Iris leaves as a source of paper and pigment

First, some pics of my Artist Book “Botanica: New World Scroll” referred to in my previouscpost. The tutorial I published here some minutes ago gives instructions for making a book like this. The July issue of Somerset Studio magazine has published my article on how to make this book. That is great! But Because of some editorial errors and wishing to correct the info for readers, I have published my unedited article here for readers' benefit – as well as to relieve my own anxiety. See previous post!

This book will be in the show of work by the Canadian Book Artists and Bookbinders Guild held in Calgary later in July at the University of Calgary. And speaking of Calgary prayers and hugs go to my blog buddy arlee barr of Calgary who lost so much especially her studio.

Now a return to the Iris Adventure, El Camino de Las Irises ( forgive the rusty Spanish).

Guessing that blooms were not the only source of colour in iris, I decided to cook up some iris leaves to see if I could obtain both paper and pigment.


In water to cover and a cup of soda ash, the cut-up iris leaves (post-bloom period) were soaked overnight, then simmered at 180 for three hours in a large granite canning vessel.

Into pot also went a few lengths of alum-mordanted habotai, a bit of cotton, some vintage linen. Plants and fabric were simmered an hour together and left overnight.



The familiar soft iris green developed on the fabric in the pot but turned a neutral “greenge” when dry. Time to get out the dye assistants. Copper sulphate (home made, vinegar on copper pipe) can shift colours towards greens. Indeed it did, but much more strongly on silk (R) than on linen (L).


Iris leaf sludge made this ribbed cotton quite green. The sludge is a kind of green paste that settled in the bottom of the dye pot and that I collected after draining the pot:
After dyeing the fabric in the pot with iris leaves, I set about making paper from the leaf fibres. I was pretty sure by then that any paper made from iris leaves would be green.
I have made paper in a class situation before but never from my own garden plants. My aim was to produce handmade iris leaf paper to use in an Artist Book about irises and pigments.
Here is the first sheet, handpulled and a soft green (but not such good colour in the photo). Husband made me a mold and deckle from scrap wood and window screen fabric, 4″ x 8″, a good size for pages in a small book. I followed the usual papermaking steps: cooking the plants, straining them, rinsing the fibres well, squeezing out as much water as possible, separating the fibres into wee bundles, processing handfuls of plant fibres in a blender, mixing the iris fibre with newsprint (unprinted) pulp in the vat, pulling the pulp up on the mold to make a sheet, couching the sheets in a stack, pressing and drying the sheets.

I made 17 – 4″ x 8″ sheets from my pot of iris leaves, some thicker than others. The thicker, the greener.

The thinner, the more easily frayed or fragmented and in need of some fun stitching. (Repairs to medieval vellum MSS were often done with lovely embroidery. Very entertaining to the eye)

The thread I used for reparing the breach in the paper was cheap cotton string, solar dyed in green iris ink made from blue blooms. Waxing with beeswax made the cheapo cotton very much easier to work with. I was trying to work with comes to hand, like cheap string.

Don't forget that you can see a close up by clicking on the photo- you can even entertain your Inner Stitch Police Persona by checking my hand sewing…Note the various greens possible, depending on the material dyed:

Below, you see the different textures imprinted on the papers as they dried on J Cloths and Shop Towels; plus you can see the long iris fibres. Some of the papers have bits of green leaf embedded. Poor colour reproduction here, though – they hardly look green at all! They sorta look like home made crackers.

I do enjoy the deckled edges!

Next time: The Iris Book: with iris flower eco prints and iris leaf papers. This turned out to be serious Eye Candy for me!

After July 6, reports on soil pigments plus comments on my class on Renaissance pigments and using the iris “clothlet” as a source of green pigment for painting.

NB I am still looking for confirmation on the correct name for the iris variety that produced iris green for Renaissance painters and before them, Medieval MSS artists. I have out out requests…

Meantime, a few pics of fun things from my June garden, before June departs:

Perennial Geranium eco print on watercolour paper, dipped in iron liquor:

Ditto, a sumac leaf print:

Used iris blooms composted on watercolour paper:

Coreopsis, iris blue, iris green solar- dyed string:


Happy Canada Day July 1 and Happy Fourth Of July this week to all!





