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!





15 thoughts on “Iris leaves as a source of paper and pigment

  1. Genial ¡ Gracias pr compartir tus Trabajos tan interesantes e inspiradores, un abrazo desde Chile, Susana

    1. Thanks, Julie. The iron dip really brings out the nuances. I got that tip from Amelia Poole – check her work out on Flickr, it is wonderful and she swears by the magic of the iron dip. I will post on the Before and After of other geranium prints. They printed yellow in May and greener in August – September in my garden.


    1. Well, Roberta

      I made it up as I went alonon we will call it the Iris Paper Fixit Stitch! It resembles the Caterpillet Stitch used by book artists to decorate covers with. Soemthing like it was common for medieval repaira to tears in vellum MSS. To make my Iris etc stitch, I started with a blanket/buttonhole stitch and went all around the tear in the paper. I used a medium sized needle and a waxed utility cotton string. I connected the top loops of the blanket/ buttonhole stitch by weaving back and forth along the tops of the stitches. When done that, I went back along the row and made little knots. The large keyhole at the edge of the paper was filled in with long stitches – you can make that out from the photo. The size of the needle was a bit of a challenge – I needed a larger eye to accommodate the string (like four to six strands of floas) but a fine point so as not to tear the thin handmade paper more. Have fun!


      1. Sorry for the terrible typos. If you canot make out my instructions as a result of the bad typing please let me know. I find I make a lot of errors when I use the iPad keyboard.

  2. Wendy, I want to thank you for being so forthcoming in all you do. I feel I have learned so much from you. I look forward to each and everyone of your post knowing it is going to be full of useful information in my own eco-printing journey. Looking forward to the soil post. I’ve been experimenting with the “red dirt” here in Colorado. After years of trying to get it out of my children’s clothes I now find myself coaxing that color into my eco-print experiments.

  3. Very very pretty prints and making of paper is fun. Love the green color of papers. I wanted to make own paper with prints on but no success on paper making. Hope to try. Thanks for your informative posts. Enjoy reading all.

    1. Yes, the green is quite enticing, Terrie. I fail to capture the real colour with my camera, though. The papermaking is a bit messy and a slow work, like natural dyeing. But once you get a basic process that works for you, it is another tempting diversion….

      Good luck with your experiments and thank you for the encouragement, Terrie


  4. Gorgeous work -thank you for sharing. I am going to have a go at adding natural plant fibres to paper making. I might try the reed mace that is overgrowing the pond.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.