May Eco Colours in Layers

Blooms and green leaves aplenty in the May garden! How rich might they be in pigments, though, so early in the season? Especially if printed on linen, a cellulose fibre- which can be challenging to print if new. I was thinking that some of the colours would be weaker this season.

To get the best colours, I like to refer to the dye books for advice. The trad dye lit recommends a three-step mordanting process for cellulose fibres: alum, tannin, then alum again. I used alum acetate as the linen mordant – it needs no heat, only a soak overnight. The tannin came from fresh young sumac leaves in my garden.

I cooked a pot full of leaves with water to cover along with a length of white linen at 180 F and obtained a yellow liquor (a dye as well as a tannin mordant). I skipped the usual first alum soak and put the tannin-mordanted linen straight into the alum bucket (having used one tablespoon of alum to each half pound of dry-weight fabric in water to cover) Within half an hour, the linen had become bright yellow-green! Hmm. Had not predicted quite such a vibrant yellow!

The sumac tannin bath: yellow for sure!

The off-white linen dyed yellow-green, post-alum soak:

Layered with a selection of May blooms and leaves:

Dandelions and spent tulips :

…Canada Violets:



Flowering Crabapple (Malus “Royalty”) – red leaves, deep pink blooms.

Purple Sandcherry (Prunus cistena):

Bundled into the steamer for an hour or so:

After the bundling: Diffuse marks.

Lots of blue-green teals with deep yellows on this layer; pinks and purples from the tulips; dark, dark blues from the tulip anthers; deep blue-green from the crabapple red-purple leaves; ditto, the sandcherry. The bright yellow is from the pink crabapple blossom: the dotty blues from the lilacs and teal blue from the violets. Way more blue than I predicted. Looking now for some shapes and forms to complement the range of colours obtained, I laid out more plants.

The linen was layered again with the same selection of plants plus some rose leaves:


This time, the fabric was torn into smaller pieces and layered flat in the steamer, in the same way that I eco print papers.

With this result:

..and with a stalk of Coreopsis verticillata (Threadleaf Coreopsis) – that is the bright red on the right over the sumac leaf that prints golden.

And now yet another layer, this time with more Coreopsis Verticillata to give precise form and brightly contrasting colour- the Orange-Blue opposition is one of my favourites. But first, just look at the red in the jR on the left here! Within half an hour, the coreopsis stalks in the jar had given up this much dye in a jar of warm water with half a teaspoon of alum acetate. On the right, the jar contains fresh stalks in plain water. The incredible red colour is from the leaves and the roots: later, when the blooms arrive, they too will print bright red.

Sumac and coreopsis for the third layer, to give colour contrasts and precise botanical forms:

With these results:

The first four samples were modified with iron before the final layering: that had interesting effects all over the piece. Note how the sumac print yellow-greens have become blue.



The sumac imposed its yellow over the base and made bright yellow patches when it came in contact with the lilac:

Primary colouration…

Compare the green sumac print (below) with the blue sumac print, iron-dipped, above. The next few samples were not treated with an iron dip.

Next post: Some of these same prints modified with iron and over-printed with sumac and coreopsis. Plus some embroideries, as promised last time, and lots of eco prints on paper using the same range of plants.




O To Be Eco Printing In England!

Above: Rhus typhina (Staghorn Sumac), quintessential plant of the Canadian landscape, sometimes known as “the Railway Plant” because is grows so freely along rail road embankments from coast to coast. Its red candles were used by Native Peoples of Canada to make a lemony tasting drink. The whole plant gives yellow or yellow-green dyes. I use the fresh green leaves for tannins in the mordanting of cellulose fibres, as well as for contact printing on paper (above) and textiles. The red berries or “candles” (dried or fresh) print a beautiful range of reds and pinks on paper and silk.

I am off to Britain, my native land, next week. I will be an exhibitor, presenter and workshop instructor at a festival and symposium organized by the The Gloucestershire Printmakiing Cooperative. I'll be taking a little of Canada back with me in my prints and Artist Books – both native plants and green immigrants.

IMPRESS International Printmaking Festival.