Tutorial on Rust and Plant Printed Artist Book


Here is a quick post to let you know my article about eco printing paper for an Artist’s Book appears in the July issue of Somerset Studio. Today I am posting (below) the unedited version of my original text  for readers of Somerset Studio and for readers of my blog.

The edited version appearing in the magazine contains incorrect instructions about the use of PVA as adhesive to attach plants and metals for eco printing. I was not given the opportunity to see the article, post-editing. If readers followed the instructions as published under my name by Somerset Studio, I believe they would be disappointed and would fail to produce a useable print on a useable substrate.

As you perhaps know from reading these pages, I have not so far glued plants or metal bits onto substrates for eco prints and have never recommended this strategy.  Were I to use glues for attaching leaves etc, I would try a water soluble adhesive like  wheat paste, methyl cellulose, corn starch paste, etc, but never PVA. PVA can be used successfully to attach textiles or paper to the cover boards of books and was, in fact,  used for the covers of the book in my article; still, I prefer to use reversible glues such as wheat paste for the pages in most of my Artist Books.

So let me try to snatch Victory from the jaws of Defeat (a famous Churchillian quote): maybe I will next try some experiments with glueing plants to substrates and thank Somerset Studio for the inspiration as well as for publishing my work. Tout set Providence: Everything is Providence.

For images of the book, see tags Rust Print, Artist Books on this blog. BTW, the book is on exhibition in Calgary this month at the national show for the Canadian Book Artists and Book Binders Guild.


Eco Printing with Rust and Plants


My artist book “Botanica: New World Scroll 1” is made from papers eco printed with rust and plant dyes as a contemporary take on traditions of natural dyeing and bookmaking. Object and process both invite us to slow down and savor making, handling and viewing a beautiful book, to appreciate a book’s tactile and visual pleasures as well as its intellectual ones. Historically, the first books were scrolls, sometimes pleated or slatted, objects of reverence treasured for both content and form. My book’s accordion and pamphlet-stitched structure printed in contemporary style on watercolor paper creates living links to a rich past.

To make my book, stacks of papers were layered with leaves and metals, sprayed with vinegar and water to rust the metals, then steamed over boiling water to extract the “eco” prints. Plant pigments combined with rust to deposit prints directly on the paper in a range of greys, charcoals and blacks as well as natural rust and plant colors.

The process of eco printing papers offers artists many creative options. For eco printing projects other than bookmaking, try stacking papers six sheets high and sized to fit your steamer, and then follow directions for processing an eco printed book.

Tools and Materials to Make an Eco Printed Book  

For the book pages

  • 6 pieces of 140 lb. watercolor paper, 4” x 8”, folded in half to make a section 4” x 4”


For the book’s spine

  • 1 piece of 80 lb. or 90 lb. artist paper, 4” x 24” folded into an accordion with 16 panels, each 4” x 1 ½”

To print the papers

For the spine:

  • Loose black or Rooibos tea leaves (dry)
  • Flat, scrap metal pieces

For the pages:

  • Tannin-rich leaves such as maple, chokecherry oak, sumac, walnut, etc. (“Botanica: New World Scroll 1” is printed with fall-gathered Red Maple (Acer rubrum) and Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana).
  • Flat metal pieces

To develop the rust

  • Spray bottle filled with 50-50 mixture of white vinegar (5% acid) and water

To stitch the book sections

  • Linen or other strong thread

To steam the prints

  • Covered cooking vessel (e.g. an old meat roaster) filled with three inches of water and fitted with a raised rack, large enough to hold the papers (Safety note: Do not use for food preparation)

To enclose the papers

  • Four pieces of cardboard, each 4” x 4”, two per stack of papers

To weight the papers

  • Bricks, rocks, heavy ceramic dishes (to ensure close contact between paper and printing materials)

Source of heat

  • Kitchen stove, portable hot plate, camping stove, etc.

