Winterlude Eco Dye Prints on Paper

Outside, the snow is falling for the first weekend of Ottawa's Winterlude Festival. After some tropical days in the last weeks at plus nine, the Rideau Canal (World Heritage site) has finally opened for skating. From my window, I saw the first skater head over there…I was running for my camera to capture the textile interest not the skates: that conic Hudson Bay blanket coat! I still have a coat like that, FYI. Plus I have requested in my will to be buried in a Hudson Bay blanket…textile freak to the end, paying tribute to my adopted country besides saying a snide farewell to my favourite store, now that Target has bought it…

Meantime, winter finds me dyeing, ha ha.

This Winterlude, instead of skating, I got out my stash of fallen leaves saved from fall foraging walks in the local arboretum, all nicely frozen in the garage. My favourites are acer palmatum (Japanese Maple), acer saccharum (Sugar Maple, another Canadian icon), cotinus coggygria(Smokebush), alnus (Alder) and amelanchier canadensis ( my beloved Serviceberry). Only two are natives; in the arboretum, one finds leaves from trees that originate in many parts of the world. Besides these, I shlepped out from the big deep freezer, AKA garage, a nice pile of walnuts from a Black Walnut stand nearby: To dye, to print, perchance to steam – to paraphrase Shakespeare…

For a change, I had in mind to print the leaves on alum mordanted paper by immersion dye bath method rather than steaming the bundles under bricks as I usually do. I always use heavy weights to get good contact between plant and substrate when steaming. I place the bundles above the water on a rack supported by wee glass jars. So the plant-substrate contact in the immersion dye bath was the challenge today.

I had two dye baths:

1. The walnut dye bath:

Four frozen walnuts fit in the wee crock pot I was using, a brand-new $10 crockpot, purchased Friday last at a big sale at an affiliate store of the above Hudson Bay company, going out of biz …(Are there cosmic connections here – Target and walnut dye? )

I filled the pot to cover the walnuts and left them cooking, to come to 180 degrees. Then in went two bundles, one bundle with leaves on 140lb water colour paper and one with leaves on crepe de chine.. ( “Crepe de Chine” means China Silk – are we back to Target again? ) The silk bundle will be the subject of another post. FYI, the white on the walnuts is frost, not mould – though mould would likely print, also.

(After dyeing the paper bundle and the silk bundle, I cooked the dye down to one quarter its original volume of one litre/four cups water minus the displaced liquid…maybe one cup…Am going to try to make walnut ink.)


2. This dye bath below was left from the previous steamed bundles of paper, printed with coreopsis and tagetes. Lots of colour from the steamed bundles had entered water. (See previous post) I removed the jars and the rack for this project. About three inches of watery dye bath remained and to that I added some bits of iron. I processed a linen and a paper bundle; the linen floated, as you can see, because it was wrapped over a wood branch, while the paper bundle sank with the binder clips!

Next, the leaves I used in the bundles: from noon, around the clock:

Sweet Gum, Alder, Cotinus, Japanese Maple, Sugar Maple, Serviceberry, one Gingko and one Red Maple.


Paper next:

Sheets of “Montreal” watercolour paper, 140 lbs., soaked in water and alum acetate for several days (one day is really enough but no harm if longer) in a plastic plant tray, one quarter teaspoon alum powder to one cup (250 mls/8 oz) water. It is a rather soft paper and tears easily. But it takes impressions of a leaf beautifully so you not only get a coloured print but an impression, too. I suspect the paper might not have a lot of clay and binders in it, either. But that is research for another day.

After soaking the paper, I carefully tore it lengthwise and folded the strips into accordions of four and eight pages. I tucked the leaves in between the folds and inserted some iron bits in some folds to provoke darker prints from the leaf tannins. Then I encased the stacks of folded paper in various makeshift covers using plastic cut from ice cream containers, heavy cardboard cut to size or BBQ foil, clamping these over the paper sheets with small binder clips to get good contact between plant and paper and to avoid impressions in the papers from the binder clips.

