Eco dyeing in June-July: Eco prints

Here is the collection of silks and vintage linens eco printed only with dyes obtained from the plants in my garden over this past month or so:

(The orange textile on the far left is a rusted linen- no plants!) . To summarize the plant sources of natural prints and colours: Background dyes are deep yellows and pinkish yellow from apple and cherry barks; yellow-greens from sumac leaves. Other print greens come from geranium and purple sandcherry leaves; ink-blues and purples from purple sandcherry, purple basil and purple bellflower; deep red-orange,  oranges and deep yellows from coreopsis, tagetes and calendula; deep pinks, mauves and lighter pinks  from dried hibiscus flowers, rosebuds, rose petals and  magenta perennial geranium flowers.   Greys arrive when iron liquor is added to the dye bath:  hibiscus and apple in these images.

That was June and July in my garden and the dye pot. Next month will bring an abundance of tagetes and coreopsis blossoms; the sumac red candles are blooming already; the hydrangea mop heads are enormous now; the purple basil will plump out more than a few leaves for printing. More experiments!


Eco dyeing with edible plants: Purple Amaranth

Purple amaranth is an ornamental edible that can dye textiles too.

It self seeds profligately so I have planted it only once, about ten years ago. It gives a great shot of dark burgundy among all the greens and blues and yellows.

The dye bath coloured the textiles shades of  pink, mauve and light purple on (mordanted) linen and silk. It even covered yellow coreopsis and sumac yellow-green dye on linen.

As usual, I bundled the plant material onto a pre-eco-dyed textile and steamed it for an hour to get the colours and the prints. The amaranth simply gave up colour; it did not transfer a leaf shape.

Furthermore, the purple dye was fugitive in heat: at the start of the dye bath, the liquid was magenta; after an hour’s simmering (200 degrees) it turned reddish-orange  and the textile became golden yellow not pink!

Vintage linen refectory cloth, pre- eco-dyed several times, below:  before the amaranth, coreopsis, to give yellow:



Over-dyeing eco bundles : Tagetes and Purple Sandcherry

I have been dyeing the same eco-bundled textile several times to obtain layered plant prints.

For the first print layer, after steaming for an hour , oyster coloured silk noil bundled with purple sandcherry  leaves gave greens and blues with alum mordant:

A second bundling/steaming with tagetes (marigolds) and a third bundling/steaming with another layer of purple sandcherry leaves modified  the oyster-beige silk to yellowish-green, added several shades of orange, peach and rust from the marigold petals; plus layers of blue, green, blue-green and patches of purple from the sandcherry.


Stitching an eco printed textile


An eco printed and stitched vintage linen

1. Left and centre of the cloth

2. Right and centre of the cloth

This eco printed textile is a vintage linen kitchen-refectory cloth from a local monastery,  the Sisters of the Visitation .

It is women’s cloth, made by women for use by women; and now, taken on a new life’s journey by another woman.  It was darned in white thread and embroidered in one corner with motif in red cross stitch, an inventory control mark. Many of these utilitarian linens were handwoven by the orders’ nuns  in other parts of the world and distributed to monasteries in their network. Even a humble dishtowel was treated with great care, as you can see by the darned area of the textile in this image. (When was the last time I darned a tea towel? Hmmm…)

I have eco printed this linen with rose leaves (as well as geranium leaves). Roses make a connection to the history of prayer often said with rosaries by the nuns in the monastery. The linen was pre-mordanted with alum, then tannin from sumac leaves which coloured the cloth yellow-green overall.

See the cross stitched inventory marker for refectory linen beside the eco print of a rose leaf:

The plants were arranged to print  in more or less three bands along the length of the fabric. I have no plan before I start to stitch. My goal is to simply to express in stitching my response to the marks on the cloth made by the plants. The stitching progressed in stages: first some free motion embroidery to outline some of the rose leaf prints which appear in a horizontal band on the textile; then some running stitch:

Then some more hand stitch ;

Bands of plant prints: rose leaves and geranium leaves, gently coloured. Free machine embroidery to outline and hand stitching to begin bringing out the forms.

Handstitching in shiny and matte threads: colours, lengths, directions and density of stitched marks, responding in variety to the marks of the eco prints; three major bands of motifs. Communicating natural abundance.

Details of stitching:

The stories behind the use of these cloths in their previous lives are somewhere to be told. Because they were present during much spoken, thought, felt and sung prayer, and because for the nuns, work was equally prayer (“Laborare est Orare”  – “To work is to pray” ) these working textiles have become my prayer too.  The title of  the completed the series of eco textiles using the vintage linens from the monastery will be “Prayer Cloth”. This is Prayer Cloth 1.


Natural Dyeing and Six Eco Printed Textiles


My natural dyeing experiments this month are about making ecobundles. The bundled plant material prints coloured marks on contact with the fabric but does not deliver an overall colour. I see how one plant (for example, the purple sandcherry/ Prunus cistena) delivers its colour and form onto different fabrics, pre-dyed or not,  and treated with tannin and alum as mordants and modifiers like iron, ammonia, baking soda, washing soda or copper to shift colours.

I am using a small number of plants available now in my garden and working with them in a rather restricted fashion in various combinations to see how much variety I can obtain. All the eco textiles shown were bundled and steamed for one hour. In some cases the dye from one bundle attached itself to another; for example, the threadleaf coreopsis dye leaked onto the purple sandcherry bundle and gave a lovely orange patch- a perfect colour complement to the blues in that bundle.

For more images of dye plants, see my Dye Plant page.

Eco textile 1

Below are purple sandcherry prints on Habtai silk, pre- dyed yellow in apple bark. A deeper yellow colour developed after ammonia was added to an already-yellow apple bark dye bath. The purple sandcherry leaves (plus twigs and stalks) gave a range of purple-blues and tad of green here and there:

This dyed textile is a fragment of vintage silk and comes from the lining of a vintage kimono. I have left some of the silk thread from the hand stitching in place. Woven motifs in the silks in Japanese kimonos were often hand painted.

Eco textile 2

Purple sandcherry leaves on beige silk noil: here the prints show up in darker blues and greens with streaks of yellow.

Detail of the eco print with purple sandcherry leaves

…see those orange splotches leaked from the  coreopsis  bundle!

Eco textile 3

The vivid orange is from Coreopsis verticillata, threadleaf coreopsis. A white silk fragment (mordanted in alum only,  pre-scoured with soda ash)  printed in  spectacular rust-oranges- and reached over to colour the sandcherry eco bundle, too.

Eco textile 4

Purple sandcherry leaf looks quite blue on white habotai silk, and a tad of anthemis tinctoria to make yellow here and there.

Eco textile 5

Silk noil, rust printed and flour-paste resist printed (with purple acrylic paint to give a crackle effect); then eco bundled with coral-pink geranium flowers(pelargonium house plant!) and rose-leaves; mordanted with alum; pre-scoured with soda ash (washing soda). The geranium flowers printed a deep purple blue grey; the rose leaves, kkaki.

Eco textile 6

This eco printed textile is a vintage linen kitchen-refectory cloth from a local monastery. It is darned in white thread and embroidered in one corner with motif in red cross stitch, an inventory control mark. Many of these utilitarian linens were handwoven by the nuns  in other parts of the world and distributed to monasteries in their network. Even a humble dishtowel was treated with great care.

I have printed this linen with rose leaves as a connection to the history of prayer often said with rosaries by the nuns in the monastery.