Hi Creative Mamas! Welcome to this Beginner’s Guide to Eco Printing on Fabric. As you probably know by now I absolutely love playing around with natural dyes and natural pigments to create botanical prints and beautiful natural colors.
Eco printing techniques allow us to take the knowledge we have on natural dyeing and apply it in a very creative and experimental way.
In this post I want to introduce you to the world of eco printing on fabric and I want to share with you what is actually possible through experimenting and getting creative with this method of eco dyeing.
Have a look at these beautiful DIY bags that are made with eco printed silk from The Eco Printing on Fabric Video Course.
Download your FREE List of the best 30 plants to eco print
Eco printing on fabric
Botanical prints on fabric are created in a similar way as the botanical prints on paper. However, when eco printing on fabric there are a few things that are important to note:
- The prints must not wash away
- The prints need to be colorfast and not fade away when exposed to the sun
- The fabric needs to last, this means being careful with the use of iron solution (ferrous sulfate) and any other substance that may deteriorate the fiber and damage it.
Eco printing on natural fibers
As with natural dyeing, you must always use natural fibers such as:
- 100% cotton
- 100% linen
- 100% silk
- 100% wool
- 100% leather
- any mixed fiber blend (30%silk, 70%cotton)
In order to confirm if your fibers are 100% natural you can perform a burn test. It’s super quick and easy!
Silk, wool and leather are protein fibers and need to be mordanted and scoured in a different way than cotton and linen which are cellulose fibers.
Mordants in eco printing
You need to work with mordanted fabric as in any other form of natural dyeing. As with all natural processes there are some rules to follow such as mordanting the fabrics and using the appropriate dye plants.
For protein fibers I only use Alum Sulfate as a mordant. It’s very eco friendly and gives the best results as far as I am concerned.
For cellulose fibers I only use Alum Acetate in combination with Soda Ash. This is a longer process than with protein fibers but it will give you the best results.
You can read all about how I use mordants in my natural practice here.
Plant material/ plant dyes
Choosing the right leaves and flowers is the most important part of getting started with eco printing.
If you are printing with flowers that have no dye in them it will be a waste of time. The same goes for leaves.
Some leaves have beautiful dye qualities and they are high in tannins which make them perfect for eco printing. Others will not provide any prints at all.
Get the FREE Eco printing plant list
Leaves and flowers
For a detailed post about the best dye plants to use in eco printing check out this article. I tend to use different plants for different projects and techniques.
I grow my own botanical dyes such as coreopsis, dyer’s chamomiles and marigold flowers. These flowers deliver the most bright yellow prints ever! I just love printing with them.
For leaves I tend to go for eucalyptus leaves, oak leaves, red maple leaves and liquidambars. I like using these plants because they have high tannin content.
They are also readily available to me in my environment but check out the FREE list of 30 plants you can choose from.
Eco printing on silk fabric
I get the best eco prints when I am using silk. This fiber takes the natural dyes beautifully and if you scour and mordant the fabric correctly you will achieve vibrant colors and beautiful textiles.
The photo below shows an example of a thin silk habotai printed using coreopsis flowers and eucalyptus leaves from New Zealand (there are many different varieties of eucalyptus and they all yield different tones and colors)
Eco printing on cotton fabric
The photo below shows a print made on cotton fabric using liquidambar leaves and dyer’s chamomile flowers. I used an iron dip for this print so there is a bit of black and the flowers turned from yellow to green.
However, you can easily appreciate how the prints are a bit more muted and less bright than the one obtained in silk.
Eco printing on wool fabric
I also love using wool fabric to print with. I like to upcycle old woolen blankets which I usually get from thrift stores.
The photo below illustrates an old woolen blanket that was printed in one of my live eco printing workshops using avocado leaves alone.
As you can see the texture of the fabric provides an interesting canvas for the print.
Eco printing process with iron blanket
Using an iron blanket is a great way to obtain different effects from the same plants. Basically a blanket is a carrier.
The idea is that you lay a piece of fabric. You then place your plant material on top of it. Finally you place another piece of fabric which is carrying the iron and you place it on top.
The blanket or carrier will transfer its color or modifier quality during the steaming process to the target piece.
When working with iron, I actually prefer using it as a dip as in the photo above. The photo below shows cotton fabric which was exposed to an iron blanket.
Eco printing with color blankets
Color blankets follow the same process as the iron blankets. The only difference is that rather than transferring the color modifying qualities of iron they transfer color.
I print with color blankets using natural dyes and the results are amazing!!!!
The photo below shows a print created using a cochineal color blanket.
The photo below illustrates the results that can be achieved by combining blankets and dips.
Natural dyes and eco print
Over the last couple of years I have developed my own signature way of eco printing by combining it with what I love most: Natural Dyeing.
I created a process of mixed media that allows me to combine traditional natural dyeing methods with solar power dyeing and eco printing.
This is probably one of my favorite pieces but when you work with mixed media there is no limit to what you can achieve 🙂
Fresh leaves or dry leaves?
I use both, dry and fresh leaves and flowers. I know that some printers recommend only using fresh but in my experience I always get good results with both.
If you like to collect leaves for later use, I recommend that you keep them inside book so that they dry flat.
The other thing to consider is to hydrate your leaves and flowers just before using them for printing. I use clear water and that gives me the best results.
The most important thing in eco printing is choosing the right plants to work with so make sure you download your FREE plants list to get you started in eco printing straight away 🙂
Eco print fabrics from my students
I hope you are super excited to learn more about eco printing! Check out the work of my star students!
These are some of Sassy’s prints. She created a few eco print samplers and then she eco printed a tote bag for her sister! I hear it was very well received 🙂
This is some of Alison’s work. She has a passion for printing on old linen clothes so she upcycles her garments by eco printing them.
She is super creative and never stops innovating!
Another way to create botanical prints is through bundle dyeing method. This is a way to eco print with color splashes and irregular forms rather than with outlined leaves and flowers.
Check out how to do bundle dyeing, you can use onion skins and iron water in combination with different flowers and leaves. It’s a very experimental way of dyeing silk scarves!
Pin this tutorial to your favorite Pinterest board
Please reach out with any questions that you may have!