An Eco Dyer’s June Garden

The garden I collect my dye plants from has been over 25 years in the making. My husband has a penchant for creating quirkily beautiful sculptures to place among the plants. It's not a garden you can see all at once – it is long and narrow but twisty with odd little angles and corners to turn except for a long, long border beside the Rideau Canal inlet pond. So over time, I have developed many small areas with a sculpture or other ornament as a focal point. The experience is of passing through many gardens but not necessarily dye gardens.

Classical plant nomenclature would attach “tinctoria” to the name of any plant known to tradition as a dye plant. I do not have many of those “official” dye plants, only two in fact: Coreopsis t. and Anthemis t. Since starting to work with eco dyes, I have come to know that virtually every plant can produce some colour on a substrate, given appropriate preparation, dye processing and post- dye treatments. But It will take me quite some time to learn about the eco dyes and print properties of all the plants and their parts in my garden: fresh, dried, leaf, stalk, bloom, seed, root, bark: these all come into the colourplay, as do other aspects of the craft such as appropriate processing times and methods, dye assistants and mordants, fibre type and age…Still, with experience and the help of other dyers' knowledge generously shared, I can begin to feel confident that I might contribute something to the field.

So once a month throughout the season, I thought I could show you some of the plants that grow nicely here and some I use for my dyeing and printing experiments and projects.

Clicking on the link below takes you to a web album of my garden photos for June.

Eco Print Fest!

Today's post shows more experimental prints made by students during the recent IMPRESS '13 International Print Festival. But first, a few thoughts in which to situate the sharing we can choose to aspire to as art bloggers. In the Foreword to the festival catalogue, internationally esteemed British painter /printmaker Hughie O'Donaghue remarks (with admirable humility, I would say, for this guy is a Big Wheel in art):

The fine art print is constantly changing and developing and it is a medium that is advanced by dialogue and exchange. Unlike painting, which is very much a solitary activity, printmaking often takes place in a social environment where artists gather together to share equipment and facilities and, as a result, inevitably exchange ideas. This dialogue is something I have prized in the various print studios that I have worked in over the years in Italy, Ireland and Great Britain.”

Here is some more work by other accomplished printmakers who participated in the festival and who also became students of eco printing:

An oak leaf: rust and logwood powder over …something yellow (no label…)

Eucalyptus (L) with iron modifier producing black outlines. Source of the blue? Could be juniper berries or bits of Red Cabbage.

Rectangular cuts of metal rusted with vinegar, printed on silk tissue, with Red Cabbage

Brushing on some of the dye modifiers, postprinting. Note the conscientious labelling!

Carrot tops (yellow-green) and logwood with a tad of Red Cabbage (blue), with colour mixing

Red Cabbage and kale

Metal pieces, rusted with vinegar, with dye powders on accordion folded watercolour paper. Much colour mixing, especially in the folds of the paper.

Sage and eucalyptus (L) modified with iron (R). Note the well-filled notebook (L)

Adventurous collection including juniper, Cow Parsley, nettles – modified with iron liquor (L) using a fan brush – giving the effect of raking light.

Sumac (pink), nettles, R.Cabbage et al, i.e., colour mixing taking place.

Turneresque euca with iron. Pigments leaked through from the prints on the back of the paper.

Lovely. Nettles? The green, centre. Rose leaves (L). R. Cabbage and sumac berries (R)

Euca, R. Cabbage and madder powder

Just vinegar and metal pieces on silk tissue to give a rust print

Rusted metal with plants and string resist. The shiny patches that look white are rust

Beautiful wash of colours. By now, can you guess? Colour mixing here is wonderful.

Another view of one shown in the previous post. Sumac and berries- juniper? mistletoe? Acorn cap?

On silk organza ( for chine colle) – ??? plants with string resist.

Crocus blue, mint yellow green, sumac pink

A repeat from last post – I remembered that this was a rose petal and not a rose leaf modified by iron to give dark shades

Here are some prints drying on the rack. Great to work in a real print studio!

