Fabric Printing With Natural Dyes

Hi Creative Mamas! Welcome to this new post about yet another way to practice the beautiful art of natural dyeing. This time I will show you how to do fabric printing using natural dyes that are around you.

This method of fabric printing is very similar to Bundle Dyeing but the difference is that you steam the fabric instead of submerging it in a dye bath.

fabric printing with natural dyes

What is fabric printing with natural dyes?

Also called Eco printing, fabric printing with natural dyes is a way to extract the dye from flowers, leaves, rusty nails or food waste such as onion skins or tea bags and transfer their shape into a piece of fabric by using pressure and heat.

What are good natural dyes for fabric printing?

I love using what I have around me. I always tell my students that natural dyeing and fabric printing gives us a vehicle to interact with nature and to connect with the local environment around us. Therefore, I always use what I have at hand which means using in season flowers, perennial leaves, food waste and rusty elements.

These include:

  • Leaves: Eucalyptus leaves, Avocado leaves, Liquidambar leaves, rose leaves
  • Flowers: Geraniums, Marigolds, Dyers Chamomiles, Pohutukawa flower (from New Zealand)
  • Food waste: Onion skin, left over coffee grind, used black tea bags
  • Rust: Rusty nails, rusty wire, rusty keys, anything flat and rusty works well

For this tutorial I will be using Iron Water Solution as a mordant and as a dye as well. You can read more about how to use iron water in natural dyeing here and you can download the FREE PDF Iron water solution Recipe by completing the form below.

What are the best fabrics to use for fabric printing?

The best results will always be obtained from protein fibers such as wool fabric and silk. However you can obtain really good results from cotton and linen but you may need a different pre mordant method or solution to prepare your fiber to receive color.

How long does the fabric printing process take?

This is the best part. Fabric printing with natural dyes is a quick method in itself. It will take you one hour from start to finish. I use it a lot to test new plants.

I use this fabric printing method to test if a flower or a leave will yield a good color before I go through the long process of naturally dyeing a piece of fabric with the hot dyeing method.  

So lets get started with a step by step tutorial!

Fabric Printing Tutorial

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Materials and equipment

  • Silk or wool fabric (I typically use an old op shop blanket)
  • Iron water solution (You can find the FREE PDF Iron water solution Recipe for you to donwload at the bottom of this post)
  • Leaves from Roses or Eucalyptus tree (my favorites!). But you can use any type of leaves since we are using iron water and this will create the print.
  • String
  • Steamer
  • White vinegar solution (Dissolve 1 cup of white vinegar in 1 cup of water. (This is the ratio you can make as much solution as you need)

Before we start through the process of fabric printing we need to make the iron water solution.

What is Iron Water?

Iron water can be used as a pre mordant and a post mordant to act as a colour modifier. In this case we will use the Iron Water as a mordanting solution to enhance the shape of the leaves.

The idea is that the iron will stick to the leave and in contact with the fabric it will open the fiber enough to receive the dye from the leave.

In consequence it will change the color of the leave to a darker tone, in the greys or even black tones.

Best way to make an iron water solution?

You need:

  • Rusty nails
  • Sealable jar
  • White vinegar, 1 cup
  • Water, 1 cup

Place the small rusty nail objects inside a sealable jar. Pour water and white vinegar to cover the objects. Cover the jar and leave for at least 3 weeks 

Download your FREE PDF Iron water solution Recipe by completing the form below.

Step 1:

Damp your silk or wool fabric with the white vinegar solution. You can either submerge the cloth is a bucket filled with the liquid or you can pour the white vinegar solution in a spray bottle and spray the fabric while is lying flat. 

fabric print vinegar solution

Step 2:

Place your leaves inside the iron water solution for twenty seconds each leave. You can experiment leaving the leaves for different lengths of time as well.

Step 3:

Place the dampened leaves on the silk or wool cloth. Place them underside facing your fabric, which is the side of the leave that will yield the most color. Make sure you leave plenty of white room around each leave so that the print becomes a clear one.

Step 4:

Place another piece of damped silk or wool cloth on top of the cloth with leaves. Press with your hands until all air bubbles are gone. Start rolling the fabric very tightly. When you get to the end secure with a piece of string all around the little bundle. Make sure that the string is very tight. 

fabric printing on silk

Step 5:

Place little bundle in a  steamer and steam for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. After that remove bundle from the steaming pot and leave to dry.

Once its dry, open the little bundle and voila! You should have the printed shape of your leaves in a grey/black tone due to the use of the iron water.

fabric print steamer

The big reveal! The photo bellow shows the result on the process described in the above steps. I hope you love it and that you go ahead and give it a go 🙂

fabric printing

Can I combine fabric printing with other natural dyeing methods?

Yes! Fabric printing is the base method used in Bundle dyeing. You can explore bundle Dyeing as well as Solar Dyeing and all other methods of natural dyeingEco printing in paper is also a fantastic activity to do with kids as well as Hapa – Zome method which will keep your kids entertained for a long time during a long weekend or the school holidays!

2 thoughts on “Fabric Printing With Natural Dyes”

    • So happy to hear that, feel free to ask me any questions that you may have regarding these tutorials 🙂


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