(Or your second)
Eco printing has been the rage for the past few years. The term minted by eco print guru India Flint has evolved at the speed of light.
With it, it renewed the interest in all things concerning natural dyeing. Surely the quest for eco-friendly, sustainable, and home-made goods has been a contribution to the rapid increase of eco-printers around the globe.
I think that the race of life has left many of us tired and in need to reconnect to nature. Foraging leaves and the mindfulness of creating something with your hands is touching parts of the soul we have ignored for too long. For me personally eco printing has been a long journey of healing and a true life saver.
What is Eco Printing?
In short; Eco Printing creates (more or less perfect) prints of leaves, using the natural pigments, tannins and acids present in leaves, by combining them with mordants, moisture and heat on fabric.
The long version includes trained knowledge of plants, mordents and a good bit of science. Investing in a good course is highly recommended, and if not a good course; at least a good book about natural dyes.
How to make your eco print successful and more important; what NOT to do;
1 Use the right fabric.
For beginners; stick to protein fabrics like silk and wool. They will give you the best results. Using cellulose like hemp, cotton and linen can be postponed until you have a good hand of the process.
Fabric should be a nice medium weight, easy to handle, un-dyed or bleached, and either a good tight flat weave or a knit.
2 Scour your fabric if needed.
This is most true for cotton which is full of pectine and sizers but also for loom state wool fabric. If you are not sure how to scour, stick to fabrics that are safe; I personally do not scour habotai silk or handloom silks, or pre-washed wool.
3 Mordants are your friend.
Vinegar is not a mordant...no matter how many times you read about people doing it.
Do not overdo it with ferrous sulfate (aka iron), it is damaging to your fabrics. Use a teeny tiny bit of 1-2% WOF
4 Know your leaves and act accordingly.
Leaves all contain levels of acids, pigments and tannins. The levels vary per species, and even per season and how much sun a tree receives. So what works for your friends around the globe may not work for you.
In this previous blog you could read about the interaction between tannin and ferrous sulfate, and it is very important you understand this principle. Working with tannin rich leaves in combination with ferrous sulfate mordant on your fabric will create well defined leaf prints. Acid rich leaves are great when working in combination with natural dyes, but may be underwhelming when printing on un-dyed textiles.
For beginners, best to stick to the following (almost) fail proof tannin-rich leaves;
Our Australian favorites;
Eucalyptus, all species.
Our European buddies;
Allrounder from the backyard;
These are examples of my own work using only ferrous sulfate as a mordant and modifier.
4a Leaf some for the others.
Foraging leaves can be totally done picking ONLY windfall. Go out and find those beauties after a good autumn breeze and dry them for later use (or stuff a freezer). Accept gifts from pruning neighbours, and if you must, take no more than what you need. The tree is a living specimen, damaging it is not necessary.
Ps; NEVER peel bark from a living tree.
5 To barrier or not to barrier.
Using a barrier on top of your leaf and fabric sandwich will keep your prints from 'leaking' to the layers when rolling and heating the bundle.
We all want to be mindful so skip plastic and use an old sheet or brown paper or baking paper (my favorite to re-use from wrapping paper).
I know there are some big fans out there of 'compostable' bin liners. The thing is they do not really compost unless you put them in the compost box, throwing them in the garbage does not count.
There is no point calling eco print eco if we use tons of plastic making it!
6 Roll that bundle like there is no tomorrow!
Most eco print flops can be traced back to the following crucial point; you did not roll your bundle tight enough. Pull that fabric tout and push and pull it to the max. The tighter the better. Bind it all up with rope and you are good to go!
Loosely rolled. No leaf definition, also known as ‘muddy prints’. I personally love me a muddy print here and there.
Rolled medium tight.
Rolled nice and tight, good definition of leaves, great detail.
7 Would you like that steamed or boiled?
To complete the holy trinity of leaves and mordanted fabric, you will need heat. There are some people using a heat press, or even a microwave, but I am sticking to steam in my huge steamer or boiling in a large pot. Both work fine. Time is of the essence; 60 minutes is the absolute minimum, 90 minutes is perfect and anything beyond that has not given me any rewards, but others may tell differently and I respect that.
8 Lower expectations, one technique at a time.
Practice makes perfect! You can drive yourself absolutely insane looking at the intricate creations people are making, but they have been doing it every week for the past few years!
You would not dream riding the Tour De France if you just learned how to stay on your bike.
Start simple, enjoy the process, read lot and then read some more! Trying to do an ecoprint with a dye blanket and intricate mordants as a first project is wasting your time and your materials in my opinion.
I have made you a small video, with a super simple process, not perfect at all, to show you a good first time print process using only ferrous sulfate.
Want to join me for a masterclass? I have several step-by-step downloads available here, or book an online lesson with me. Next year I will return to teaching in lovely France, so make sure you sign up for the newsletter to stay up to date for dates.