19 July 2013

Ecoprinting, Canadian style

I’ve been working on some test ecoprints, as there is a workshop coming up in August at the Pegg Garden and I need to have some examples to show – and I need to know which plants will give us good results, too!

I’m basing my experiments on the information in India Flint’s wonderful book Eco Colour. The book is fabulous, but the author is based in Australia and our plants are, of course, quite different from the ones she has available.

This means experimentation is required. Oh, how tragic. ;)

Experiments with leaves and plain, untreated cotton were disappointing. Cotton really does require pretreatment to take up colour from plants very well, I see. I’ve got some more pieces of cotton that are being soaked in some premordanting, and then we’ll see how they work out.

Silk, though … silk loves plant colours. Silk is easy to dye: just put the plants on the fabric, wrap it up in a tight sausage shape, dampen the whole thing and leave it in a plastic bag for a month or so.

I bundled up a bunch of plants in silk while I was in Ontario – pictures are here. I was going to leave it bundled until the workshop in August, but the colours were very clearly set and I was worried that the plants might start to rot in our warm weather so I unbundled it today. Also, there is some treatment required for it to look good, and I wanted to have something pretty to show people who might be considering attending the workshop, and so … unbundling happened today.

Here’s what it looked like before I unwrapped it:

Photo 2013-07-19 4 17 18 PM

You can see that the silk has turned many shades of brown, and that the string it’s wrapped up in has been dyed completely chocolate brown.

Photo 2013-07-19 4 17 48 PM

Unrolled, you can see that the leaves and other plant bits have indeed turned into slimy bits, for the most part. There were still pinecones and chunks of cedar, and some of the maple leaves were “peelable” but mostly, the plant stuff had just disintegrated.

I brushed off what I could, and spread the cloth out on the floor:

Photo 2013-07-19 4 20 02 PM

See that green? That’s a maple seed: it sprouted! I stuck it in some dirt, I dunno if it’ll grow, but it’s worth a try.

The next step is to let it dry and press it with a hot iron and a pressing cloth.

Photo 2013-07-19 4 49 13 PM

The colours are set by the heat, and the longer I can leave it now before washing, the better the colourfastness.

I unwrapped another small piece of silk that I had rolled up a few days ago, this one had ‘ditch weeds’ in it: clover, dandelions, alfalfa, vetch, and some yellow something or other that grows in the ditches here. I only left it for a few days, dampened and rolled tightly then put in a plastic bag on a window ledge, and the colours came out quite yellow and green, instead of brown:

Photo 2013-07-19 4 44 38 PM

There are a few spots where the plants didn’t make any marks, and a few where the purple flowers stained the fabric darker, but mostly it’s an interesting mix of greens and yellows.

Here are the two pieces after ironing:

Photo 2013-07-19 5 10 55 PM

I think that if I’d unwrapped the Ontario one earlier, I’d have had more greens and yellows – possibly even some purple from the flower heads, but of course I can’t be sure. More experimentation is in order! I did see a couple of small holes in the fabric, so perhaps a whole month was a bit too long, or perhaps something got in there and munched on the silk, I am not sure. I can work around it, of course, but it’s interesting to note.

I have another length of premordanted cotton (with alum and then milk) in the steamer today, it’s wrapped around dock (which is high in oxalic acid) and pineapple weed (which is just interesting), so we’ll see what happens with that – it was looking like there was green and brown coming through as it steamed, so I expect to get some good colour from that. I also have a length of silk wrapped around various leaves (poplar, willow, saskatoon, wild rose) and some weeds (goldenrod, and some small plant with leaves that look like the ones on maple trees), so we’ll see what that does. Both of those got a bit of time in the steamer, and then will sit on the window ledge for a few days until I see signs that they might be ready for pressing.

It’s an interesting adventure, to be sure – I will be at the Pegg Garden on Sunday so I will take some collection bags with me and hopefully pick up some flowers and other plant material so I can do a few more tests … there are some interesting techniques for dyeing with flowers that I want to try!

If you are interested in coming to the Pegg Garden workshop (August 25, 2013) you can register by contacting the Garden – information is on the right hand side of their web page, here. Hope to see you there!


  1. Anonymous7:56 pm

    Well isn't that interesting. Since dad and I were part of the adventure here in Ont it is nice to see what happened! Children would love this activity! And Sunday at the Pegg looks very interesting too - enjoy that Irish music and the pancake brunch!
    Keep trying new things - life is an adventure to be enjoyed!

  2. This is fascinating stuff, Lonna. I will be very interested in seeing the final results.


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