Tongs and gloves for handling hot materials


To print the papers

  1. Make two stacks of papers each with three sections folded 4” x 4”
  2. Insert two or more tannin-rich leaves and a small flat piece of metal inside the fold of each section and also between each of the sections in the stack (I used maple and chokecherry leaves for their contrasting shapes)
  3. Spray –soak the stacks with the vinegar-water mixture.
  4. Place one piece of the 4” x 4” cardboard under and one on top of each stack.
  5. Wrap the stacks around with cotton string and tie securely.
  6. Place the two stacks side by side on the steaming rack
  7. Place the weights on top of the stacks
  8. Bring the water in the pot to a boil and steam for 60 – 90 minutes
  9. Turn the bundles every thirty minutes. Steam longer if the desired print is faint, shorter if too strong.

10. When complete, turn off the heat and allow the bundles to rest in the pot until cool or overnight

11. Unwrap the bundles, discard the plants but reserve the metal pieces for other prints.

12. Spread the papers out to dry. Remove stuck-on plant material

13. Once dry, flatten papers under weights.

To print the accordion spine

  1. Insert dry tea leaves between all the folds of the accordion; insert pieces of metal also inside a few of the folds.
  2. Spray-soak the spine with vinegar-water
  3. Tie with cotton string and steam as for book papers

To assemble the book

Write the names of the plants in English and Latin on the spine with black and/or gold archival pens

  1. Insert one 4” x 4” folded section into the second “valley” fold from one end of the accordion
  2. Stitch the section into the spine using linen thread and a pamphlet stitch
  3. Repeat with the other five sections
  4. Make two book covers (front and back) using 4” x4” eco printed end papers, textile and bookboard

6. Using PVA glue, encase each end portion of the accordion spine between an end paper and a textile-covered book board. (See image for ideas)

For more information, see the Resources section.



  • To help fix the colors, pre-soak papers for two hours or overnight in a solution of one teaspoon of alum acetate or potassium alum sulphate to four cups of water.
  • Rusted metals alone print colors in the orange-rust-brown range on papers.
  • Leaves may be layered on top of rust printed papers and processed a second time. This method tends to print tannin-rich leaves as black on top of rust.
  • Leaves printed alone without metals tend to print colors depending in their growth season: greens, blues, purples, yellows, browns are common
  • Natural dye powders can be sprinkled onto papers or diluted and painted on selectively, as can plant inks such as walnut
  • Dye assistants such as ammonia, cream of tartar, iron or copper sulphate can be painted on selectively to induce color shifts.
  • Spray papers with a deacidifier on completion of the project.

Resources for bookmaking and natural dyes

  • Alisa Golden: “Creating Handmade Books”
  • Shereen Laplantz: “Cover to Cover: Creative Techniques for Making Beautiful Books, Journals and Albums”
  • For a complete line of supplies and information related to natural dyes, dye assistants and reference materials, see
  • Jenny Dean (with Karen Diadick Casselman, consultant): “Wild Color: The Complete Guide to Making and Using Natural Dyes










Iris Dyes, Inks and “Clothlets”

This is my third post about the colours obtainable from the Tall Bearded Iris (Iris hybrida, I think). Photo below:

When the bloom begins to fade, it starts to turn to mush, and dark blue pigment drips from it:
Large juicy drops fall on your table and drip blue stains:
Can we get blue dye, then, from iris? The answer is yes and no …or it depends…
Medieval painters and manuscript illuminators used iris petals for green pigment, not blue. Iris colours had a reputation for being fugitive and eventually, other more reliable greens were developed. The medieval artist's usual method for working with iris pigment was to make a “clothlet” , a small piece of linen that acted as a portable resevoir for the pigment. The clothlet was soaked in alum water, dried, then iris juices were squeezed onto the cloth which was then dried again. This procedure was repeated several times until the pigment built up. To use the pigment, tne artist placed tne clothlet with prepared egg white (“glair”) in a small container such as a seashell. (Love that touch! ) The pigment would leach out into the egg white and make a transparent green suitable for painting. (See Daniel V. Thompson: “The Materials and Techniques of Medieval Painting”)
Here is my interpretation of the medieval method for obtaining iris colour. I was hoping for blue as well as green, so I decided to try for colour both with and without alum (alum permits the iris greens to emerge.) First, I collected and froze the blooms in ziplocs for a week or so until the bloom season was over. A defrosted iris gives a lot of juice!

