Red Cabbage Rules

A few readers have asked me for more details about the results I have obtained with some recent eco prints.

Here again is an image of the prints with blues, yellows and oranges. The blues are from Red Cabbage. If I had drenched the bundle in vinegar, reddish purples would have emerged where the vinegar had contact with the cabbage. Euclyptus cinerea “Silver Dollar” was bundled with fresh fig leaves to give yellows, oranges and greens. The greens from the fig are under the yellows. The brown markings on the blue silk are from the copper pipe.

There are a few new features to my process in the current print collection but I do not know how critical they might be to my results. I am reporting them here anyway for your consideration but first let me review The Usual Alchemy:
As usual, I bundle the plant material tightly in the textile, roll it over a piece of copper pipe and then
steam it on a rack over boiling water for a minimum of one hour and as long as two hours, or until I see good colour on the textile. Or, as my mother-in-law used to say when I asked her how I long I should cook the gefilte fish: “Until it’s done.”
What is different this time? Two things.
1. The textile is silk organza, not the silk habotai I used for the “Silk Roads” collection. However, I used Red Cabbage for both and obtained a wide range of blue values from pale to very deep. Both organza and habotai were scoured in very hot water and a big capful of Synthrapol in full washing machine
2. The alum mordant is alum acetate from Maiwa in Vancouver, not the food grade alum I used for the silk habotai and which I got from Bulk Barn. I understand that using alum acetate avoids the need for additional tannin when mordanting cellulose fibres (cotton, linen) – which is not an issue with silk. i would need to do more precise experiments to show that alum acetate results in more intense colours than aluminum potassium sulphate – which I think is the Bulk Barn kind. (…so please straighten me out If I am wrong here, folks)
FYI on mordanting with alum: so far, I have not cooked my fabrics in an alum bath; instead, I soak the textile in the alum (25% weight of fibre -not much when the fabric is organza) with cold water in a big deep plastic bucket, for 24 hours. I rinse it quickly and proceed to printing. No problem if I do not get around to printing after a 24 hour soak. I have left things soaking for weeks.
3. I usually use a piece of copper pipe to bundle the silks with, ready for an reactions with the plant dyes. This time, the copper made a distinct mark, not what it always does. Alchemy?
The mordant and the fabric, then, are new variables this print run!
One last thought is about the fastness of Red Cabbage and eucalyptus. Eucalyptus has a good reputation in the dye literature, better than Red Cabbage. So like many other questions in this fascinating field, the answer to “Will the colour last?” has to be: Time will tell. And maybe we can count on new data from artists in the new field of eco/contact plant printing (thank you, India Flint)
The first two pics are of Red Cabbage blues dyed last summer, 2011; the third pic is from winter 2012. The cabbage is in interaction several different plant dyes plus rust and various sources of tannins. Alchemy!
With Golden Rod, rust and Perennial Geranium
With tagetes marigold (the greens from the calix)
With black tea, rooibos tea, safflower petals
Someone once said to me : Well, that is fabric, and it ‘s gonna rot. I replied that indeed it likely would rot, but that I would likely rot before my textile does.
PS I will have articles on eco printing appear in the April issue of Fiber Art Now and in the online Hand Eye magazine (next issue, I think)
Thank you for opening these topics, dear Readers.



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 Eco Prints, In Stitches E-Mag by Quilting Arts and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Red Cabbage Rules

  1. Jeannie says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your process. I am dipping my toes into the eco dyeing vat and often times feel like a kid with a new chemistry set. The what if’s and what will happen are fun, but sometimes guidance is appreciated. Thank you so much.

    • wendyfe says:

      Thank you, Jeannie. I hope you have success with your experiments and will share when you are ready! I am still learning and likely will be ..forever…e.g, I have just found an answer to my recent blog post question about alum acetate mordants on the Earthhues website!

      Have a lot of fun


  2. Marie says:

    Fascinating results, I’m having fun looking through your blog. I bought Jenny Dean’s book years ago and never did get around to trying eco dyeing. I’ll give it a go this summer.

    • wendyfe says:

      Hi Marie,

      Thanks for the feedback. Jenny Dean mentions an approach to eco (contact) printing in “Wild Colour”- she describes interesting results one can obtsin by tying up plant materials in wee bunches in the cloth, then simmering the bundle in a dye pot – or plain water. On her blog, more recently, she mentions that she has tried India Flint’s approach to eco printing.

      Good luck when you take the plunge, finally. I know what you mean- I have been hoarding books about natural dyes for yesrs without acting on their contents…I started last summer from a simple premise: Time to reduce the hoard of vintage textiles…The reault after eight months? A bigger hoard…BEWARE!!!


  3. connie rose says:

    Awesome work, Wendy, as always! Check out my blog this morning — I’ve just given the Liebster Blog Award to YOU. Info on my blog. Have a wonderful day!

    • wendyfe says:

      That is indeed an honour, Connie Rose! I thank you very much. It is a great boost to blog morale! I will be delghted and proud to post the Liebster Blog badge on my page and to award it to five other bloggers.

  4. your work is a true inspiration for me. Thank you so much! I’ve been doing some contact natural dying/ printing for some time already and recently discovered the term ‘Eco print” ( Eco co our by India Flint). Let me say I just love what you do!

    • wendyfe says:

      Thank you, Elena.

      I understand, as a new member of the dyeing community, that it is a tradition to share what you learn. ( and not only in dyeing communities, of course, but any vibrant community ) I am happy to do that!



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