While we were in the studio eco printing, Andy Lovell of the Gloucestershire Printmakers Collective and a participant in the festival was screenprinting up a storm on an adjacent bench. Here is one of his wonderful screen prints:

Not sure of the title. Would like to call it “Mine” . It calls to my mind the landscape of the Cotswolds, anyway. does this landscape by Constable (seen in the Tate Britain)

…and this, my own photo of the Cotswolds looking over to Wales. Talk about “green pastures”…sigh….

More about the artists in the festival next time – including Damien Hirst! Subject of many debates, as is only proper for art…

And bearing in mind Damien's “dot” paintings – here, to finish, is how my grandson, Dylan, appropriates dots as an art medium:

Why stop at Red Dots?

And why stop at the hand as canvas? And why not include stars?




Trade secrets…sshhh…

The Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild (CBBAG) Ottawa Valley Chapter, held another workshop recently. Our instructor, Mary McIntyre, led us in making a simple and elegant photograph album. Mary is a paper conservator and master bookbinder. She enriched the workshop experience for us with her interesting presentation on the history of albums. Most enriching was her generous sharing of expert knowledge of bookbinding way beyond the topic of album-making. Workshop participants, each in their area of interest and expertise, also shared generously. It was a very satisfying experience. How pleasant to be a member of such a generous group and to learn and share so freely. One of the principal aims of CBBAG is to pass on the knowledge, skills and attitudes required for bookbinding and the book arts, and to actually plan for a time when students might become instructors also. CBBAG is not a guild where trade secrets are the order of business! No NDA's required.

In the past, though, in other guilds, strict secrecy and Non Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) represented important values to the master artisan. Diane Vogel Maurer reports in the introduction to her book ” Marbling: A Complete Guide to Creating Beautiful Patterened Papers and Fabrics” that “much of the work was accomplished secretly behind wooden partitions and masters were careful to teach only a few aspects of their craft to each worker to prevent any of their apprentices from learning enough to establish himself as a competitor.” (p15) That proprietory approach to teaching and learning marbling had its lifespan cut short by Charles Woolnaugh who “divulged the whole process by publishing a book, despite the outrage of the guild. James Sumner, Woolnaugh's chief rival, did not take such severe umbrage, however. Recognizing the value of disclosure to the progress of knowledge and of healthy competition, Sumner pragmatically published his own book on marbling. I have to say I like the cut of both their jibs.

So here I am, Spilling The Beans again on my blog, today starting with some images of the albums we made at the CBBAG workshop. Mary supplied us with bookcloth she had made herself from Quilter's Quarters. Mary divulged her secrets, too, in the self-respecting context of a workshop. To make the bookcloth, she revealed that she applied a simple cornstarch paste to the back of the cotton and let it dry. (Wheat starch paste works too. A recipe for corn starch paste is at the end of this post). The bookcloth covered the outside of the album and we had some pretty Japanese papers to line the inside covers. To construct the album pages, we cut Fabriano black pastel paper to size, sewed the stacks of signatures together (I made my first Kettle Stitches!) and made some decorative stitches over the spine of the album.

My album is the orange one. You can see the elegant effect of the spine-wrapping threads on all these albums.
We cut rectangular apertures in the spine board to enjoy a view of the sewn signatures. I love that feature!

The linen thread we used to sew the signatures was brought through the aperture, then around and over the spine at top and bottom. This gave a lovely thread texture to the outside of the spine.

Husband made the green one. He made another album at home. His engineer's mind caused him to figure out how to make the spine decoration threads more stable ( they do kind of shift around) so he simply pierced holes in the spine and brought the thread through them.

Natural linen thread, waxed, for the stitching

Canson pastel papers for the album pages and commercial bookcloth for the outside covers:
A map for the inside cover:

Corn starch paste recipe

Four parts water to one part corn starch.

Mix cold water and starch until smooth

Cook over medium heat until thick and smooth, stirring all the time.

Cool in the fridge.

Thin with cold water and beat to remove lumps, to make a paintable mix. Thinner is better.

Place fabric on a flat surface like an acrylic sheet,

Apply paste to the back of the fabric

Dry and store.

