. It should be damp/wet but not dripping. Talented artisans learn by trial and error how to bundle and design. Once it is wrapped add another layer of ‘iron blanket’ to make sure it is all quite damp. Wrap this in a plastic bag and secure with an elastic.

The Heat Processing:

Heat and time are another element in this art form. Often the bundles are steamed for hours to allow the ingredients to mingle and for the leaves to react with the iron/tannin. I find it is a bit wasteful so I like to use a microwave to process my Eco prints. I know it is unconventional but does allow me more flexibility.

Be careful and use a dedicated microwave that you do not use to cook in. You cannot microwave anything metal. Make sure that you do not let it heat up for too long, and also make sure your fabrics and blankets are damp. The cook times that I use are very short and I watch carefully. The plastic.microwave that you do not use to cook in. You cannot microwave anything metal. Make sure that you do not let it heat up for too long, and also make sure your fabrics and blankets are damp. The cook times that I use are very short and I watch carefully. If the plastic bag looks like it is going to burst the temperature is already very high. It often only takes 30 seconds to create heat. Then carefully take it out of the microwave and put it under a few layers of warm blanket and let it insulate. It’s amazing how long that heat will last under those blankets and continue processing.

Unwrapping the Magic Prints:

Many times I leave the bundles under the blanket overnight. After experimenting, you will start to see how much or how little processing it takes. If it’s cooled off under the blankets, you can take it and zap it a bit again.

it is always exciting when it’s time to unbundle my eco-prints. Mine are usually cool as I leave them overnight. ‘Unroll, peel off the flannel and be amazed at some of the unexpected details that nature gives you.

So much detail:

Eco printing is not an exact type of art. That is the allure and also sometimes the frustration. The great thing is that if it’s not to your liking, you can bundle again, and re-print. There’s no limit to the variations you can make in this type of art. Strengthening the iron solution, or the tanning solution will give you darker print.

If the print is too dark and muddy, you can use some citric acid solution or lemon juice to lighten it. These are not your usual baubles!

Sometimes it seems like the stars, all aligned and you achieved an amazing magical print! If there are some prints that don’t seem defined enough, add a light bit of painted outlines. Do keep it subtle though!

It’s quite amazing how the dark red leaf will give you a somewhat purple print. Sometimes I wish I had more science in my school studies. What I will mention is that these are all one-of-a-kind types of holiday decor.

Finishing off the Custom Christmas Ornaments:

After a bit of a wash let them dry well. Gold acrylic paint seemed like the perfect accent. The top of the ornament and bottom points added that exquisite detail. I also embellished a bit on the ones that just needed a bit of help. For a nice sheen & to bring out the colour even more paint them with gloss acrylic paint. (see video)

You can certainly use them year-round, and they make great gifts.

Add your ribbon in your choice of colour, gold or silver. They look perfect hanging on the Christmas tree since they are such a perfect heirloom. These out perform the usual Christmas tree decorations.

I hope I’ve inspired you in this holiday season. These will leave a lasting impression, perfect for a special occasion and do not require that much time to make.

I wish you much Holiday Cheer!

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  1. Barb,
    You did it again! There’s just no stopping your creative abilities! I am so in awe of everything you have/are/will be doing to ignite the imaginations of all who are privy to your website and the tutorials you so tirelessly and graciously provide. Anyway, I would love to see, and I’m sure most readers on this website would agree with me, more of your beautifully finished products for sale on YOUR Etsy page, especially around the holidays.
    I, would be first in line to purchase half a dozen eco-print Christmas ornaments, and maybe third in line to purchase a couple of the Christmas gnome cookie jars—-they are adorable! Please, in your spare time (ha!), think about it for next year…………
    Whatever happens, my best to you and yours, and please have a great holiday season, filled with love, family, and friends!

    1. Oh, that’s great to hear! Sadly I’ve not had the best experiences with shipping things that are breakable. I’ve often gotten asked and once listed (takes time to photograph etc) & shipping costs make it quite expensive.

  2. I did cyanotype ceramic ornaments last year, but didn’t have any clue that the clay would also take ecoprint! Thank you for this! Adding it to the mix for my ornaments this year for sure.