Eco Printing Synthetics with Serviceberry

Leisa Rich's article in the current issue of Fiber Art Now is inspiring. (My article on eco print artists is in there, too, brag brag, see future posts). She challenges us “granola” types (you know who we are in the textile world: recycled-everything, natural dyes, non-toxic-this-and-that) to make art from the humongous piles of discarded synthetics out there. Thus she leads us on a Camino with artists who have kissed the Toads of the art materials world and turned them into Princesses and Princes…

Let me not slander my buddies, the garden toads, though: I do love them. As an icon for this post, I introduce you to my Guardian Toad, here watching over Canada Violets, Rosa canina and rock-nostalgia from Wharfdale in Yorkshire:


This week I tried printing Pellon with Serviceberry. Pellon is a synthetic material in various weights used for interfacing that can also be painted, melted, waxed, embroidered, etc for mixed media art applications. It is known as Vilene in Britain and as Freudenberg by handmade papermakers who use it in heavier weights as felts when couching sheets of paper.

Here is the lovely Serviceberry in May:

Here is Serviceberry in June, in full fruit:

Serviceberry (Amelanchier laevis) is a Canadian native with delicious berries (we ate a bowlful with ice cream yesterday). First Nations peoples use them to make pemmican. The tree has given a truly bountiful crop this year, with so many berries that the squirrels do not even bother to eat the ones that fall on the ground. (Mind you, who can understand how the Squirrel Brain works at any time? It reminds me of the kind of thinking employed by some galleries when they run about collecting art to sell…)

We have one Serviceberry tree in the front yard whose berries fall on the sidewalk so I have to sweep them up (Aside: Alas, some folks around here use terms like “litter” to describe fallen fruit, even if they do live in a neighbourhood known as Granola Heights, suggesting it is populated largely by Ex Hippies on Fat Pensions – not me, BTW. ) My thought is consonant with Leisa Rich's : that pretty well any “litter” can have art in its future, that one woman's litter might be another woman's life support.

Why waste certain of our fallen plant bounty if it can be eco printed? Even “deadheading” has been dropped as a term in my gardening vocabulary since I began eco dyeing and printing. I now say I am collecting dye plants when I nip off dead blooms to be saved for dye pots later.

So assorted pebbles, pine needles, soil samples, unknown sidewalk treasures and Serviceberry leaves ended up in the sweepings destined for eco print bundles in the steamer:


Silk, linen, cotton, paper and Pellon wrapped the berries. Sad to say, the linen and cotton were a bust, print-wise, despite pre-mordanting and post-dye-pot treatment with iron and copper assistants. A complete flop! The watercolour paper (unmordanted because I had no mordanted sheets ready) did quite well, despite lack of alum: some purples from the berries and greens from the leaves, as well as lovely embossings overall because I had rolled this bundle over a copper pipe instead of layering it flat. I have to assume that the copper pipe assisted the dye take up even in the absence of alum mordant:


The surprise of the dye pot was the unmordanted Pellon, bundled around a fat, bark-free branch (no extra tannins), steamed first, then immersion-dyed for an hour with iron bits and Serviceberry materials; later dipped in homemade copper sulphate (which did not shift the colours further to green, to my mind). Blues and purples emerged from berries and with a tad of lavender-grey with iron. Greens from the leaves. I tried a lot of colour-shifting manoeuvres but I believe the original green print from the unmordanted Pellon printed in the steam process is what we end up with.






Finally, a comparison with the ever-dependable silk habotai. Silk on the right. Note the “deckled edge” on the Pellon which comes when you tear it:


On silk alone: Note that there are hardly any prints from the berries here and ditto for the other textiles. Still, a fresh, lovely green from the leaves of Amelanchier laevis. In the fall they turn beautiful shades of red, orange, yellow, even purple and those colours do print, too.

I have lots of synthetic interfacing in various wieghts in my stash so this experiment with synthetics will likely not be the last, and neither will dyeing with Serviceberry.






About wendyfe

I am a fibre artist working in mixed media textiles with a focus on vintage cloth reworked with stitching, natural dyeing, eco printing and rust printing . My work can be seen at
This entry was posted in dye plants, Eco Prints, eco prints on paper, native plants and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Eco Printing Synthetics with Serviceberry

  1. Sweetpea says:

    I read this post with much interest, Wendy ~ thank you for this good information. We have Amelanchier alnifolia in our woods (a native here in WA state, Pacific Northwest, USA), but I’m not sure I can troop through the underbrush to get to them! I may have to make the extra effort now. And it would never have occurred to me to try printing on Pellon – or any other synthetic actually – so you’ve put my mind onto some new thought processes.

    Did receive my copy of FAO ~ CONGRATS! ~ splendid article & inspiring details & photos by all.


    • wendyfe says:

      Thank you, Christi.

      The Amelanchier alnifolia is usually known as Saskatoonberry hereabouts and I tried dyeing with it last year, leaves, I mean. It does give lovely prints. The berries are edible – even Walmart carries Saskatoonberry Jam in Ottawa! Made in Saskatchewan, of course. I froze my harvest for eco dyes, TBD…The A. alnifolia berries come later in the season and are black – my garden birds and squirrels seem to disdain them so I do not feel bad gathering them for dyeing. The A. laevis has red-purple fruits earlier in the season, like cherries. Cardinals and robins LOVE them – I understand red feathered birds eat them for food AND for feather colour!!!

      Re the artists in my article in FAN: Fabienne Dorsman Rey has a FB group (how’s your French?) called Les Fanas Du Bundle and today they were talking about eco dyeing on synthetics. I was quite surprised by the intensity of the green from amelanchier on Pellon. But this is an art fuelled by the Pandora effect, no?

  2. Wendy, have been reading for some time now, w/o commenting. Recommending your blog to all my fiber friends who are trying out Eco dyeing. I have to thank you so much for all the recent posts on how to’s congratulations to you on your article in fan… I learn so much forum your writing. I hope you publish this at some point. Thank you for sharing your treasure trove of information!

  3. Mary says:

    Wendy, this is such a great post! Thank you! I just identified at least 5 of these trees growing on my property and of course any time I indenting my next step is “can I dye with that?” 🙂 I might have missed this, did you do these prints in June or July? Does the fall make any difference? Thank you for your knowledge!

    Sincerely, Mary

    • wendyfe says:

      Hi Mary

      So serviceberry can be printed any time of the year, as can all other plants. But you will not get the same colours. Dry leaves also work. Just try at different seasons. And you can eat the delicious berries – wait until they turn purple usually in July and then fight the robins for them…i imagine the berries will dye beautifully but i have always preferred to leave them as food. If yo have a lot of bushes/trees of them, you can perhaps afford to experiment…if you have cedars around sometimes the berries turn dramatic shades of orange with wee knobs – that is some cross- rust issue. So leave those for the birds. Just take pics, they may be inedible but they look spectacular when the rust spores get them

      • Mary says:

        Ah I’m just seeing this. Didn’t confirm your wordpress until now. Silly silly me.

        Thank you for your great response. So now it’s past July, I’m going to run out and collect some to see how it goes. Really great to know :)!



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