More “Secrets”

In the CBBAG workshop, our instructor, Mary McIntyre, shared aspects of her practices re attaching papers to textiles. I have been reading “Magical Secrets About Chine Colle” by Brian Shure of Crown Point Press. Brian is another artist maker like Mary, dedicated to a legacy of teaching knowledge, skills and attitudes in a self -and-other -respecting but generous and open manner. One way Brian does this is through his books. His information on using paste with paper and textiles is very valuable. He shares expertise fully in his book with the goal that you and I as readers will learn and pay it forward. In future posts, I plan to report more of how I am using Mary's and Brian's processes of attaching papers to fabrics.

Until next time!

PS The bookbinding needle inside the spine aperture gives a sense of scale.



Winterlude leaf colours

To wrap up this “Winterlude” project for January, here are a few more images of the recent eco printed papers together with some of the plants, pre- print, to compare the colours.

(BTW, these prints are on Saint Armand “Canal” brand, 140 lb., made in Montreal. Will post an image of the pad when I buy the next one. It is machine made from linen, cotton and denim rags. Their other papers are called hand made)

First, the Serviceberry.

A little accordion book was interleaved with Serviceberry (amelanchier canadensis) winter leaves of these sorts of colours:

Leaves laid near the eco print versions:

The eco printed book entitled “New World Scroll 2:Serviceberry”

The back of “New World Scroll 2: Serviceberry”

The back was printed with larger leaves.

Second, the dried tagetes blossoms. The calices print green or yellowy green and the petals print shades of grey. Not their summer orange!

Third, the fall-red Japanese Maple (acer palmatum). Greens, teals and blues of various shades are the eco printed colours. These eco prints were made in the fall.

Last note:

The walnut ink. Below is the third pot of water in which those four walnuts were cooked! Each one litre (four cups/32 oz) water was bolied down to about one cup. I think all the walnuttiness colour been squeezed out of those four fruits! I am collecting the boiled-down liquid in a jar, and when the last litre is reduced, I will tip the “walnut reduction” back into the crockpot and boil that down once more to one cup. Then I can tinker with the rest of the recipe!

I cooked the walnuts down until they were mushy. After each “reduction” the liquid was strained, the walnut mush was returned to the pot and covered with water two more times to make a litre. Some folks chop the walnuts up first but I did not bother.

Looking forward to the outcome!


Winterlude Eco Dye Prints on Silk

To continue the previous dye report:

My “Winterlude” project combines dyeing with printing so as to extract plant pigments by immersing tied or clamped bundles/stacks of leaves with papers (cotton/cellulose fibres) and leaves with textiles (silk/protein fibres) in simmering/180 degree plant dyes.

Two summers ago, when I first began using natural dyes to print textiles and paper, I experimented with Purple Cabbage. See this image of silk crepe de chine below: No colour change, still lovely mottled blues. I had several pieces in my stash. What if I overdyed some with my winter leaves in a walnut dye bath? I love blues and browns and yellows together!

So to start with, I bundled the previously eco printed/dyed silk with the winter leaves over bamboo skewers so that I could snap them and bend them to fit the crockpot. I tied the bundle tightly with waxed linen thread, entered it into the dye pot and processed at a gentle 180 degrees for about an hour. I wanted the linen thread to make a lot of delicate lines of resist prints. You can tie linen thread really tight, too. (I got my linen thread at a leather work supply store. It is not easy to find and not cheap, either)

Here we are after the procesing and after the thread has been removed (I unbundled right away. No patience.) The thin, light lines on the bundle are the lines of resist prints. Of course, the waxed linen thread was dyed at the same time, its wax all melted off in the dye bath. The bendy bundle came about as a result of bending the bamboo skewers, as noted.

Now the reveal: The blues come from two sources: first, the acer palmatum prints:

Some blue patches, as in this detail below, are from the Purple Cabbage print that survived the walnut dye bath; the resist lines, now characteristic of this printing method, show beautiful marks from the walnut dye and linen thread:

Other views:

Resist lines: I LOVE the white tracery effect. This passage looks like something hand drawn, such a great contrast to the more diffuse prints and the colours.

Printed silk in front, printed linen at rhe back (more next post on linen) – the effects of the blue in the silk make a grey blue background on the silk, while the white linen, undyed previously, retains the lighter background colour. Both are lovely.

Walnut on Purple Cabbage blue mottles on silk, contrasted against the same leaf pigments on linen.


