Coreopsis eco prints in review

The stunning reds in eco prints of Coreopsis verticillata are available most of the growing season in Zone 4 USDA where my garden is located; and even in winter, dried C. verticillata plants give vestiges of colour. We have 119 frost free days in Ottawa, from late May to sometime in September. The C. lanceolata and C. tinctoria are not reliably hardy in my garden – I think there are some cold zones that go below Zone 4 averages. Thus, C. verticillata is my reliable source of colour.

First, a reminder of a solar dye extraction: the coreopsis in alum and water (left) and plain water (right), just a few moments after being submerged in the jars of water. (The coreopsis have been in jars fo two weeks now and the colours of both are deepening. But that coreopsis story will be for another post! ) What is remarkable about the alum jar is that the coreopsis had been used already in an eco print on paper, yet it continued to give colour of this intensity – with alum acetate as mordant. The “plain water” jar contains fresh leaves which had not been processed.

Here are the somewhat frost- tender coreopsis:

And here is the hardier C. verticillata: I think the variety is “Zagreb”, since it is on the short side, i.e., about 18″

Late last summer, I made eco prints on paper with C. verticillata and plants that give contrasting colours. I love the “orange/blue” opposition and all versions of it, as here, with Purple Sandcherry (Prunus cistena) that gives a teal blue-green in the late summer:

Notice that the stalks and leaves (“Threadleaf” coreopsis) print browny-orange as well as red; and a kind of khaki, below:


When winter came alone, I had no more coreopsis left in my garden! But a neighbour who cuts down all her foliage in fall gave me her clippings of a much taller C. verticillata, “Golden Showers”, I am guessing, since it was well over two feet tall. I dried this coreopsis: the little flowers retained colour, as the image shows:

In January 2013, I made eco prints of them with dried tagetes. The coreopsis blooms gave orange patches and the stalks and leaves, dried, gave brown marks, like random straight stitchea(The tagetes gave greens and yellows, too)


I kept the bundle of dried plants in a large vase:

Spring 2013. Coreopsis, along with many other plants printed on water colour paper:

coreopsis is on the lower right of the pile of printed papers:

On the upper corners of the tulip prints:

Strong contrasts with the teals and golds of “Royalty” crabapple prints:

A few stalks of Coreopsis verticillata in an arrangement with maple seeds, spent tulip petals, dandelion and sprays of Red Currant. You can see why the plant is named “Threadleaf Coreopsis” in English. The Greek meaning is “tick” plant because the seeds look like those nasty bugs – hence another common name, “Tickseed”

Again, to repeat the pages of a ” Blizzard” book a la Hedi Kyle, printed with three kinds of coreopsis: verticillata, lanceolata and tinctoria: I will leave you to guess which is which and try for yourself the joys of working with this plant!



FInally, the linen printed with sumac and C. verticillata.

Modified with an iron dip:

No iron dip:

Next up:

In praise of dandelions! Their first wave has passed, but more will be coming we know!

Last weekend I attended a Dandelion Festival in Kemptville, Ontario. Learned how to make root beer with dandelions! Ate dandelion pesto on chicken with dandelion cupcake for dessert. Report coming.




More May Art

Today some more views of prints starring Coreopsis verticillata. This coreopsis is a native of North America. The Cherokee apparently knew of its red dye. Other forms of coreopsis, like “tinctoria” give deep yellows, and “lanceolata” blooms give yellowy- orange. I am trying each of these, and the whole plant not just the bloom.

Here Is what she looks like in bloom:

Meet C. verticillata's cousins, C. lanceolata and C. tinctoria (in front of Husband's Maypoles…(Did you know that medieval herb gardens often used brightly-coloured, striped wood to delineate square planting beds? I had that in mind when I, errrr, “commissioned” this sculpture from my resident Garden Art Sculptor) The coreopsis bloom with the red striped face is tinctoria.

I tried all three kinds in a wee “Blizzard” book (thank you, Hedi Kyle, for showing us that freely), inserting entire stems with blooms into the book pages and then steaming as usual. (C. Verticillata has no blooms yet). With these results. Coreo v. = all red; Coreo l. = orange-ellow and deep red-brown blooms, brown stems; Coreo t. = yellow blooms, brownish stems. Grey-blue from…???



