Forest Floor

A forest floor is a place of new beginnings, nurturing life from the detritus of the old, first drawing down the eye of the body and the eye of the mind so as to enable them together to look up and beyond.

Here are the first images of pieces for my upcoming show “Forest Floor”, July 2012 at the Shenkman Arts Centre, Ottawa. The work featured is contact printed with plants and rust on silks, linens, cotton and papers and stitched at various stages of the process.

“Eyes of the Forest” (22″ x 96″)

Silk habotai, contact printed with plants and rusted iron; hand stitched. Mounted for hanging on a plexi bar.

1. Section of the work, hanging.


2. Another section:


Third section:


Detail 1

Detail 2

Detail 3

Detail 4

Detail 5

Detail 6


Plants used for contact printing: red cabbage, safflower petals, Osage Orange (dye powder) rooibos tea, black tea.



Eco printing the chuppah 5

My garden (the one the Bride grew up loving, but, er, not actually ever having worked in) has supplied all the plant materials (except Sweet Gum and Japanese Maple) for this collection of eco prints which were completed mostly last summer and fall. Some dried and frozen plant materials have been printed this winter. The USDA zone for an Ottawa garden is 4 while Canadian zone classification puts it at 5A, so taking garden micro-climates into account, one can make reasonable guesses about the range of dye plants comfortable here.

Sumac berries bundled in silk habotai


Rose leaves and tagetes marigold on lichen dyed vintage kimono silk fragment

Perennial geranium on silk habotai
Perennial geranium on silk habotai, modified by iron


Coreopsis verticillata (reds)and tagetes marigold calices and petals (greens and yellows) on silk habotai

Perennial geranium (yellow-greens), Golden Rod (yellows) and Red Cabbage (blues) on rusted silk habotai
Red Cabbage (blues) and tagetes marigold petals and calices (oranges and greens resp.) on silk habotai
Orange pekoe tea (blacks and browns), rooibos tea(rusts), safflower petals (yellows), Red Cabbage (blues) on silk habotai. All from the grocery store.
Purple Sandcherry and Purple Basil on silk broadcloth. Blues and greens.
Oak, Japanese Maple, Sweet Gum, Cotinus Coggygria (dark greens) and eucalyptus cinerea “Silver Dollar” (yellows) on silk broadcloth. No idea where that pink came from.


Note on the colours: I used a Canon Rebel SLR set at fully automatic, then the “enhance” in iPad photo edits. I find the colours very true to life.

Next time: If my new computer arrives this week, I can share some pics of the garden from last summer and fall. It is hidden under snow right now.

Companions on the “Silk Roads”: Madder, Logwood and Osage Orange

Several recent eco-printed textiles (8 mm silk habotai) were inspired by the colours of this midwinter landscape, similar to “Silk Roads 6”, below:

Silk Roads 5

Red cabbage, Ceylon tea and safflower:

Some pretty greens happen with the safflower yellows and cabbage blues mingling, while  the amber browns come  from tea, not rust.

Silk Roads 7 
Some more midwinter colours, as for Silk Roads 5, but with rust (and vinegar to activate the rust strongly). The colour differences due to the rust and vinegar are quite striking.

In the landscape of my winter garden, the large dried mopheads of “Annabelle” hydrangeas and the leafless vines of the arctic kiwi (arctinidia) provide the rusted orangey-browns we see in the iron rust prints above.

Now for some of the colours of warmer seasons, with madder reds, logwood purples and Osage orange golds combining with Red cabbage blues, safflower yellows, iron rusts,  tea blacks and red-browns:

Silk Roads 8

To the familiar combo of Red cabbage, black and brown tea, safflower and rust, I added a quarter teaspoon of Madder Rich dye extract powder to 2 0z water and dribbled that mixture over the textile once the other dyestuffs had been laid down. The Osage orange, basically a rough sawdust, was sprinkled thickly in places, like cheese on pizza. Bundled in rusted iron and steamed for an hour or so.

Silk Roads 9

  Logwood purple-blue added to the mix, along with some unintended cuddling up from  madder bundle in the dye pot. The logwood was sprinkled dry (while the madder had been was dissolved in water first) onto the textile after the other dyestuffs were laid down. Bundled over a length of rebar and steamed for an hour or so.   

A few “Silk Roads”

Eco-printed with madder (reds and pinks), logwood (deep blues and purples) and Osage orange for deep orangey-yellows.  Blacks and rust from iron; brown from teas; lavender blues from Red cabbage; greens from blue-yellow mixes.

Next post: A few favourite details from January’s work

Eco Printing more “Silk Roads”

January 12, 2012

Outside the snow is falling and the dye garden is asleep:

Inside, the studio consoles. I have a shipment from Maiwa, Vancouver (via Couleurs de Plantes, France):  a collection of powdered natural dye extracts, mostly colours I cannot obtain  from my Zone 4 garden,  like some reds and purples. For my “Silk Roads” collection, I would like  to extend the lavenders and sky blues I obtain regularly from Red Cabbage.