I prepared two pieces of linen: one soaked overnight in alum and water, and one without alum. Green colouring occurs with alum while blue occurs without alum. I had enough frozen iris to apply juice three times to each linen clothlet. As each layer of pigment was applied, the colours became steadily deeper.

The blue stayed true blue on linen without alum as mordant, but it also separated out into purples and greener, turquoisey blues:

The alum cloth looked turquoise for quite a while between iris juice applications:

The next to last application of iris juice created these colours: the alum cloth (right) is still in the tirquoise green range.

After the final application of iris juice: Even though the photo colours are somewhat “off” , we see a change to much deeper greens in the left-hand clothlet and a shift to greyer blues on the right (not really purple as shown.)

A conservator friend will be giving a class in July on medieval pigments especially the use of ochres, and I plan to attend. She has asked me to prepare some iris clothlets for the class, so I will not have the results of this iris dye project until after the class on July 6. I am keeping the clothlets until then without using them for pigments to paint with.

Meantime I have tried some other ways to obtain colours from iris.First, the greens:

Iris ink combined with gum tragacanth.

The ink was prepared by simmering fresh iris blooms in alum water in a crock pot until the liquid reduced by way over half. Then I mixed half ink and half gum trag to make a green glaze. I left most of the rest of the ink as a straight liquid.

The ink, as is.

Iris Surprise Sludge from cooking up all the irises previously used in my steamed bundles (previous posts) and experimental solar dye jars.

The spent irises had an amazing amount of colour left in them. These blooms behaved quite differently from the fresh ones. They took a long time to colour up in the crock pot, several hours. After sitting overnight to cool, greenish sludge formed at the bottom of the pot with some greenish liquid separated on top. I poured off the liquid and put the sludge in a jar in the fridge.

Here is what the colours looked like on cotton and watercolour paper: the paper colours captured here in this photo are too yellow to be true. They resemble the colours on cotton in fact.

I painted some iris sludge onto watercolour paper along with some sludge from lychee hulls (Why not? )
Below: Iris colours glazed onto watercolour paper:
The greenish tones are iris, the tan tones are lychee. Note the glazing effects and the colour variations as a result of overlapping glazes. The sludges act just like acrylic medium. They are thick, shiny, sticky and dry fast! Plus they are transparent. Not sure how one gets sludges on purpose, though. The lychee hulls, unlike the iris blooms, had not been used for dyeing things already.


And last note:Iris turquoise greens can dye synthetics. My Carpal Tunnel cuff is well stained ..we will see in day or two how fugitive it that dye on polyester!


Next time: more iris colour notes and some notes on dyeing with earth ochres. And if you read Fiber Art Magazine, this month will have my article about some eco dye artists who are taking their printing and dyeing processes to the next level.

A quick update on this post: Here is the info for anyone in the Ottawa region or elsewhere interested in taking a class from Genevieve Samson, conservator at the National Archives of Canada on the palette of Renaissance artists. This is the class for which I have prepared the iris pigment clothlets reported on on my recent posts.



Iris Eco Dyes and Prints

This is Part Two of my “Iris Post”. FYI, when I explore a new (to me) plant for dye potential, I sometimes enjoy a little play at Kinder Chemistry. Three jars are set up for solar soaking: Jar 1: water; Jar 2, water with alum; Jar 3: water with ammonia. Into each goes the plant material and the resulting colours are; purple (water plus iris, no alum): turquoise green-blue (water and alum plus iris) greenish (later, yellow): water and ammonia, plus iris. (The jar of red in the pic is corepsis, for another post)

Below: El Camino de los irises:

Iris on alum mordanted vintage silk. The greenest parts are from the calices; the yellows from the “beards” or pollen bearing parts.

Close up:

The same on an 80% wool-20% silk mix:

Close up: Now this is green!

The alum mordanted silk, steamed, on the left. Iris juice finger-smooshed onto vintage linen, no heat, on the right. (Your fingers go seriously blue)

Below: Smooshed iris on mordanted linen (L) No heat.

Smooshed iris on unmordanted linen (R). No heat.

Below:Pounding, grinding, squeezing, treading the blossoms: with and without heat processes.

