Eco Prints with Red Cabbage, Tea and Rust on 8mm silk habotai

This month, I am experimenting with eco prints on larger pieces of fabric – silk lengths up to three yards as well as large vintage damask linen tablecloths. I have printed with red cabbage, tea and rust on other art cloth but this is the first time I have combined the three. 

The silk measures 45″ by 90″.  l laid out the silk with cabbage pieces and tea leaves (dry: a Christmas blend tea by Kusmi entitled the tea of “…les Rois Mages” – the Three Magi), wrapped the silk into a bundle around  an iron corn stick (muffin) pan, soaked the bundle in 5% vinegar, tied it up tightly and steamed it over  water for an hour or so in my thrift-shop vintage aluminum turkey roaster. Here are some more images of the finished printed cloth and of the process:

 Here, detail shots of the textile work better than an image of the whole cloth to give an idea of the fascinating range of marks achievable by this method of printing on cloth.  The blues are the result of acid which pushes the purples in the cabbage towards blue. Note the  rust print of the manufacturer of the corn stick pan!

More lettering visible and the strong rust imprints.

 More Monet than Morris is my goal in this eco printing: diffuse and impressionistic forms and passages of colour and marks. The black specks are the tea leaf prints, the brown is the rust from the iron pan and the blue is from the red cabbage. I slipped in a few dried tagetes to give a burst of orange as complement to the blue that I expected from the red cabbage. The challenge is to harmonise my  plan as designer with the serendipity of the dye prints.

 This photo shows the back and the front of the corn stick pan printed in rust. The pan was placed in the centre of the silk length and the textile was folded in half over the pan, rolled around the pan  to make the layered bundle and then tied:

You can see the purple dye seeping from the cabbage even before being steamed. Note the change  of hue from purple to blue in the vinegar acid environment.

 The Kusmin ” Rois Mages ” tea tin is worth a photo, it is so pretty!

..and the tea: it has bits of dried orange peel, cloves and jasmine blossoms…they each played their part in the print I am sure though I cannot say for certain what it was.

Finally, I would like to thank some  of the artists who have mentored me unawares and at a virtual distance: 

I am indebted to many artists for their generous sharings in documenting their eco print work on the web. It provides wonderful information and inspiration for others like myself to try this work. Today would like to acknowledge three artists in particular:

Arlee Barr and  Pat Vivod,  are two fibre artists doing inspiring work with similar combinations of plants etc to eco-print textiles; and Amelia Poole on Flickr in the Botanical Alchemy group who is showing mastery in the art of leaf eco-printing and who most freely shares her processes. 

Next time, some more eco prints with leaves on watercolour paper; then something on dyeing with safflower (fascinating!) and then some dye experiments, TBD still,  with”Tree Shelf”  mushrooms/fungus.


About wendyfe

I am a fibre artist working in mixed media textiles with a focus on vintage cloth reworked with stitching, natural dyeing, eco printing and rust printing . My work can be seen at
This entry was posted in Art Cloth, Eco Prints and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Eco Prints with Red Cabbage, Tea and Rust on 8mm silk habotai

  1. These are incredible! Did the tea turn out colourfast? Inspiring stuff,


    • wendyfe says:

      Hi Lorna,

      I believe the tea will be colourfast because of the alum pre mordant and the iron mingling with the prints – I understand that iron acts as a “fastifier” , to coin a term. As for longevity, hmm, dunno for sure-sure-sure, but hoping that my current “best practice” approach will make them last a lifetime – what more time do we have?

  2. Very nice photos and very interesting write up. You learned your lessons well.

  3. peggy dlugos says:

    Wonderful post. I have done some eco-dyeing with purple cabbage but have not done prints yet so can’t wait to try it.

    • wendyfe says:

      Enjoy the surprises of the humble red cabbage as eco print material. I first learned of it this suumer from Sasha Duerr’s book (title escapes me – just google her for details) – will update my blog re that info.

  4. Mona says:

    Lovely resuts you’ve got! I should be surprised if you can stop experimenting with eco prints after this month! 🙂
    Hope you drank the tea before you dyed with it 😉

    • wendyfe says:

      Thank you Mona and for your blogs too. Lovely work and generous info, will be spending time there for sure. Leaves from the freezer, the florist and from under the snow (some stay green!) will keep me working. You are right – no going back now!

  5. The red cabbage is something I want to try… but I hadn’t thought of using tea leaves directly – no idea why, it’s a no brainer when I come to think about it…. I shall experiment on mordanted cotton and linen as I have no silk – charity shops are a desert at the moment when it comes to finding old silk to recycle!! Oh for an old silk sheet 😉

    • wendyfe says:


      It is worth trying anything to see if you can get colour out of it. Wonder if green cabbage, kale or collards will give something fun?

      Thanks for sharing and diet us know your results


  6. Pingback: tea and rust | Alice Fox Textiles

    • wendyfe says:

      Thanks, Alice! The interreactions between rust/ iron and plant materials is endlessly fascinating. Amelia Poole on Flickr uses seawwater with iron to create colour shifts. My sources of iron are threefold: rusty bits, iron liquor from nails etc. in vinegar)and ferric acid powder (powdered iron) from Maiwa in Vancouver.
      Seaweed bundled with the flotsam and jetsam might be intriguing.
      I have sent your link to my cousins in Ilkley!
      Good summer, Alic

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