‘Twas a Dark and Stormy Eco Print…

A series of posts about eco prints with rust on cotton rag paper and on fabrics.

This group of prints on 140 lb. watercolour paper is shown assembled in accordion book form.

Watercolour paper was cut, folded into four page accordions and layered with leaves and pieces of rusted iron; the stack was soaked in water and vinegar then steamed as usual for an hour or so. This collection was left to cool before removal of the eco printing “plates”. The combo of leaf tannin, iron and vinegar gave deep, dark colours, including several irridescent patches, not uncommon in rust prints.

Here are some of the individual pages:


Maple leaves with an iron square:

Maple (acer saccharum ) and Chokecherry (prunus virginiana). A teal surprise! Likely the result of a concentration of vinegar in that spot where the iron, maple leaf stem and prunus touched.

Iron rectangle/fragment behind maple leaf

Chokecherry leaves in three colours. Dependably dark! Greys, blacks, plums beside slightly merlot maple leaves, all a-wash in blue- grey.

Blue grey chokecherry with rust halos.

Irridescent. Striped like a geode.

Maple in a shade of merlot.

Next post:

Twice-eco printed papers: first rusted then printed with tannin-rich maple leaves for a completely different result from the collection shown here.


22 thoughts on “‘Twas a Dark and Stormy Eco Print…

  1. How much vinegar do you use per the amount of water. Also how long do you steam. I would love to learn more about this process. Can you tell me how to find out more? Thanks! These are very beautiful by the way.

    1. Info about process is written up throughout my blog, Roberts, so at different times, I use different amounts. This time it was 50-50 to soak and 100% when the iron looked wimpy

    1. The print colours are often surprising! Good notes can help in case one wants to try to achieve similar results again but most of the time, the results are not completely replicable. That is their charm.

  2. Hi Connie Rose

    Here are some process notes:

    Yes, I make a sandwich with the cardboard backs of watercolour pads. The important thing is to add weight. I use bricks and chunks of good old Canadian granite from the garden placed inside a rectangular ceramic dish and then on top of the paper stack. You can tie the bundle – that helps with lifting it out when it is hot but tying up the paper stack in string is useless for compression. I also flip the bundle part way through the steaming, eg, after 45 mins. I check and see how the colours are transferring by peeking under the edges of the sheets. You can experiment with the number of sheets stacked. This collection was four sheets high, others were six or even twelve. Each gives a different result, as does the weight and porosity of the paper

    Good luck

  3. I love your work. I am going to try this myself. I’m an art quilter and I think that these would be great transfered on to fabric. You are very inspirational. Please keep posting.

  4. hi, I am so squeaky new to dyeing with plants that this is probably a ridiculously obvious question but here goes the shame…I knitted a sample in pre washed crochet cotton and put it outside with rusty nails in it to try and get some streaky rusty patterns…wasnt too successful or I was impatient so I wrapped the nails(previously used for rusting experiments) in the knitting and added a little rice wine vinegar and folded the lot in tin foil, I got lots of lovely grey rustings, a week later I was snow dyeing and I thought that I’d use the knitted piece, I soaked it in alum and the rust marks immediately turned brown…any idea why?????? is there a chemical reason???by the way, this blog is lovely and I am an avid reader, thankyou for being so generous and open with your experiments and for sharing your art with us 🙂

    1. Hi Samantha!

      Thanks for question, first of all. Glad you enjoy my blog!
      Next, congratulations on your efforts.
      I think you did a lot of clever and curiosity- driven things with your pre washed crochet cotton. All of them in sequence made molecules dance, I am certain. Exactly what the molecules in the chemical constutuents of the dyes did to each other while dancing, I could not tell you for sure. Chemists like Paula Burch and Dominique Cardon (see my list of refs.) would know…meantime, fools rush in…

      Here is what I think. If we start with your goal, which was to get a rust print on pre washed cotton, I assume you wanted that orangey rusty colour? If that colour is your aim, try this:

      Soak the rusty metals in white vinegar (in a glass jar) first until a colour change happens. Then soak the well-scoured cotton in 50- 50 white vinegar , 5% acid. Wrap your rusties in the cotton, making a tight bundle with string, put inside a plastic bag, close it and leave it to sit where it can get warm. Outside in summer is great and works fast. Thus,the formula for rusty colour success is : Well-scoured fabric, acid, rust, tight contact between cloth and metal, heat and time.

      Alum can be used on the cotton first as a mordant pre soak but is not necessary to get a rust print. It will not make the cloth grey in the presence of rust necessarily, in my experience. Grey often happens in the presence of tannins when combined with acid treated iron. Eg if you bundle maple leaves (which are tannin-rich )with rusty iron even on unmordanted cloth or paper you will get both deep greys and rusts. The greys as well as orangey colours can come from the rusted iron Iron without rust typically changes colours to something darker or “saddens” the fibre…so you get greys, grey-greens etc. The alum alone does not make grey.

      You used two sources of alum if you used aluminum foil as well as alum powder…what kind, BTW? Alum potassium sulphate or alum acetate? So these had their effects but in my experience, it is iron that is the chief suspect as a greying agent

      If you experiment again, why not share your results?


      1. well I think that was probably the kindest answer I have ever had on the internet, thankyou….and after reading it I thought I hazily remembered(because the experiment was in the kitchen at the time) dabbing it with a used tea bag as I made tea lol soooo scientific, and it was aluminium foil (a Britishness to call it tin foil I’m afraid) and I can only see the word ‘alum’ on the bag, but it was probably sulphate…up to now I have just been dyeing cloth with the plants around my garden for their colours to use in textiles, I can send you a couple of photos by email if you want?? but I am afraid I am not on flickr/ or have a blog to share my results however insignificant, this year though I have determined to’ write things down’ lol
        thankyou again Wendy

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