I tried the dye extract Madder Rich (red) and Logwood (purple)  in a non-traditional way: instead of dissolving the dye powders in water for an immersion dye bath, I sprinkled  the powder onto dampened silk fragments , pushing the powders around with a small paint brush, then bundling the silk over a copper pipe and steaming as usual.

“Madder Rich” dye extract on silk habotai 8 mm

Wow! That red will rack the eco-bundle colours up a notch. As it happens, today I received a late, long-anticipated Christmas gift in the mail: India Flint’s new book,  “Second Skin”. In Chapter 10, India describes her use of a dye-sprinkle technique to obtain madder reds in her eco bundles. That gives me confidence to try the technique further. One stands on others’ shoulders to see far…My aim with the madder experiment was to see if the elevated water temperature (above 200 in a steam bath) would bring out the browns in the madder, as it is reported to do in a boiling water immersion bath. As far as I can tell with this one small test, the madder reds will stay fixed.

Logwood dye extract on silk habotai, 8mm.

Exotic serpent? I folded the silk lengthwise in half and rolled that around a copper pipe before steaming. After these little tests, I feel ready to try some dye extract powders in my “Silk Roads” collection.  One thing worth noting:  no excess dye washed out in the rinse water. 

Now three more panels from the current “Silk Roads” collection:

Silk Roads 5.

No rusted iron, rooibos tea or vinegar in this  ecoprint, just Red Cabbage, safflower and black tea leaves. The results are a range of strong ambers complemented by lavender-purple (not blue) from Red Cabbage, but no blacks or very dark browns and greys.  Where the purples and the ambers mix, lightish greens appear:  


Silk Roads 6


Rusted iron from a reliably rusty corn stick muffin pan and a vintage flat iron (oval rust prints);  Red Cabbage, safflower petals, black tea, rooibos tea. Soaked briefly (20 mins?) in 5% vinegar after bundling, steamed for 2 hours. Greens – chartreusey ones- appear where the safflower and red cabbage meet.  A detail:

I think of Turner ‘s cosmic, abstract, oilpainted sky-scapes when I see how these colours work together to create wonderfully expressive markings.  The iron shifts the colours and especially the values, typically darkening the marks and enriching the range of lights and darks.

Silk Roads 7

The corn-cob shapes appear as bright orangey-rust prints. A fresher Red Cabbage might have given deeper colours of blue and purple but the lighter sky blue still charms gently. The cabbage that  printed the previous three panels was at least a month old.  Two more details:

Silk Roads 7 (detail 2)

Note where black tea, normally a dark brown, prints nearly black in the presence of iron. Safflower and Red Cabbage together make more greens. In “Silk Roads 5”, the same black tea prints deep amber brown in the absence of iron. Rooibos tea holds its own as a rusty red-brown here. I use whole dried tea leaves for the black tea eco print, not the ground leaves we might find in tea bags, e.g. for the rooibos.  One last detail:

Silk Roads 7 (detail 2)

These dye sources in combination give a full range of colour values, dark, medium and light, with some “betweens”. The darker values are coaxed out by the iron in combo with tannins in the black tea. “Silk Roads 5”, without strong value contrasts (lower contrast is not always a colour sin),  communicates subtlety. It allows a third colour, green, to emerge brightly from the mix of Red Cabbage and Black Tea. 

Always delightful surprises. Which is why eco printing is a fascinating field.

Next posts

Eco printing with dye extracts plus direct printing with plants .

Sorry about the whacko formatting. Word Press and I sometimes do not get along.

Eco Prints with Red Cabbage: Kinder Chemistry

A little fun with the Red Cabbage dye I cooked up for one of my recent silk-wool panels.

The dye bath: One half of a red cabbage, chopped and simmered for an hour in my aluminum (Pot As Mordant) turkey roaster gave this deep purple dye. In that I simmered a silk-wool bundle which gave a soft lavender-grey. 


o each jar was added 1 teaspoon (5 ml) of alum acetate powder (mordant) and a few bits of boiled cabbage:

Lovely blues! Now to modify the colours with additions of acid and alkali:

On the left: Just Red Cabbage dye. Centre: 1 teaspoon cider vinergar (5% acid) Right: 1 teaspoon household ammonia.  The acid pushes the blue cabbage dye towards reds while the alkali pushes it towards greens.

Set the jars on a sunny windowledge. Dropped into each jar a skein of white cotton embroidery thread (vintage Beldings), not previously mordanted or wetted (but alum was added to the jar) . Left to sit in the sun inside the house for a few hours (no cooking). 