Iris juice dripping from the vase of blooms. You can squeeze the juice out, too. Even the spent blooms give colour, as does the spent plant material, post printing. This bloom contains a lot of pigment. I spread fresh and spent and juiced blooms onto my linen panel for hapazome. The blue drop below stained my fifty year old varnished oak table! Blue, too.

Pounding with a rock: damp linen, unmordanted. The colours separate – that happen mostly from various colours coming from the different plant parts. Colour also comes from various dye component chemicals in the blossoms that separate out in the process.

Below: With coreopsis (red-orange) on found paper, Iris sibirica, pounded on after other plant colours were steamed on; mordanted with alum.

Lower left: sumac and coreopsis with iris on mordanted silk, a tad of rusty iron. Note the purples.

Upper right, cotton string in an iris dye bath, mordanted: paper, ditto (moss greens)

Iris sibirica on linen, treaded in (that is my left foot, lower left.) Yellows from the anthers and stamens.

Unmordanted, steamed papers (left). All blues and mauves. Mordanted, steamed papers on the right. A range of medieval greens.

Next time: the third iris post – about the “hapazome” ( pounded, treaded) length of linen and the frozen blooms. We are away for five days and the iris will be gone gone by then, no stagglers. So whatever is left of the June 2013 crop will go into the freezer. More printing a dyeing on top some artist books to finish

It has been lovely working with the iris




Iris Eco Dyes

The tall Bearded Iris are almost done, a short two weeks or so of bloom. Iris sibirica ( or siberica) likewise. You have to move fast to eco print or dye with them fresh or faded; alternatively, you can freeze them. I have done both and that's what I would like to share with you mad eco dyers out there – it will take a couple of posts. To start with: Iris hybrida, which is a heritage variety in Eastern Canada, probably imported by early settlers and still plentiful in gardens here. Iris do hybridize freely and most likely descend from ancient varietiies such as Iris pallida and Iris germanica, of which florentina is a cultivar. The latter two, I. germanica and I. florentina are most likely the irises available to medieval and Renaissance painters and manuscript illuminators. These artists used their iris to obtain not blue but green pigments. Art historians and popular art history writers have been a tad vague about exactly which varieties were used, so one has to dig…but cheap and available is what artists usually go for…”The Techniques and Materials of Medieval Painting” by Daniel V. Thompson (Dover Books) tells rather vaguely of how green was obtained from iris but is even vaguer about blue or purple. Thus experiments have to be the way forward for contemporary eco dyers.

..and cutting to the chase: this is the range of colours obtained from the Tall Bearded Iris, above. The colours are shown on papers and on cotton string. Greens are obtained when the substrate, paper or fabric, has been pre soaked in alum (alum acetate is what I used) then steamed as usual for eco prints. Blues are obtained when NO alum is used in the steamed bundle or stack. Purple and bluer- blues are obtained from pounding with a rock etc, treading (yes, treading), grinding in a mortar, or simply smooshing hard with the fingers – NO cooking, just resting for a period of time. BTW, the string was dyed in a crock pot with alum and blossoms. The photo colour is far from true. I obtained a lovely moss green on the cotton string

The medieval painters and illuminators thought that iris green was fugitive and welcomed later sources of green as more reliable. They obtained it by squeezing the juice from the iris blossoms onto a piece of dry alum-soaked cloth, presumably linen, letting the pigmented cloth dry, then repeating the process until the green colour built up. The “clothlet” was transported in a seashell, for example, and egg white (“glair”) was added for the iris pigment to leach into. This was the source of a transparent green.
More next time on how the iris pigment behaved on silk, wool, linen and cotton rag paper, after I used all of the previously mentioned processes with and without alum as mordant. If you are inclined to try dyeing with iris ( do we need to say “eco dye” ?) then pick the faded blooms and either go to work right away or freeze them for later.
El Camino de los irises: it has been a pilgrimage indeed, working with them. Here they are laid out on vintage kimono silk, ready for the steamer:
More on iris next time.


