How to use eco printing blankets

How to use blankets for eco printing

Hi Creative Mamas, I am so excited to share with you my love for eco printing using different types of blankets. 

Iron blankets, dye blankets (color blankets) or Logwood carrier blankets, allows us to create a wide variety of effects in different fabrics and they are another great creative avenue within the natural dyeing world.

In this article I will show you some of the printing effects that are available to us by using this technique. 

image of an eco printed cotton fabric created by using an iron blanket using oak leaves, coreopsis and silver dollar leaves

What Are Eco Printing Blankets

Eco printing blankets are carrier cloths. Each blanket is a piece of fabric which has been immersed in a dye solution such as cochineal dye solution or onion skins dye bath (in the case of a dye color blanket) or iron solution (in the case of an iron blanket). 

The blanket fabric can be a piece of old cotton linen or a piece of old wool blanket which is placed on top of your target fabric to create some serious botanical printing magic! 

image of two eco printed cotton fabrics created by using an iron blanket using cosmos flowers, goldenrod and silver dollar leaves

Eco printing on fabric using blankets

The technique involves laying out your selected plant material onto the target fabric, followed by the strategic placement of the eco printing blanket and then rolling them together.

The magic happens during the steaming process. It’s during this transformative stage that the blankets work their magic.

Think of them as alchemists, quietly influencing the color migration and blending to craft unique, unpredictable botanical prints on your choice of natural fibers. 

This method allows us to get super creative and to use blankets which carry different types of colors and solutions such as iron blankets or dye blankets. 

If you want access my FREE Webinar training on How To use Eco Printing BLANKETS you can sign up here!

a collage of images of fabrics which have been eco printed by using color dye blankets and iron blankets.

Types of Eco Printing Blankets

In the diverse realm of eco printing, the blankets we choose lay the foundation for remarkable textures and hues.

Each type of blanket lends a unique touch to the process, influencing the way botanical prints transfer their delicate patterns onto the fabric.

I want to share with you the effects that you get from using my 3 favorite types of eco printing blankets.  

  • Iron Blankets: These involve soaking fabric in iron water or solution to assist in achieving deeper and darker botanical prints. Iron serves to intensify the pigments from the plants, producing a range of shades from soft grays to robust blacks.
  • Dye Blankets: These rely on the use of natural dyes. These blankets infuse the target piece with bright and vibrant color. A dye blanket can include the likes of natural pigments and dyes, producing different effects and additional color to the fabric.
  • Logwood Carrier Blankets: Specifically geared for adding a purple hue, these wool or silk fabric pieces are used with logwood, yielding an array of purples to black.

NOTE: Blankets composed of natural fibers, such as silk, wool, and even old cotton sheets, are not mere carriers for the prints.

They interact with the eco printing elements and create specific effects and reactions. This is the reason why using blankets in your eco printing practice can be so surprising and satisfying!!!!

Iron Blankets

Iron blankets is one of my favorite techniques in eco printing. It involves placing a unique layer of cloth which is soaked in an iron water or solution on top of your target fabric piece.

The blanket reacts with the tannins in the plant materials as well as with the tannin mordanted target fabric.

Note: some people refer to this technique as tannin blanket but it’s actually the reaction between the iron solution and the tannin mordanted fabrics that create the stunning prints.

a a piece of cotton fabric mordanted with tannin, it has plants on top and there is a bowl filled with an iron solution

This reaction is the secret behind the stunning, darker prints that emerge from the eco printing process.

You simply lay out your chosen plant material on the fabric and the addition of an iron blanket sets the stage for a chemical transformation that creates intriguing visual effects.

The use of the iron blanket on cellulose fabrics such as tightly woven cotton fabrics is the most successful, in my opinion. 

Creating an iron solution involves dissolving ferrous sulfate in water or making your own iron water with rusty nails. Make sure you are wearing globes when you are handling iron solution because it can stain and irritate your skin.

When fabric and foliage come together, sandwiched between the soaked blankets (as shown in photo below), I’m setting up a stage for oxidation to perform its magic.

an iron blanket placed on top of a piece of cotton fabric mordanted with tannin. Plants are sandwiched in between the iron blanket and the cotton fabric.