The festival takes place in the Cotswolds at various locations in and around Stroud, Cheltenham and Cirencester. Britain, China, Cuba, Peru and Canada among others will be represented. I am looking forward to meeting the plants I know well in Canada but in their native or adopted territory! Almost all the plants I have used for my prints so far can and do also grow in England. (See my reference pages for more info about plants to use) It will be an adventure to see how some of those same plants print in an English spring instead of an Ottawa summer and fall!

The Ottawa Gatineau Printmakers Connective (OGPC) is sending work by seven members who have been invited to explore the themes of “the land” and “native”. The title of the Canadian exhibit is“Landmarks”. Some OGPC members will also have work in the “Red Ink” exhibit. It will be very exciting to share with printmakers from so many different cultural traditions.

I'll be in the “alternative” printmaking stream of the festival.

1. Presentation and Demonstration

Saturday March 16 at 11:30 at the Art College of Stroud.

2. Master Class in Eco Printing

Monday March 18, 2013 from 9:30 – 4:00 at Griffin Mill studio of the Gloucestershire Printmakers Co op in Stroud.

3. Meet The Artists “Landmarks”

(Wendy Feldberg and Mary Baranowski Lowden)

Wednesday March 20, Corinium Museum, Cirencester (Sched TBD)

4. Printing and Design Workshop based on “Landmarks

Dry point, roller and sponge effects, monoprint with printing press

Tuesday March 26, 2-4:30, Corinium Museum, Cirencester

For the IMPRESS festival details: (“IMPRESS” tab)

For info about the symposium, classes and workshops:

Ottawa Gatineau Printmakers’ Connective exhibits etc. at IMPRESS

– “Landmarks” at the Corinium Museum, Cirencester

– “Red Ink” at the Gloucester Cathedral Cloisters

Ottawa Gatineau Printmakers Connective artists at the IMPRESS festival:

Leigh Archibald

Wendy Feldberg

Diedre Hierlihy

Mary Baranowski Lowden

Rosemarijn Oudejans

Debra Percival

Lynda Turner

My work at the festival:

Next posts:

Updates to previous posts and to my plant page, plus a new page about copyright!


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!


Slow Clothworks: curing, washing and rinsing eco prints

Arlee Barr’s eco-print washing-out adventures have inspired this post! Thank you to arlee the unvarnished.

A Spring 2012 review of my inventory revealed a box of vintage cottons and linens, eco printed in June 2011 and left to cure, unwashed and unrinsed until now, some twelve months later. The long curing, I must admit, was more by accident than by design because for the most part, I had simply let my June 2011 dyed and eco-printed textiles dry in the summer sun then washed them out right after that.

(And should I also admit “gloating over my hoard” instead of the slight fiction expressed in the above sanitized “review of my inventory”? With 30-odd years of the virus Academia in my blood, Strict Honesty, as in “Unvarnished and Unembellished Truth” dies hard, dear Readers. We need to have our answers ready for the question: What isTruth?)

Back to eco prints!

What would be the effects of long waiting before washing out? Would they lose the colour? and if so, how much? Last summer’s posts detailed the post-washing results for many similar linens and cottons mordanted, dyed and printed in the same manner.This week, a “cured” collection of eight met an (overly-thorough?) half capful of Synthrapol and two tablespoons of Orvus paste in a washing machine filled with cool water, set to two rinses.

Note that I normally unbundle my eco prints when cool, immediately after printing or dyeing, thus, so far, I have not let bundles “cure” before unwrapping.


The little stash was mordanted June 2011 by soaking (not cooking) in a classic (from the traditional dye lit.) three- step alum-tannin-alum sequence, with tannin from fresh sumac leaves, garden-gathered, simmered in water to cover, strained, then cooled. The alum was the food grade variety from Bulk Barn.

First was the preparation of the mordants: sumac-tannin mordant and alum, then the cool soaking period for each step of the mordanting – 24 hours at least for each -IOW, until I got around to the next step…

Indeed, the process was Slow. Could have been Slower, too, if I had let the bundles sit for some time before unwrapping.

