Eco printed washing on a line in the garden

Well, I was stung by the comment from a viewer of my “Forest Floor” installation that it looked like a “line of washing”. Since making silk purses out of sows' ears is a textile artist's dream, I took up the “line of washing” challenge and applied it to a stash of eight old white tee shirts, almost ready for dusters and floorcloths…

An elegant Korean pear tree in my garden, mighty stressed by the drought (note the dead grass) and going into early leaf fall, became the clothesline. BTW, the green you see amid the dead brown grass is self seeded perennial geranium which makes terrific tiny ground cover if you cut it with the mower to keep it tiny.(The water you see is a pond off the Rideau Canal beside which my garden grows)

I gathered leaves from sumac, roses, geraniums, blackeyed susans, prunus cistena, maple, dried eucalyptus and red amaranth, along with whole long stems of early Golden Rod. I placed a mix of plants inside the tee shirt, bundled it over copper pipe or itself, and steamed the bundle for two hours. Lots of yellows and yellow greens! Some more contrast was in order.

Having learned afrom Amelia Poole (see blogroll) about the magic of iron as a colour value developer i dunked the bundle in water modified with iron liquor until the yellows turned to greys or sage greens or deep lavender charcoal grey. Punky-edgey!

Here are four of the tee shirts, straight from the steamer, no rinsing, and left to dry in the hot sun before being washed in Orvus Paste and well rinsed.










Details of the prints:










Fun with repairing the holes in the tee shirts: some heavy free machine stitching to create a solid darned base in a neutral colour, then some threaddrawing in black with on top.






And some plants that supplied the colours:

Golden Rod


Golden Rod with magenta phlox a d white phlox beside one of my husband's funky RRR /Green sculptures, and hiding the tomatoes.



Black Eyed Susan with Scarlet Bee Balm and white veronicastrum (natives) and white, late-summer August phlox that came three weeks early because of the heatwave. Note the dead grass. While the flowers are very drought tolerant.



And one last lovely solidago, another drought-tolerant native


That's it for today, dear readers. Lots to look at but I was making up for my blog drought!

Next time, maybe more tee shirt restoration plus video from “Forest Floor”





9 thoughts on “Eco printed washing on a line in the garden

  1. I like how the iron made the leaves pop….. combined with the yellow, they’re lovely!
    The one time I tried a post iron dip, to see if the leaves would pop out more, I turned the whole length of silk black! I’ve stuck with rust over dyeing ever since…. it makes the leaves show up more without ruining everything.

  2. Quick, get these shirts up for sale at the gallery showing your Forest Floor exhibit … they’re fantastic. Ottawa’s water must be hard, like Calgary’s – no way would my Vancouver water yield such quick pigment exchange to cloth – 2 hours!


  3. They are beautiful! What a lovely creative way to work out some frustration from foolish comments. People do say such rude things some times.

  4. Thanks for that tip, Julie, re the iron rusty bits instead of iron liquor. Cottons certainly seem hardier than silk when dunked in rusty nail juice. I have obtained some powdered iron from Maiwa and will try it at 2% as recommended by Amelia Poole.

  5. Gotta hang on to those old tee shirts, Jennifer! They are from Zellers some years ago when the fashion was for no spandex…plus there are seams in the sides, unlike the latest cheapo versions which are thin enough to read through…am combing the thrift shops for discards…plus Zellers will be gone soon, Target bought then out!

  6. love your t-shirts-i am new to eco-dyeing and just soaking up everything to know; its great. i have tried to eco print t-shirts but the string which i wrap around the bundle before putting in the dye bath leaves stripes on them,,,any tips for avoiding this problem?

    1. Hi Julie,

      The stripes are beloved of many eco dyers, me included, and are part if the expected result in bundle dyeing. To avoid the stripes, try flattening the textile under plastic sheets like thin kitchen cutting mats, thin wood boards, or just heavy plates. What you need is close contact between fibre and plant. Experiments are your way forward. Value the results for what you learn from them.

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