It’s an artful way of tapping into the science of iron’s affinity with tannins, an interaction that turns ordinary leaf prints into rich, earthy tones that are as durable as they are beautiful.

I like to handle the iron blankets with care, knowing their potency can easily sway the final outcome of my prints.

Iron blankets will shift colors and shades, it will turn a delicate yellow to a deep olive or turning a soft brown into a near-black depth.

Each placement of the iron-rich layer offers a chance at a different effect, a personal touch that makes each creation unique.

As I rinse off the fabric and reveal the transformed plant prints, the iron blanket’s role becomes unmistakably clear: it’s an artist’s tool for tinting, shading, and giving life to otherwise unexplored tones on natural fibers.

These are some of the results that you can get by eco printing with iron blankets in a variety of cotton fabrics.

The fabric below was printing using different plants such as liquidambar leaves, silver dollar leaves and oak leaves.

a piece of cotton fabric which was eco printed using an iron blanket to create prints of liquidambar leaves, oak leaves and silver dollar leaves.

The 2 fabrics below was printing using liquidambar leaves, silver dollar leaves and oak leaves as well as coreopsis flowers.

a piece of cotton fabric which was eco printed using an iron blanket to create prints of coreopsis flowers, liquidambar leaves,and silver dollar leaves.

The fabric above is the actual result on the iron blanket piece and the fabric below is the result on the fabric target piece.

the final target piece of cotton fabric which was eco printed using an iron blanket to create prints of coreopsis flowers, liquidambar leaves,and silver dollar leaves.

Dye Blankets

Ok, so now lets talk Dye Blankets which have become my usual way to print in the middle of winter using rose leaves (when I don’t have any fresh leaves to work with).

Choosing a dye blanket is like selecting a brush for a canvas; it must complement the intended effect. Each dye blanket has a quality of its own and I encourage you to choose any dye from the list of natural dyes that I recommend here.

Some eco printers like to use procion dyes but I always use my usual natural dyes such as madder root, cochineal, onion skins and brazilwood.

The color dye blankets are placed on top of the target piece and the plant material and once it has gone through the steaming process the color transfers permanently onto the target fabric.

placinga  color dye blanket on top of a piece of cotton fabric. the dye blanket is made out of madder dye and the plants sandwiched in between are rose leaves and oak leaves.

I love mixing bright natural color with prints. As I mentioned above, this is my go to technique in winter and rose leaves are available from the flower shops and the grocery stores all year round.

You can easily mix flowers and dried leaves as well.

Here are some of the effects that you can create on different fabrics. The fabric below is a piece of silk which was printed using eucalyptus leaves and liquidambar leaves and a cochineal blanket.

a piece of silk which has been printed using a cochineal blanket. The plants used are eucalyptus leaves

The fabric below are silks which were printed using African daisies, rose leaves and liquidambar leaves. I used madder root and brazilwood as my natural dyes to create the color dye blankets.

silk fabrics printed using color dye blankets (madder root dye and brazilwood dye)

The fabric below is cotton and I used rose leaves and African daisies as well. The color dye blanket is madder root dye.

cotton fabrics printed using color dye blankets (madder root dye )

The narrow piece of fabric is 100% wool (from old woolen blankets) and I used rose leaves and madder root as well.

silk and wool fabrics printed using color dye blankets (madder root dye)

Nothing is static in the realm of dye blankets. In my opinion they are fabulous and I love to use them in winter.

Note: You can get so creative with natural dye color blankets but it’s important that you understand the world of natural dyes before getting super experimental with this technique.

For information about natural dyeing processes and techniques read this comprehensive guide.

Logwood Carrier Blanket

Diving into the realm of eco printing, I find the logwood carrier blanket to be another fantastic technique in my practice.

This blanket isn’t your typical fabric layer—it’s a dedicated layer for infusing fabrics with the deepest of purples. Created with logwood extract, a natural dye obtained from the heartwood of the logwood tree, this blanket acts as a medium, transferring rich hues onto the target piece.

I use it to achieve color effects ranging from soft lavenders and browns to intense dark purples and charcoal greys.

Here are some examples of the effects that you can achieve using this technique. The fabrics below are a piece of silk (left) eco printed using eucalyptus leaves, silver dollar leaves and liquidambar leaves.