Plant materials

The leaves for the eco prints were (variously) perennial geranium, Purple Sandcherry (prunus cistena) purple pansies, dried red rose petals (from rosebud tea), dried hibiscus petals (from hibiscus tea), willow leaves and sumac leaves. Most prints in this collection were obtained early in the season by steaming, while one 2011 leaf print was sumac-mordanted earlier then bundled and dyed in black walnut juice in September when walnuts were available. The sumac soak acted as both tannin mordant and as a light yellow-green dye, so the prints are all somewhat yellow-based. (FYI : A colour- free tannin mordant can be obtained as powder from Maiwa in Vancouver…In late fall, when I was out of fresh sumac juice, I switched to this second source of tannin..BTW, the tree barks I used in June 2011 were tannin rich too, but more on that in later posts.)

Here are some images showing the Before and After of the curing- washing-rinsing phases for this collection of Slow Cloths

1. Before: Willow leaf on linen (Black Walnut dye – note the bundling string marks plus the labels I wrote …you think you will remember the printing details? NO way…I write a quick set of material and process notes on a label and pin that to the cloth. Make your own labels or buy a box of manila ones)


Detail : a willow leaf print…

2. Before: Purple Sandcherry with one willow leaf.

The Before pic shows a deeper colouration than After, I think, so I see some loss of colour even after a year of curing in a box in the dark.But can we say more mellowing or a patina than a loss…(see what I mean about the way we can varnish the truth?)


3. Before: Purple Sandcherry and Perennial Geranium with purple pansy:

After: Some fading (truthful observation!) I think, but not major, and some “blooming” of other colours. That may have happened because another textile in the wash had been post-mordanted with iron.

4. Before: Sumac, hibiscus petals (dried), rose petals (dried), perennial geranium leaves and flowers. The dark speckles are dried rose bud petals which had pretty well pulverized in the tea. The pinks are from hibiscus, large dried petals from tea. Dabs of purple came from the geranium flowers.

After: A loss of the pinks and purples due to the iron in another textile washed with this one. Iron turns hibiscus pink to grey. I took a chance washing the collection together in one this colour change was a result I had anticipated.

5. A few details of another print, post-wash (no Before pic ): perennial geranium on sumac dyed cotton, I found little fading after washing. Amazingly strong print from the geranium.

More detailsl: layered prints.
The greens are from the P. Sandcherry which give both green and purple, depending in the time of year. Later in the season, post-June, I observed more and deeper purples, especially on silks. The darkest lace is from the rosebud tea prints. The vintage cottons and linens do indeed develop a kind of patina.

A last note from a lovely willow leaf, later in the season.

Next post: More on the eco printed stash as I prepare to select Art Cloth for the July show in Ottawa.



Eco prints with the last of the green garden…

Today in Ottawa we had the first big snowfall:









 …but just yesterday I decided to gather some of the last “green” garden plant leaves before the serious cold arrives to carry them off.  Baptisia, heuchera  (“Palace Purple”), culinary thyme, sage,  vinca, and of course, that faithful green stalwart, the rose. And one new idea for a print: the roots of the borage plant. (More on that below).  

These were placed on a  fragment of pre-mordanted vintage kimono silk lining (some handstitches still attached in broken thread, o the stories in the cloth…) then bundled over a thick piece of cherry wood, stripped of its bark, and steamed as usual for about an hour. Here is what emerged:

The heuchera leaves gave  the largest prints and look purplish in fact. The surprise of the bundle was the colour from the borage roots: a clear and undeniable purple,  those dots. I read in Dominique Cardon’s book  “Natural Dyes” that the borage family worldwide can give purple from its roots – and indeed the herb garden variety does exactly that! But its roots are so tiny in comparison to the size of the plant with its paddle-like leaves. Some  details of “Last Green”  :

The green print is from baptisia and the purple from both heuchera and borage roots (the dotty parts).

The panel

 Last note: Memories of summer green.

Some silk  scarves eco-printed with red cabbage (blues), tagetes (oranges and greens), coreopsis (rust-reds), sumac berries (rosy reds and dark pinks), chartreuse greens ( Black Eyed Susans). I edged the scarves with open stitches: no turned hems (except one), just narrow zig-zag or straight stitching.

Honour Roll for this post:

 Dominique Cardon, author of  “Natural Dyes: Sources, Tradition, Technology and Science” .

Next time: More adventures with eco printing eucalyptus.