How to eco print on cotton t shirts

Hi Creative Mamas! Welcome to another exciting tutorial on eco printing on fabric. In this post I will show you how to eco print on cotton t-shirts.

You can use eco printing techniques to upcycle and transform old clothes, thrift buys, old linen or you can start from a clean new cotton t-shirt or piece of fabric.

a cotton t-shirt printed using eco printing techniques

Eco printing t-shirt Tutorial

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Materials and equipment

Best leaves and flowers for eco printing

The first thing is to choose your leaves and flowers. You can use fresh leaves and flowers as well as dried.

I made this print in the middle of winter so I used dried eucalyptus and dried liquidambar leaves.

You can get eucalyptus leaves all year round but mine were picked on the same autumn day as I collected the liquidambar leaves and were kept drying in between the pages of a book.

I am also using dried marigold flowers. I have printed many t-shirts using maple leaves and black walnut as well.

flowers such as pansies and marigolds which I will use for eco printing on fabric

There are many factors to consider when choosing your plant materials for eco printing. You can download your FREE list of best eco printing plants by completing the form below.

Mordants for eco printing

The next step is to prepare your t-shirt for eco printing.

Before you even start the eco printing process you must scour (clean) and mordant your garment.

For this tutorial I put the t- shirt through a regular washing machine cycle to make sure there were no residues of dust that would prevent the natural dyes from adhering properly.

It’s also very important to mordant the fabric so I used a combination of alum and ferrous sulphate mordants because I wanted to bring up the darker tones from these leaves.

I am using the ferrous sulphate as an iron modifier to react with the tannin of the leaves.

I used 1% WOF (weight of fiber) of ferrous sulphate and 25% of Alum Acetate.

To get detailed instructions on mordanting check The Ultimate Guide to Natural Dyeing under the Mordanting section.

mordanting bath for cotton t shirts

Once you complete the mordanting process you are ready to start eco printing on your t- shirt!

Eco printing with dried leaves and flowers

Since I am using dried plants I immersed them in warm water for 5 minutes before using them.

This little step is important to rehydrate them.

Place your wet t shirt straight from the mordanting bath onto your working surface.

Press it flat to remove big bubbles of air.

Place the leaves and flowers on it as shown in photo. Make sure to leave empty space since we are going to use folds to create mirror images.

placing leaves and flowers on top of a cotton t shirt for printing

Once you are happy with the design, fold the bottom edge of the t- shirt to cover the plants.

placing leaves and flowers on top of a cotton t shirt for printing, then folding the t shirt in half to create a mirror image

Now fold the top edge downwards as shown in photo.

 folding the t shirt in half to create a mirror image of leaves and flowers which are sandwiched in between the fabric layers for eco printing

Press really tightly.

The next step is to place a plastic barrier. I use and re use plastic rubbish bags.

Cut the rubbish bags into rectangles before using and rinse well after each use. You can re use constantly and avoid the over use of plastic within your eco printing practice 🙂

Using barriers in eco printing

As you can see my plastic bags are dyed from previous uses but that’s ok. If there is any transfer of dye it will be all blended in and I love this effect anyway.

placing a plastic barrier on top of a t shirt for eco printing

So cover the folded t-shirt completely and place your wooden rod or plastic pipe on one end.

Start rolling your bundle.

rolling a eco print bundle

Press tightly as you roll.

rolling a eco print bundle

Tie using string or long strips of fabric. I cut old t-shirts and I use them as ties.

placing the eco printed bundles inside a steamer

Place your bundle inside the steamer and steam for 1 hour.

After 1 hour, remove away from the stove, remove from steamer and let the bundle rest overnight.

unbundling an eco printed t shirt

Unbundle carefully and remove the plants one at a time.

removing the leaves and flowers from the t shirt after the eco print process is finished

Rinse the t-shirt in warm water and then give it a gentle wash using a wools delicate soap.

Hang to dry.

finished eco printed cotton t- shirt

This is the t-shirt’s front which was were the plants were placed.

close up detail finished eco printed cotton t- shirt

This is the t-shirt’s back which got printed through the layers of fabric touching each other.

Note: If you don’t want to have any prints on the back you can place a plastic barrier in between the back and the front of the t- shirt to avoid any ghost printing.

close up detail of the back of the finished eco printed cotton t- shirt

The photo below shows the t-shirt washed and pressed. The dried leaves are the ones I used in this project.

eco printed t shirt on a mannequin and a bunch of dried leaves which were used to print the t shirt

Eco printing on sustainable fabrics (such as silk chiffon, fair trade cotton or organic cotton) is a great way to make special gifts without harmful chemicals.

Some of my students have gone off to create small businesses making organic baby clothes and accessories such as tote bags and scarves.

I hope you have enjoyed this tutorial! If you like making your own tote bags you will love this eco printed drawstring bag tutorial, this eco printed (using blankets) shoulder bag and this DIY purse!

You can check out more upcycling using eco printing ideas here.

Eco printing with eucalyptus leaves

I love collecting eucalyptus leaves for eco printing and for natural dyeing. It’s a very generous plant dye material and a little goes a long way!

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