Pics of the encasements: I tried foil, plastic and cardboard. I found the plastic and the cardboard were better than the foil at creating good contact and hence, clearer prints.

Aluminum foil, BBQ weight with binder clips on a four- fold accordion. This one went in the Coreopsis-Tagetes bath. Another four- fold went in the walnut bath. About two hours at a simmer, i.e, 180 degrees.

This is it, fresh from the dye bath with a bit of iron:
With the leaves after processing in the dye bath, before drying:
After drying:
This one below is an eight fold accordion, encased in cut bits of plastic, clamped with binder clips and it went in the walnut bath ( It fit in the little pot along with a silk bundle.)

This is how the papers above looked before being clamped:

After processing:

This four page accordion below was processed in the Coreopsis-Tagetes dye bath:

And here are three four-page accordions.

Top: Winter leaves in coreopsis-tagetes dye

Centre: Fresh leaves (florist ferns from a supermarket bouquet, no pic)

Bottom: Winter leaves in walnut with iron.

More Winterlude prints next time!


18 thoughts on “Winterlude Eco Dye Prints on Paper

  1. Oh cool and how serendipitous, I was just wondering last week if one could make prints with dead leaves, since I saved some when I was paper printing in autumn. And now I have the answer!

    1. Hi Pia!

      Hope you will share your results with printing your winter leaves. Mine gave many shades of brown and rust, as you see, with the occasional blue surprise.Not sure if this was to do with the age and/or colour of the leaf (acer palmatum) when gathered in November 2012 or to do with the many processing variables variables. Will try a print with all a.p. and see. Only a few outcomes can be predicted with any real certainty. But I tend to think that the blue will emerge in late summer and fall, irrespective of time of gathering after that. I had blue leaf prints from this leaf on silk last fall, too. Could be the silk, as a protein fiber

      But that is the beauty of this kid of natural dyeing!


    2. Thanks, Pia. I appreciate your “dye lab”reports on your blog – I liked especially your recent accounts about shifting colours with ammonia and tinkering with the pH. I have not dyed a lot of wool since most of my prints are made on old linen and cotton, salvaged. Today it is nearlt impossible to find wool in the thrift shops!

  2. What a full and complete explanation of how to make the prints on paper … thank you for sharing. I think I might actually give this a try. I like the simplicity of using the printed papers for notecards … for snail mail.


    1. Thank you for this recipe! SO kind of you to send me your link!
      There are a lot of generous folks reading this blog. I love that connection! I would like to have your name, thought, so I do not have to address you as “Black Walnut Ink Lady”!!!!


  3. i got some gorgeous purple results from some buds in an eco print bundle.. went back and got some more buds before they bloom… should i freeze them or dry them?

    1. Any idea what plant? It could be a prunus family, they give blues.

      I would freeze them. Ice seems to help preserve the colours in many plants.
      Then save a few and dry them and compare.

      Why not share your results?


  4. After mordanting with alum, and stacking leaves and paper, are you wrapping the entire bundle and simmering IN the bath or steaming over it??

  5. Most of the prints described in this post were bound or clamped and simmered in a dye bath, not steamed over water. The dye bath was a “soup” of dried coreopsis, euca, walnut and some other winter leaves like Jap Maple for tannins. The “soup” was partly obtained by using the water from a previous steamed print bath so juice from all of the above had dripped into the steaming water. The water is always coloured by the steaming, I find. I added the plants – they were leftovers from previously steamed prints so no special colour sought, just the tannins…I expected a range of browns and that is what I got. I added a few pieces of iron bits, too, to the bundles. The dye bath had not been my customary method before this project – I usually steamed the bundle.

    1. Yes, a wee 4″ square stack of paper was wrapped in BBQ foil, clamped with binder clips and immersed in the dye pot. The bundle leaked and while it gave marks, basically look like a BBQ hamburger with HP sauce on when done – see the pic in this post

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