A spent marigold joined the party, with large golden prints on the point of the left triangle fold: a bit of sumac, too. Going Native, you see.


The C. lanceolata gave the deep blackish marks here.

In the steamer: I wrapped the Blizzard Book in paper to avoid the bamboo strips printing on the book.

I have to say, they look edible…like exotic pastries…

Now a selection of printed papers (Strathmore Wet Media, 90 lb, mordanted with alum acetate in an overnight soak) First, some sprays of pink crabapple blooms with red leaves and stalks (Malus “Royalty”) that printed beautiful yellows and blues with teal. The white space does wonders for the composition.

Acer saccharum seeds with spent tulip petals and anthers: Nice to play with the colours and the placement of elements. Baroque curliqueues.

More tuiip petals: pink, yellow and red ones with black patches and anthers.

Maple seeds alone:

Elm leaves:

More red “Royalty”: Amazing teal blue-greens!

Ms. Isabella Preston's legacy blue lilacs: yellow leaf prints, turquoise blooms, a bit of iron.

A LOT iron, dipped post-printing. Coreopsis v. with Prestonia lilacs. Accordion folded paper, opened out. The colours settled so well in the folds.

More iron dipped colours: turquoise lilacs turn blue-grey.

A paper liner from under bundles in the steamer:

Tulips a-rioting

A stack of riotous prints:

White lilac with Purple Sandcherry and red “Royalty” crabapple. And a slice of rusty metal.

To finish: some more Embroidery Retrospectives. These embroideries were inspired by our Boreal spring growth and rushing snow-melt waters

“Beyond” – on painted silk.

“Summer Willows”. On painted silk organza.


Until next time and the last of my May posts for this year.

The crabapple and has now dropped all its blooms, and the tulips are nearly all gone. So no more eco prints from the garden using these lovelies.

The lilacs and the Prunus cistena will be with us for maybe another week, soon making way for iris, peony, poppies, cranesbills and the first of the roses.

But faithful coreopsis will be sticking around all season – no spring ephemeral is she.

Next post: A review of coreopsis in my dye studio

May Eco Colours in Layers

Blooms and green leaves aplenty in the May garden! How rich might they be in pigments, though, so early in the season? Especially if printed on linen, a cellulose fibre- which can be challenging to print if new. I was thinking that some of the colours would be weaker this season.

To get the best colours, I like to refer to the dye books for advice. The trad dye lit recommends a three-step mordanting process for cellulose fibres: alum, tannin, then alum again. I used alum acetate as the linen mordant – it needs no heat, only a soak overnight. The tannin came from fresh young sumac leaves in my garden.

I cooked a pot full of leaves with water to cover along with a length of white linen at 180 F and obtained a yellow liquor (a dye as well as a tannin mordant). I skipped the usual first alum soak and put the tannin-mordanted linen straight into the alum bucket (having used one tablespoon of alum to each half pound of dry-weight fabric in water to cover) Within half an hour, the linen had become bright yellow-green! Hmm. Had not predicted quite such a vibrant yellow!

The sumac tannin bath: yellow for sure!

The off-white linen dyed yellow-green, post-alum soak:

Layered with a selection of May blooms and leaves:

Dandelions and spent tulips :

…Canada Violets:



Flowering Crabapple (Malus “Royalty”) – red leaves, deep pink blooms.

Purple Sandcherry (Prunus cistena):

Bundled into the steamer for an hour or so:

After the bundling: Diffuse marks.

Lots of blue-green teals with deep yellows on this layer; pinks and purples from the tulips; dark, dark blues from the tulip anthers; deep blue-green from the crabapple red-purple leaves; ditto, the sandcherry. The bright yellow is from the pink crabapple blossom: the dotty blues from the lilacs and teal blue from the violets. Way more blue than I predicted. Looking now for some shapes and forms to complement the range of colours obtained, I laid out more plants.

The linen was layered again with the same selection of plants plus some rose leaves:


This time, the fabric was torn into smaller pieces and layered flat in the steamer, in the same way that I eco print papers.

