Eco prints on paper

Lovely results from eco leaf prints on water colour paper! Blackberry, Cotinus Coggrygia, Chokecherry, Japanese Maple and Tagetes petals on water colour paper, folded. Amazing that the same red Chokecherry leaf prints both blue and green.

In my search online for “how-to’s”, I found great instructions in Cassandra Tondro’s delightful blog on eco friendly art: My change was to add alum to the soaking water. My process:

I made a stack of “leaf sandwiches”. I soaked watercolour paper (from a pad) in an alum and water solution (about 10% alum) for at least a few hours. Then I laid leaves over the water colour paper, covered that layer over with a fresh piece of w-c paper, then repeated that until the pad was used up and I had a nice stack of leaf sandwiches. I laid one cardboard backing from the pad on the bottom of the stack and the other on the top. The whole stack was placed in my old aluminum turkey roaster (with three inches of water in the bottom) on a rack raised above the water level. I set three brick on top of the stack to weigh it down and placed the roaster’s cover tightly . I steamed the stack for  about an hour – maybe more.

I printed the following leaves in various combinations: Sweet Gum, gingko, blackberry (with vines), Japanese Maple (acer palmatum), Chokecherry (red leaves), Cotinus Coggrygia, Magnolia, Eucalyptus (Silver Dollar, Seeded Euc., Baby Blue), Alder.  I gathered the leaves from the ground, not from the branches.


This red Chokecherry leaf printed in many shades of green and yellow. The veined side of the leaf gives the stongest colours, so by playing with the placement of leaf, veined-side-up or veined-side-down, or layering leaves over, under or beside each other, I was able to make different prints appear on the two pieces of water colour paper sandwiching the leaves. In addition, leaves exude different amounts of colour as well as different colours so frequently, one can obtain a delightful “colour wash” effect around the prints, with the wash sometimes even a different colour from the leaf print. Amazing.  

These photos were taken immediately as the papers were removed from the dyer bath. Yellows and browns predominate , with some blue-greys from the Japanese Maple. But as the time passed, colours began to change even more deliciously: greens, purples, oranges, blues, greys appeared. The darkest leaf print in this collection is from the blackberry (middle row, far left)- it is dark green, near black: But we see in the image at the top of this post that the blackberry leaf , after a few hours resting and developing, has  changed colour to multiple shades of green.

Sweet Gum leaves printed face-to-face on two sheets of watercolour paper. The variation in the colours is due to the placement of the leaves, either veined-side up or veined-side down. Most of my prints with Sweet Gum on paper have produced colours in a relatively narrow  yellow-ochre-brown range but with much variation in printed textures – dots, lines, washes. On silk they seem to produce much more in the way of greens, including chartreuses.

Next post : More eco prints on silk – and with some of the same leaves as used here on watercolour paper.

This post’s Honour Roll:


Eco dyeing with safflower

For information on how to coax the pink-red and yellow-orange range of colours from the dried safflower petals on silk, wool, cotton and linen, I relied mostly on Jenny Dean’s book “Wild Colour”.

Safflower petals contain red dyes and two kinds of yellow dyes, each of which can be extracted from the petals. To obtain the first yellow, one simply soaks the petals in cold water and squeezes out the colour. For red, one has to first remove (and save if you want yellow)  all the yellow dye by thorough soaking and rinsing that colour out of the petals. The rinsed petals are soaked again in clear water and either ammonia (alkali) and/or vinegar (acid) is added to shift the pH of the solution in order to alter the colours (to yellows or pinks),  depending on the type of fabric. Wool will never dye pink with safflower but cotton, linen and silk will. Silk, however, turns pink only after a second colour modifying stage.  

Special note: No heat or cooking is involved in extracting the colours from safflower. It all happens with cold soaking.

First step was to obtain the basic yellow dye. I soaked the petals in cold water then squeezed and rinsed them, saving the yellow liquid in  three separate pots.  Then silk, cotton/ linen and wool were soaked in their own yellow dye baths and removed as the colour reached a shade I liked. I was aiming for a gradation of sorts.

After soaking for various periods of time, the wool, linen and cotton dyed various (and lovely!) shades of yellow, orange, coral and pink…the longer the soak, the deeper the colour. But  I have not yet managed to get the glorious safflower pink on silk, only the yellows and corals and oranges for now…Next time…

To coax out the red dye from the safflower and make fibres pink:

Add alkali to the dye bath : ammonia

After soaking the petals and squeezing out the yellow dye (as above) , I resoaked the petals in water and added ammonia to raise the pH to 1o (as read on my meter:  the dye bath pH was probably higher but my meter stops at 10),  (Next time, I might try washing soda as the alkali.) 

Add acid: Vinegar, 5% acetic acid

After an hour or so, I strained the dye bath and added some 5% acid vinegar  to lower the pH to about 6. (Use some pH papers or a pH meter) Then I added my silk and the cotton cheesecloth and soaked overnight.

The silk became coral-orange and the cotton, bright pink – just as Jenny describes in “Wild Colour”!

Dyeing silk pink. Or not.

Alas. The discharge process did not work for me this time. To obtain pink on silk one needs a “carrier cloth” ( a kind of Surrogate Dye Mother? ) that has been dyed yellow first, then pink-dyed in saffflower; then it is coaxed by the alkali (The Midwife?) to to release  its red dye back into the dye pot so that the colour will be available for the silk to “Adopt” when vinegar is added to the the dye pot.

Now that part happened successfully…because the bright pink cotton changed to lavender -grey in the alkali (ammonia)..But-but-but-but, and boo-hoo,  the silk refused to go Pink. Instead, it stayed a coral-orange colour when I added the acid to create the correct dye environment for silk.

I am wondering if  I was unable to obtain pink on my silk because  the small piece of cotton cheesecloth that I put in the dye bath simply did have enough dischargeable red dye in the fibres to turn the silk pink. Next time I will try a larger piece of cotton with a much higher thread count.

Here are some pics of the colours I obtained, nevertheless. The longer the fibres soaked (hours or overnight or a whole day) in the cold dye, the deeper the colours became:

The dye pots contained silk (top), cotton (right) and wool(left).

Cotton and linen turned various shades of yellow, orange and pink, depending on threadcount,  time in the dye bath and acid or alkali solutions (pinks in acid):

Cotton cheesecloth, a finer cotton gauze and vintage linen became pink in the yellow safflower dye when  modified in  an alkali -acid sequence.

I obtained several shades of yellow and orange on wool (from a vintage Jaeger wool skirt, taken apart) but no pink because safflower does not do that colour on wool. However, the cotton interfacing on the skirt waistband (right) took on pink dyes. (BTW, the colours in my photo were really pale so I tried to improve them by photoshopping them…hmmm…)

Next post: Eco prints on paper

This post’s Honour Roll:

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.