Part of the Winterlude collection, printed with winter leaves processed in dye baths.

Left to right:

1. Paper in coreopsis-tagetes 2. Linen in coreopsis-tagetes 3. Paper in coreopsis-tagetes 4. Linen in coeropsis- tagetes 5. Silk in walnut 6. Linen in coreopsis- tagetes 7. Paper in walnut

1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7.

More next time – on vintage linen.


Artist Gifts

Seems like a good time to share with you some gifts I have received this season.

First is a little book made by two book artists in the Ottawa Valley chapter of CBBAG (aka “Cabbage” or the Canadian Bookbinders' and Book Artists' Guild ).

Stephen and Gayle Quick own Weathervane Press. This year, as in years past, they have presented their CBBAG colleagues with the gift of a tiny book as a Christmas Keepsake.


This year, the book is a collection of Aesop's Fables. Stephen created the linocuts and set the type:


The last few pages tell about the making of the book:

The paper used to cover the book is from Lee Valley Tools in Ottawa.

See the Weathervane Press at

A second gift I am sharing is news about the work of friend and colleague, artist and teacher, Karen Goetzinger. Readers in Australia and New Zealand, this is to let you know that Karen will be offering classes in your neck of the woods in 2013. Karen is an award winning artist and teacher, also an SDA and SAQA member.

Karen's info: – Australia – New Zealand

Next post:

I will have details of my show in the U.K. In March 2013 – I will be in the Cotswolds near Stroud, Cirencester

and Cheltenham for an international show of printmaking. I will be showing eco prints and offering a Master

Class in making prints like this:

I will also have details of an art residency I will be doing in 2013, also related to eco prints.

Have a blessed Christmas!



Midwinter Eco-printed Scrolls


In just a few days, the darkest days will be over and light will stay with us longer! This post, I had been hoping to share some pics of illuminated MSS on loan from the Bodleian to the Jewish Museum in NY…unfortunately, I seem to have lost them somewhere in cyberspace.( I learned from “The Art of the Saint John's Bible” by Susan Sink that the term “illuminated” refers to the gold used for illustrations in the manuscripts. ) So instead, I offer some images of my dye garden in midsummer and midwinter as illumination to your imagination!

Midsummer past:

Midwinter present:

The harvest of that garden keeps me close to summer all year. Besides the dye flowers you see in the summer garden ( coreopsis, tagetes, amaranthus, baptisia australis, borage, basil, viola ticolor) nearby are Red Maple (acer rubrum), Sugar Maple (acer saccharum), Silver Maple (acer saccharinum) Chokecherry (prunus virginiana) and from the kitchen, tea (camellia sinensis).

In the fall I eco-printed watercolour papers with tree leaves as content for another series of botanical scrolls (suite to my textile scrolls exhibited in July), artist books entitled “New World Scroll” . Some images:

Rust and leaf eco prints provide form and content of the New World Scroll. as does the book's accordion structure. The first books were in scroll form, flat or pleated or slatted (depending on its culture of origin). I am using paper to recall ancient form and marking it with plant dyes as a contemporary take on ancient practice, and also as a comment on disappearing traditional natural dyeing knowledge and skills, a loss now connected with disappearing plant diversity and ecological imbalance.

I have handwritten the names of the plants in Latin and English as is proper to a botanical document but in pleated scroll style. I have to say I was hesitating to use my own hand ….dreamed of perfect type from an elegant letterpress…but concept and earthiness won out. Hands on, the powerful presence of a maker in the lettering.

The plants recorded on the scroll are both native and immigrant, a witness to the ideal of a global sharing of knowledge and skill for the benefit of all. A blog, kind of.

Each double spread is inserted inside a fold in the accordion spine and presents four different prints. There are twenty-four eco- printed pages, two eco-printed end papers and a set of eco- printed and embroidered linen covers.

Some closer looks:

The embroidered and printed covers refer to traditional skills and knowledge that have faded away but which are being recovered gradually in textile circles – women's work, mainly…and with new appreciation for the artistry in the ancient practices.

Chokecherry and Red Maple pages in the scroll

Chokecherry pages

Simple pamphlet stitch spine

Opening the scroll

Next time:

More book arts!