With this result:

..and with a stalk of Coreopsis verticillata (Threadleaf Coreopsis) – that is the bright red on the right over the sumac leaf that prints golden.

And now yet another layer, this time with more Coreopsis Verticillata to give precise form and brightly contrasting colour- the Orange-Blue opposition is one of my favourites. But first, just look at the red in the jR on the left here! Within half an hour, the coreopsis stalks in the jar had given up this much dye in a jar of warm water with half a teaspoon of alum acetate. On the right, the jar contains fresh stalks in plain water. The incredible red colour is from the leaves and the roots: later, when the blooms arrive, they too will print bright red.

Sumac and coreopsis for the third layer, to give colour contrasts and precise botanical forms:

With these results:

The first four samples were modified with iron before the final layering: that had interesting effects all over the piece. Note how the sumac print yellow-greens have become blue.



The sumac imposed its yellow over the base and made bright yellow patches when it came in contact with the lilac:

Primary colouration…

Compare the green sumac print (below) with the blue sumac print, iron-dipped, above. The next few samples were not treated with an iron dip.

Next post: Some of these same prints modified with iron and over-printed with sumac and coreopsis. Plus some embroideries, as promised last time, and lots of eco prints on paper using the same range of plants.



Inspirations From The May Garden

May is violet time in my USDA Zone 4 garden, a sesson blessed with my favourites. Heaven might have these views and fragrances, don't you think? Today, meantime, they heal the eyes of body and soul.

First, a look along the flagstone path from under the Corkscrew Hazel, through Husband's forged iron “Peony” sculptures. The green glass flower (lower right) is part of his forged iron candelabra (subject of another post one day on garden sculptures.) Beyond the greenery, you see the Rideau Canal, alongside which lies our garden. It is the Tulip Festival time in Ottawa and my tulips have obliged this year by blooming on time with the violets. The flagstone path is where violets love to grow.

Nature inspires art.

My embroideries of past years have all been especially inspired by the colours and textures of the season in my canal-side garden.

Textured pinks, purples, lavenders, burgundies:

Purple Sandcherry (Prunus cistena) – to embroider as well as to eco-print

Tulips…extravagantly contrasting purple petals and golden stamens

Hardy Rhododendron, acidly mauve. Victorian.

Isabella Preston's “Prestonia” extremely hardy lilacs, developed here in Ottawa at the Experimental Farm of the Government of Canada, during a time when females did the work and males got the credit…(Hmm, you say? ) ….Isabella did get two Ottawa streets named for her eventually. A fine parade of her hybrid lilacs is still grown in the Farm's Ornamental Gardens as well as in gardens all over the city and in the valley around. We can let t the work speak for Isabella in lasting pleasures of fragrance and colour.


Lily of the Valley, fragrant and spotless – no enemies at all thanks to her iron hands in velvet gloves. Well, blessed are such peacemakers in some parts of my garden! But keep her out of the dye pot and the veggie garden – she could hurt you there. Above, she is getting along well with the Forsthythia which will have dropped its blooms by the time the Lily of the Valley is in full flower.

Dandelions, Pis-en-Lits (Pee The Beds) with violets (The pink petals are from the “Purple Passion” hardy apple tree under which they grow.) Our city no longer uses pesticides so the dandelions are free to roam. Love them, always have – that is my harmless, cultural prejudice. Would that all cultural prejudices could be confined to quarrels over what may be termed “weed” or “useful” in the plant world.

The Canada Violet, my all-time-most-loved plant.

See how the violet manages to find a place to grow between the spaces in the flagstones? I love the symbolism of blooming in a tight and arid space…

And here, my favourite Spring tree blossom – the native Serviceberry (Amelanchier family) Pretty soon, the delicious berries will ripen to purple and the birds of the neighbourhood will flock to the tree…in a few days, all the berries will be gone. I snack on a few but leave most to the birds. I do pick Saskatoon berries, though – the birds and squirrels here ignore them. I have some berries in my freezer waiting to be eco printed. No need to make the jam- Saskatoon berry jam, made in Saskatchewan, is available in our supermarkets. It is tasty if seedy…and it is Canada-local! The tree is a member of the Amelanchier family (see plant list pages )

Bleeding Heart does well under the Serviceberry, The pink form is much hardier than white in my garden. I try not to have any plant “pets” so no matter how much I love white Bleeding Heart, if it cannot tolerate the basic conditions in my garden, I cannot have it there. When I began gardening seriously in this environment, I did have all kinds of pets, growing them from seed, even. In time, however, I changed my gardening style to growing drought- native plants and only those Green Immigrants known to adapt well to Zone 4. NO pushing the seaonal envelope in this garden nowadays.