Dandelion Creations

Dandelions! I am happy to see them when they arrive in May. I adore their seed pods, too (Irrestible as motifs for graphic design!) Plus they are fun. This year, I taught my grandson, Dylan, an almost-forgotten childhood chasing game “What's the time, Mister Wolf?”. Just picking the seedpod and blowing on it brought the memory and the very words of the game right back…The haptic and the kinetic are key in memory…

We observed the formalities of the game: One player (or better, several players chanting together while tailing the Wolf) cries/ cry: “What's the time, Mister Wolf?”. “Mister Wolf” walking ahead holding a dandelion clock in his hand, turns around, blows on the dandelion to disperse some seeds in a puff and replies in the required, delciously menacing tone (bringing smiles of excited anticipation to the Wolf Stalkers) : “One o'clock!” …The words must be drawn out and delivered accompanied by rolling of eyes, twisting of lips and pawing of the air by Wolf limbs..The Wolf moves on…The Stalkers' question is repeated until Mister Wolf, with his last puff, rounds on the Stalkers (who have been waiting in deep delight for this moment) and snarls his most terrifying snarl: “It's DINNER time and time to eat you all up!” .. Joyful screaming begins and the chase ensues…Whoever is “eaten” last, gets to be Mister Wolf…

No such carniverous eating at the Kemptiville Dandelion Festival! Just an experience of quaintness in a country town with a distinguished agricultural college, a pragmatism that opens doors to creative thinking, a real need to keep a certain culture alive and people employed.

Unfortunately, we arrived late on the last day of the Dandelion Festival in Kemptville, Ontario…we missed a lot of the vendors but not Chef Chris Enlo, late of the Millenium resto in L. A., and now proprietor of The Branch resto in Kemptville. Chef Chris pulled put all the stops.He even shared his recipe for dandelion root beer. Of course, I asked him if he had managed to obtain the maybe-mythical red colour from the dandelion roots while preparing the beer. Just pale brown, he said. Here is his recipe (he gave permission to share it)

Dandelion root beer

1. Gather dandelion roots (or have your farmer friend dig them up, as Chris did)

2. Roast them in a slow oven like chicory (same family, coffee substitute also) – 250 degrees.

3. Grind the dried out roots to a powdery mess

4. Cover with water by an inch and cook gently for an hour. Add one star anise and an inch of cinnamon stick in the last half hour, then remove.

5. Add more water to taste and sweeten with a shlurp of sugar syrup (make your own with one cup of water to one cup of sugar OR maple syrup OR honey.

Then there was this tasty treat: Dandelion pesto! No recipe but if you can make pesto with basil or coriander, then I guess dandelion would be the same. Blow your guests' minds at your next dinner party…

Boo hoo, we missed the dandelion wine artisans and the farmers so headed off into town to check out the lamp posts and shop windows, all dandelioned-up:


Too late for brunch at the Victorian Pantry:

Look what we missed:

But they still had dandelion cupcakes for us with our (regular, not dandelion) coffee ( we could have had dandelion tea if we had chosen to):

I froze the cupcake for Daughter's birthday and for her to share with Dylan today

My own dandelion creations? Eco printed papers from May dandelions in my “lawn” (note the tad of blue from the violet…a perfect complement)

…Dandelion colours and forms that hold their own even with showy tulips:

Eco print watercolour paper fresh from the steam bath:

The whole plant on linen, pre dyed with sumac (Rhus typhina): Yellows…

The finished dandelion print on watercolour paper:

Next flush of dandelion bloom, I will try some more dandelion fun.

Now we go on to the blue Bearded Iris – the June garden is filled with blues and mauves and pinks..But only a short, intense week or two for this heritage variety of iris in my garden ( I have had it over 35 years and it came from another 30-year garden and doubtless from pioneer gardens before that..).Depending on how you look at it, this heritage iris has advantages for an eco dyer: is floppy in rain and wind so one is compelled to pick them…that is why the end up in vases …or dye pots…in my house..

More on blue iris next post and another coreopsis update.

And just possibly some more very old wool socks to dye. After finding my husband's old ski socksin the winter, now I have found my old cross country ski socks from days of yore. Gonna get out the eco dyes…Coreop-socks

Lastly, an update on my eco printed artists books. Some of them will be the national show of the Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild to be held in Calgary this July.

That is, if I ever get back in the house after being in the June garden…