And more NYC because that is where I will be spending Christmas. I wish you all the blessings of this holy season



‘Twas a Dark and Stormy Eco Print…

A series of posts about eco prints with rust on cotton rag paper and on fabrics.

This group of prints on 140 lb. watercolour paper is shown assembled in accordion book form.

Watercolour paper was cut, folded into four page accordions and layered with leaves and pieces of rusted iron; the stack was soaked in water and vinegar then steamed as usual for an hour or so. This collection was left to cool before removal of the eco printing “plates”. The combo of leaf tannin, iron and vinegar gave deep, dark colours, including several irridescent patches, not uncommon in rust prints.

Here are some of the individual pages:


Maple leaves with an iron square:

Maple (acer saccharum ) and Chokecherry (prunus virginiana). A teal surprise! Likely the result of a concentration of vinegar in that spot where the iron, maple leaf stem and prunus touched.

Iron rectangle/fragment behind maple leaf

Chokecherry leaves in three colours. Dependably dark! Greys, blacks, plums beside slightly merlot maple leaves, all a-wash in blue- grey.

Blue grey chokecherry with rust halos.

Irridescent. Striped like a geode.

Maple in a shade of merlot.

Next post:

Twice-eco printed papers: first rusted then printed with tannin-rich maple leaves for a completely different result from the collection shown here.


Dye Painting and Printing Book Papers

I making progress with my paste paper book “Sampler”. Some of the papers shown in my previous post have now been incorporated into an accordion-fold artist book about papers painted with natural dyes, the aim being to integrate form and content.

I have based my “Sampler” design on the “Pocket Flag Book” shown by Alisa Golden's lovely and instructive “Expressive Handmade Books” . I am taking Alisa's design for a little walk…going down a few wrong turns, taking interesting detours, gathering some new companions on the way, tripping over stuff in the dark, exploring always…

First, let me tell you about the African handcarved blocks from Oshiwa Designs in Namibia, designs you see on some of the paste papers. I love that I can read the names of the artisans on the blocks – thank you, Joseph, Paulus and Ndumba! My friend Paula Benjaminson introduced me to their work when she lived in Ottawa. Read about Oshiwa on Paula's blog Paula lives in Gabon at the moment where she explores surface design with an African esthetic.

Samples of Oshiwa blocks in my collection:


After folding my paste papers into accordions, pockets, signatures and spines, I used glue and stitch to finish putting the basic book together:

Accordion structure, back view. That band on the bottom was a glued -on addition because I had cut the paper too short…The papers are monoprinted with madder. The colour of the madder changes with the paper used. The band is white paper while the accordion is buff- coloured thin cardstock.

Accordion from the back, folded. Signatures inserted on the front, sewn pamphlet style with red linen thread, waxed. Red because that colour relates to madder. I put the knots on the outside because I liked their texture, all lined up. Alisa's model book did not include sewn signatures but I was desperate to see what happens if…You know how that goes… The holes are rather too big but they have a certain shaggy textured charm…but rats! and one set of holes is out of line…Not sure how that happened because I did use a piercing cradle to hold the signatures…

Accordion spine, from the back

The structure, top view, showing three-slot pockets made of paste papers, four-folio sewn signatures and a double wee spine insert to hold the “flags” when I get to that stage. Manila tags are inserted into the centre slot-pocket. They will play their part for book content down the road.

Sampler book from the side, accordion spine on the right, paste paper pockets and folios on the left.

I like how the folds and the bands create coloured planes with the intersecting lines.

The diagonal line is the side pocket fold; the darker red rectangle below is a wide band of printed silk organza wrapping around the bottom of the pocket to enclose it, to keep inserts from slipping through the opening. Alisa's model created two side pockets. I have added a third pocket by gluing on a band to connect the two side pockets along the bottom.

To the left are the folios, in the centre is the mini spine which will hold “flags” and to the right are the paste paper pockets, with an Indian block print in logwood.

The signatures are stitched pamphlet style, knots outside on the spine.

Some text content about the dyes

How the pockets work

More on the functional aspects of the book form

Just a few last pics of the book's accordion spine

In future posts:

The book covers

The endpapers

The “flags”

The closure device

The text

The pocket inserts

A bientot!