Eco Printing more “Silk Roads”

January 12, 2012

Outside the snow is falling and the dye garden is asleep:

Inside, the studio consoles. I have a shipment from Maiwa, Vancouver (via Couleurs de Plantes, France):  a collection of powdered natural dye extracts, mostly colours I cannot obtain  from my Zone 4 garden,  like some reds and purples. For my “Silk Roads” collection, I would like  to extend the lavenders and sky blues I obtain regularly from Red Cabbage.

I tried the dye extract Madder Rich (red) and Logwood (purple)  in a non-traditional way: instead of dissolving the dye powders in water for an immersion dye bath, I sprinkled  the powder onto dampened silk fragments , pushing the powders around with a small paint brush, then bundling the silk over a copper pipe and steaming as usual.

“Madder Rich” dye extract on silk habotai 8 mm

Wow! That red will rack the eco-bundle colours up a notch. As it happens, today I received a late, long-anticipated Christmas gift in the mail: India Flint’s new book,  “Second Skin”. In Chapter 10, India describes her use of a dye-sprinkle technique to obtain madder reds in her eco bundles. That gives me confidence to try the technique further. One stands on others’ shoulders to see far…My aim with the madder experiment was to see if the elevated water temperature (above 200 in a steam bath) would bring out the browns in the madder, as it is reported to do in a boiling water immersion bath. As far as I can tell with this one small test, the madder reds will stay fixed.

Logwood dye extract on silk habotai, 8mm.

Exotic serpent? I folded the silk lengthwise in half and rolled that around a copper pipe before steaming. After these little tests, I feel ready to try some dye extract powders in my “Silk Roads” collection.  One thing worth noting:  no excess dye washed out in the rinse water. 

Now three more panels from the current “Silk Roads” collection:

Silk Roads 5.

No rusted iron, rooibos tea or vinegar in this  ecoprint, just Red Cabbage, safflower and black tea leaves. The results are a range of strong ambers complemented by lavender-purple (not blue) from Red Cabbage, but no blacks or very dark browns and greys.  Where the purples and the ambers mix, lightish greens appear:  


Silk Roads 6


Rusted iron from a reliably rusty corn stick muffin pan and a vintage flat iron (oval rust prints);  Red Cabbage, safflower petals, black tea, rooibos tea. Soaked briefly (20 mins?) in 5% vinegar after bundling, steamed for 2 hours. Greens – chartreusey ones- appear where the safflower and red cabbage meet.  A detail:

I think of Turner ‘s cosmic, abstract, oilpainted sky-scapes when I see how these colours work together to create wonderfully expressive markings.  The iron shifts the colours and especially the values, typically darkening the marks and enriching the range of lights and darks.

Silk Roads 7

The corn-cob shapes appear as bright orangey-rust prints. A fresher Red Cabbage might have given deeper colours of blue and purple but the lighter sky blue still charms gently. The cabbage that  printed the previous three panels was at least a month old.  Two more details:

Silk Roads 7 (detail 2)

Note where black tea, normally a dark brown, prints nearly black in the presence of iron. Safflower and Red Cabbage together make more greens. In “Silk Roads 5”, the same black tea prints deep amber brown in the absence of iron. Rooibos tea holds its own as a rusty red-brown here. I use whole dried tea leaves for the black tea eco print, not the ground leaves we might find in tea bags, e.g. for the rooibos.  One last detail:

Silk Roads 7 (detail 2)

These dye sources in combination give a full range of colour values, dark, medium and light, with some “betweens”. The darker values are coaxed out by the iron in combo with tannins in the black tea. “Silk Roads 5”, without strong value contrasts (lower contrast is not always a colour sin),  communicates subtlety. It allows a third colour, green, to emerge brightly from the mix of Red Cabbage and Black Tea. 

Always delightful surprises. Which is why eco printing is a fascinating field.

Next posts

Eco printing with dye extracts plus direct printing with plants .

Sorry about the whacko formatting. Word Press and I sometimes do not get along.

8 thoughts on “Eco Printing more “Silk Roads”

    1. These Maiwa/Couleur de Plantes plant extracts are said to be very concentrated. Since I have no experience with madder dyeing, and given that Fools Rush In, might as well go for the Big Time. Wondering what will happen if one mixes the dye extract powders?….OR if one simply eco-bundled a piece of the madder root? I liked India Flint’s fearless approach as described in “Second Skin”: Go for a nice nature walk with a long narrow strip of fabric and a comfortable length of tree branch; pick up plant material plus Etcetera along the way, winding it all in the fabric as you go; simmer the bundle and Voila! To wear or to gaze at.

    1. Yes. I mordanted with alum ( potassium aluminum sulphate). I always mordant, though honestly i forget how much alum – probably at around 15% weight of fibre – that is my usual way. Plus a scouring of the fabric before using very hot not boiling water and a dash of synthrapol for silk

      1. Many thanks. I assumed, but thought I would ask. Happy to have come across your site. Beautiful work!

      2. Later on I began to use alum acetate for mordanting cotton and linen and then for silk and wool, too. It is especially helpful for the cellulose fibres since you get to skip the otherwise- labourious three-step mordanting with alum and tannin. Thank you for your encouraging comments! Good luck in the dye pot!

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