The right fabric is linen using oak leaves and eucalyptus leaves.

silk fabric eco printed using a logwood carrier blanket. the color turned out brown

The fabric below is silk was printed using the same leaves as above. As you can see, different ways of using the logwood blankets will provide you with different color effects. In this case I got an almost black color. It’s super exciting!!!!

silk fabric eco printed using a logwood carrier blanket. the color turned out black

In the photo below you can see pieces of cotton fabrics dyed with logwood. I wanted you to appreciate the intensity of this natural dye and why it makes for such a great choice when using blankets.

The fabric on the right is cotton and I used a rainbow type of effect when applying the blanket.

cotton fabrics dyed using logwood dye. Another piece of cotton fabric eco printed using a logwood carrier blanket. the color turned out brown

What Types of Fabrics Are Used as Blankets

In the fascinating world of eco printing, our choice of fabrics to use as blankets plays a key role in the final appearance of our botanical prints.

Wool fabric is a favorite among eco printers. This is due in part to wool’s protein fiber makeup, which has a natural affinity for bonding with dye molecules. The fuzziness of wool also creates a sort of cushion around the plant material, yielding clearer impressions on the target piece underneath.

Another popular option is to use a piece of cotton such as old cotton sheets, treasured for their absorbency and availability.

Their cellulose fibers wick moisture and carry the eco print dyes effectively, transferring intricate leaf prints and capturing nuanced shades from the botanicals.

Upcycling these cotton sheets not only reduces waste but it provides an excellent eco printing canvas full of surprises.

As part of having a sustainable practice I am always trying to find ways to transform and recycle what I already have as part of my eco printing and dyeing materials.

Below you can see my used and re used color blankets (I have another lot of iron blankets as well) which are my old linen sheets, and I also re use all plastics that come into our home as my eco printing barriers.

some recycled dye color blankets, eco printing plastic barriers and cotton string

Another choice is to use old silk scarves as blankets but I don’t really use them since I find it to be too expensive.

Mordants

They are substances used to set dyes on fabrics, ensuring the longevity of prints and vibrancy of colors. Most commonly, alum is used as a mordant due to its effectiveness and minimal environmental impact.

Mordants are used to prepare natural fibers like silk and cotton. They create a bond between the fabric and the dye, which is crucial for eco printing.

The process starts by soaking the fabric in a mordant solution, essentially opening up the fibers to receive the plant-based dyes. This step secures the print to the material and resists fading over time.

Mordants can alter colors in fascinating ways, turning the ordinary into something unique. For example, iron mordant adds depth and darkness to botanical prints, giving them an aged, vintage look.

It deepens blues, greys, and blacks, enhancing the definition of each leaf print. I love seeing how each mordant transforms simple plant extracts into robust hues. Mordants are essential in natural dyeing, providing an anchor for the dyes to cling to.

All natural fibers have an affinity for different mordants, and as an eco printing enthusiast, it’s a joy to experiment with various combinations. It’s not just about adhering the dye; mordants can drastically change the outcome of your prints.

Iron will give you one effect, alum another, and there are many more to explore.

You can read all about mordants and their application in eco printing here and for a comprehensive guide to mordants you can check out this article.

I hope you have enjoyed this article and feel free to ask me any questions that you may have 🙂

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eco printed fabrics using iron blanket and color dye blanket

4 thoughts on “How to use eco printing blankets”

  1. Thank you so much for this info on dye blankets. I’m doing a test now with a piece of flannel and just tried with my jacquard red label silk dye for the blanket test. I’ll see how it transfers….I wasn’t sure how wet the blanket should be, if wet at all. I’m assuming no too wet or the dye will migrate under the leaves before bundling tight for steaming.

    And I wasn’t sure about how much dye to try…we’ll see what happens after steaming. Do paper towels actually work ?

    Thanks so much for all your useful info

    Robert in Montréal

    Reply
    • Hi Robert, ooohhh I am curious about the results! So the blanket is usually wet but not dripping wet, like you say, otherwise it would bleed in between the plants and the fabric. I use blankets only with natural dyes so the blankets are dyed inside a natural dye bath for at least one hour at an appropriate ratio for the color I want to get and then straight onto being a blanket for the eco printing bundle 🙂 does this make sense?

      Reply

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