“Le Temps Des Violettes – Violet Time” 2004
In response to these Spring Garden Beloveds, I made an embroidery. It was actually among the first art embroideries I created with free motion stitch on a printed substrate. I designed the colours and shapes in my computer graphics programme, printed it out on Pellon on my inkjet printer, then used all manner of threads in my sewing machine to create textures and colours, aiming to capture the parade of blooms such as you see in the photos above. I embellished the finished embroidery with seed beads and painted Pellon “beads”



Reflections of trees in the canal water are a fascinating source of art inspiration, too. Across from my garden is a magificent old elm tree. I think I have hundreds of photos now showing that tree in every season, year after year. I am planning to make an Artist Book or two about my Elm Friend. Here is the tree on a warm day in May across the canal:

I have made many embroideries of reflections in water. Here is one about the willow tree in my garden as reflected in the Rideau Canal waters:




Until next time with more embroideries about the spring garden and waterside trees, and some eco printed artist books. You can see more of my embroideries on my website




April Plants and Eco Prints

Goodbye to the Cotswolds in March…

Hello to April in Ottawa:

Just a two weeks later, the Rideau Canal is filled again and the old elm sees its reflection:

Friends return – the Scilla is among the first. Scilla will print blue, like bluebells or hyacinths.

The spring garden is slow this year, five weeks later than in 2012. Iris, perennial géranium and tulips are growing well – all of them ready to give colour in the dye pot.(The iron sculptures are by my husband- he calls them “Peony” . This year, I will wrap them with cloth and plants to make a print. ..See the toad on guard, too, on his plastic perch with a rock from Wharfdale)

Some old friends did not make it. Two mature blue Italian plum trees got too much Black Knot and we had to cut them down. We were sad. This is what they looked like afterwards, waiting for the first outdoor dye session:

And close up:

Amazing colours! Bark and wood dyes this spring, clearly. And prunings from the Concord grape.

Other dye plants:

Rhubarb leaves are a traditional mordant for cellulose fibres but are poisonous (oxalic acid). I prefer sumac – it is plentiful, easy to use, and a native plant besides. Using native plants is one of my aims in dyeing.

Alpine Strawberry is good as ground cover – it selfseeds, too. It makes a lovely clear print.

Perennial geranium, oh so dependable in the eco print bundle. I dug some up out of the snow in January and it was still green – and it printed greeny-yellow, like …

The Tulipa Tarda was tardy indeed this year. I will not print it- too lovely to pick and too few in my garden.

The crocus prints beautifully, petal, stamen and leaf. Plenty of those!

But I have to wait some weeks longer for other plants to print…the trusty Bergenia is up but not much else on the long border beside the canal pond.

Buds, branches, barks, catkins. This late spring is giving me many of these to print while waiting for leaves and blossoms. But it is spring nevertheless and the robin is back in the dye garden.

While waiting for the garden to provide, I forage in the kitchen. These accordions were printed with black tea and bits of iron on 140 lb. water colour paper, Saint Armand “Canal” paper (somewhere between 140 and 80 lb. in the weight) and 80 lb drawing paper. The papers were steamed after soaking briefly in alum acetate mordant.


Taylor's of Harrogate black tea, Darjeeling, dried leaves.

Last views: Cotswold memories:

An ancient yew avenue in a church yard in Painswick, Gloucestershire

Tiny daffodils in a stone planter. The streets through the village are so narrow that the front gardens can only be made in wee pots on the front steps of a house or on the sidewalks.

Tabitha's Well in Painswick. The Celandine grows abundantly there. The water runs down a steep hill to a river where the woollen mills used to be.

Next post: The tea-stained accordions will be…?