The skeins are somewhat different in shade of blue. The pure Red Cabbage dye on the left gave a deeper lavender shade, while the acid changed the colour slightly to more bluish. The suprise here is the ammonia modifier: it drove the green  into the Red Cabbage (which was purple at the start) to make it dark green; and left the white cotton skein white in the end.

(That is sort of how things work with safflower dyes -see previous post on the process of obtaining red on silk from a yellow safflower dye solution by messing with acid-alkali levels).

Here the white cotton skein “surrogate” collected the green colour from the alkali solution and discharged back into the cabbage, dyeing it green.  Wow. Not getting a PhD in Chemistry any time soon.

Next post: Sewing up those eco prints for the show!  Hemming torture.  Any relief out there?





Eco dyeing with safflower

For information on how to coax the pink-red and yellow-orange range of colours from the dried safflower petals on silk, wool, cotton and linen, I relied mostly on Jenny Dean’s book “Wild Colour”.

Safflower petals contain red dyes and two kinds of yellow dyes, each of which can be extracted from the petals. To obtain the first yellow, one simply soaks the petals in cold water and squeezes out the colour. For red, one has to first remove (and save if you want yellow)  all the yellow dye by thorough soaking and rinsing that colour out of the petals. The rinsed petals are soaked again in clear water and either ammonia (alkali) and/or vinegar (acid) is added to shift the pH of the solution in order to alter the colours (to yellows or pinks),  depending on the type of fabric. Wool will never dye pink with safflower but cotton, linen and silk will. Silk, however, turns pink only after a second colour modifying stage.  

Special note: No heat or cooking is involved in extracting the colours from safflower. It all happens with cold soaking.

First step was to obtain the basic yellow dye. I soaked the petals in cold water then squeezed and rinsed them, saving the yellow liquid in  three separate pots.  Then silk, cotton/ linen and wool were soaked in their own yellow dye baths and removed as the colour reached a shade I liked. I was aiming for a gradation of sorts.

After soaking for various periods of time, the wool, linen and cotton dyed various (and lovely!) shades of yellow, orange, coral and pink…the longer the soak, the deeper the colour. But  I have not yet managed to get the glorious safflower pink on silk, only the yellows and corals and oranges for now…Next time…

To coax out the red dye from the safflower and make fibres pink:

Add alkali to the dye bath : ammonia

After soaking the petals and squeezing out the yellow dye (as above) , I resoaked the petals in water and added ammonia to raise the pH to 1o (as read on my meter:  the dye bath pH was probably higher but my meter stops at 10),  (Next time, I might try washing soda as the alkali.) 

Add acid: Vinegar, 5% acetic acid

After an hour or so, I strained the dye bath and added some 5% acid vinegar  to lower the pH to about 6. (Use some pH papers or a pH meter) Then I added my silk and the cotton cheesecloth and soaked overnight.

The silk became coral-orange and the cotton, bright pink – just as Jenny describes in “Wild Colour”!

Dyeing silk pink. Or not.

Alas. The discharge process did not work for me this time. To obtain pink on silk one needs a “carrier cloth” ( a kind of Surrogate Dye Mother? ) that has been dyed yellow first, then pink-dyed in saffflower; then it is coaxed by the alkali (The Midwife?) to to release  its red dye back into the dye pot so that the colour will be available for the silk to “Adopt” when vinegar is added to the the dye pot.

Now that part happened successfully…because the bright pink cotton changed to lavender -grey in the alkali (ammonia)..But-but-but-but, and boo-hoo,  the silk refused to go Pink. Instead, it stayed a coral-orange colour when I added the acid to create the correct dye environment for silk.

I am wondering if  I was unable to obtain pink on my silk because  the small piece of cotton cheesecloth that I put in the dye bath simply did have enough dischargeable red dye in the fibres to turn the silk pink. Next time I will try a larger piece of cotton with a much higher thread count.

Here are some pics of the colours I obtained, nevertheless. The longer the fibres soaked (hours or overnight or a whole day) in the cold dye, the deeper the colours became:

The dye pots contained silk (top), cotton (right) and wool(left).

Cotton and linen turned various shades of yellow, orange and pink, depending on threadcount,  time in the dye bath and acid or alkali solutions (pinks in acid):

Cotton cheesecloth, a finer cotton gauze and vintage linen became pink in the yellow safflower dye when  modified in  an alkali -acid sequence.

I obtained several shades of yellow and orange on wool (from a vintage Jaeger wool skirt, taken apart) but no pink because safflower does not do that colour on wool. However, the cotton interfacing on the skirt waistband (right) took on pink dyes. (BTW, the colours in my photo were really pale so I tried to improve them by photoshopping them…hmmm…)

Next post: Eco prints on paper

This post’s Honour Roll: