There are not many people who would not want to create those amazing red and orange eucalyptus eco prints. They are so bold in their simplicity, and do not need anything else to embellish them. I too, love the simple cream and red, sometimes with a bit of black.
So how is it done?
If you have not done any eco printing yet, I advise to download the step-by-step module for general information.
1. Choose your materials wisely.
Even the best eucalyptus will not print vivid red on cellulose such as cotton or linen, for red prints you should always use a protein fabric. Wool prints better than silk. The prints in the samples in the picture on the left were done with organic wool from the webshop.
2. Know your eucalyptus.
Eucalyptus is a golden eco print source for all the right reasons. Any eucalyptus will print well even without a mordant. Because they contain tons of tannin, they self-mordant creating a light- and wash fast print without any additional aluminium or iron. Playing around with mordants can influence the shade and print effect as I will show later.
There are over 700 species of eucalyptus and obviously not every eucalyptus will be able to print red. And not all eucalyptus that print red, will grow everywhere, so how will you know?
Sally Blake, an amazing artist from Australia, has made a jaw-dropping project testing the colour properties of over a hundred eucalyptus species. On her website you can see what colour you can expect, if you know the name of the eucalyptus you are looking at. Or, of course, check if you have that coveted species growing near you.
In general you can guess a bit by looking at the properties of your tree, it will also make it easier for you to identify the correct name of the species.
Flowers. Eucalypt flowers are a miraculous creation, they can be tiny and they can be hugely over-the-top disco. In general; if the tree has pink or red flowers, it could be a great red printer. Printing with flowers and buds is very pretty, I highly recommend it. But be careful the caps are not too thick or they will make it hard to create a tight bundle. It is possible to cut flowers in half to make them easier for use.
Leaves; if the leaf is silvery grey, you have more chance of your prints becoming red.
Bark: there are different types of bark that will help you identify a possible red printer
Stringybark Stringybark has long fibers which can be pulled off as long piece. These barks are thick and have a spongy texture. These often print green and golden. Example; Euc. Camaldulensis
Ironbark Ironbark is thick, hard, and deeply furrowed. It appears dark red or black because it is impregnated with sap that the tree gives out. These are almost always great red printers! Example; Euc. Sideroxylon
Tessellated Bark Tessellated bark has cork and they can flake off as it is broken into many flakes. Great chance of being a red printer.
Box Bark Box barks have short fibers.
Ribbon Bark Ribbon bark is the one that comes off as thin and long pieces but loosely attached at some points. They can be twisted curls, long ribbons, or firmer strips.
Try printing with the tannin rich bark as well, it will give you amazing prints!
The most common red printing eucalyptus available at your florist is; Eucalyptus cinerea, commonly known as the Silver Dollar.
Great red printing eucalyptus species that may grow in your area (or you may be able to grow in your garden):
Euc. Sideroxylon (red ironbark)
Euc. Populnea, my personal favourite.
3. Storing eucalypts.
If you have already found your perfect species, you may want to stock up and store them for later use. Eucalyptus can be dried, or frozen for long times without any problem. If you have dried your leaves, simply re-hydrate them in tepid water overnight, or de-frost frozen leaves. I freeze loose cinerea leaves in zip lock bags, large branches of other eucs I dry hanging and then store in cotton bags in a corner somewhere.
I never take branches anymore from trees, there is enough windfall for me to go around. Twice a year some big trees in my areas are getting pruned, and I make sure I know the dates by befriending the head gardner so I can scoop up the pruning at the end of the day. Try to see how you too, can collect what you need without harming a tree.
4. Time is everything.
Longer is better with eucalyptus. In my tests I discovered that a steaming or boiling of 90 minutes is the minimum. Two full hours is even better. I never bother waiting long before opening my eco print bundle, and unroll everything the moment it will not scorch my fingers.
5. Use a barrier.
Euc is a strong printer, and unlike most leaves, it prints two sides. If you do not use a good barrier on top of your fabric, before rolling it up, you will get a lot of ghost prints from the leaves 'leaking' pigments through the different layers of your bundle.
You can re- use other fabrics, or use brown paper, or even thick watercolour paper and enjoy the prints on the paper.
5. Mordanting, yes/no/underneath/above as a 'blanket'.
I have made a few samples for you to see the effect of ferros sulfate on your leaves. All tests were down using the same organic wool (exception last picture, on merino pashmina), the same leaves, steamed for 90 minutes. The only variable is the mordant and the tannin. I used ferrous sulfate and Tara tannin powder.
If you need to learn more about tannins and mordants read the blog here.
6. More on mordants.
A little bit of ferrous sulfate will add a lot of texture, but too much will turn your print brown or even black.
In the photo's the same leaf; left with ferrous sulfate on the fabric, right without.
7. Make tests
You can't possibly remember everything, always take notes and do try outs to find out what works best for you. In my little note book, I put scraps with tests to see if a leaf will give me the results I am looking for, rather than taking a risk with a big piece of fabric immediately.
I love to hear from you! Let me know in the comments what your favourite eucalyptus leaf is, and which trees grow around you.
Tried this? Share your results in our Facebook Group.