Tips for eco printing on fabric

Hi Creative Mamas! Today I want to share some of my best tips for eco printing on fabric in order to get best results.

These tips and tricks are based on my own personal experience with this beautiful natural and sustainable textile printing practice as well as with natural dyeing.

There are many eco printing techniques and I cover most of them in the Eco Printing on Fabric Video Course as shown in the photo below, but today I want to share some general best practices so that you can get amazing bright and colorful botanical prints every time!

A visual of a variety of different eco printing techniques on fabric. These prints were made with iron blankets, tannin and natural dyes using leaves and flowers.

Eco printing tips

Ok, let’s go through the best 10 tips to get great eco prints on fabric!

#1- Eco printing leaves and flowers

Choosing the best eco printing leaves and flowers is super important! There is no point going through the effort of making an eco printed bundle unless you know that the natural plant dyes that you are working with will yield good results.

I have written an extensive article about which are the best plants for eco printing. You can also download the FREE Eco printing plant list by completing the form below!

Be sure to start your eco printing practice with at least one leaf and one flower from the suggested list.

Can you use dry leaves for eco printing?

Yes, absolutely, you can use dry leaves or flowers as well as fresh leaves or flowers.

If you are using dried leaves make sure that you dry them flat and that you re hydrate them inside a bowl of water just before eco printing.

You can also mix in some white vinegar into the cold water.

The photo below shows a print which I made using very dry silver dollar leaves (brown print to the left). The blue flower print is from a pansy flower which was fresh.

As you can see they both gave me equally good prints.

a piece of silk eco printed with silver dollar eucalyptus and pansy flower

#2 Natural fabrics

Choosing 100% natural fabric is paramount! In order to know if your fibers are natural you can perform a quick burn test.

Cellulose fibers such as cotton and linen will print differently to protein fibers such as wool fabric and silk.

The photo below shows the same silver dollar leaves that I used in the print above but in this case I printed on cotton.

As you can see, on the cotton fabric, the silver dollar print has a tint of blue, while on the silk fabric (photo above), the same leaves gave me a very dark chocolate brown color.

I used the same printing technique for both eco prints.

a piece of cotton eco printed with onion skin dye and eucalyptus

Eco printing is very experimental and prints will vary from bundle to bundle. One thing is for sure, you are guaranteed very different results based on the fabric you use.

The photo below shows a print which was done on cotton fabric with a very open weave. It results on a very different eco print.

You get a beautiful outline but usually you loose the defined detail that you can get from tightly woven cottons.

a piece of cotton eco printed with an iron blanket and a maple leaf

#3 Wash your fabrics

Removing oils and chemicals from your fabrics will make or brake your botanical prints. You must wash them with a neutral PH soap.

Have a look at the scouring section in the ultimate guide to natural dyeing for detailed instructions.

Please note that there are different ways of scouring your fabrics based on the type of natural fibers that you are using.

Be sure to take the time to wash your fibers properly before printing them.

#4 Mordant your fabrics

You must also mordant your fibers. I like to use Alum as my go to mordant. You can also play around with tannins and iron mordants. I cover these techniques in the Eco Printing on Fabric Video course.

You can check out how to mordant your fabrics according to its natural composition in the mordanting section of this guide.

I don’t usually use soy milk.

mordanting fabric inside a stainless steel bowl

#5 Use barriers

A barrier is a piece of plastic or paper that you place on top of your fabric before rolling it into a tight bundle.

This will avoid the prints bleeding through the layers of rolled fabric.

You can experiment making some prints without a barrier and see the cool effects that you can also get from ghost prints! they can be surprisingly beautiful!

#6 Make tight eco print bundles

Making tight bundles is super important as well.

You will get clearer prints, more defined and more intense if your bundle is tightly pressed.

making a tight eco printing bundle using silk and a sunflower

#7 Try different eco printing techniques

Eco printing on fabric allows for many different techniques. They are all super fun and you can also get super creative if you have a handle on how natural dyes work.

I love bundle dyeing for making silk scarves. This is an effective way to also use old silks found in thrift stores.

I also love the variety that a basic eco print technique can deliver. You can enhance these basic prints by adding iron dips.

The photo below shows a piece of cotton which was printed by using an iron blanket.

an old cotton sheet eco printed using an iron blanket, coreopsis flowers and oak leaves

#8 Eco printing with blankets

Eco printing with blankets is super fun and very satisfying! I love using a dye blanket method as in the photo below.

a dye blanket eco printed piece of silk

You can also use simple iron blankets or combine color blankets with iron (which will react beautifully with high tannin content leaves) to create a wider variety of color and interest.

The photo below shows a piece of silk printed using a logwood blanket in combination with iron. Just beautiful!

a piece of silk eco printed using a logwood blanket in combination with iron.

#9 Steaming times

You can play around with different steaming times. The golden rule in my book is a minimum of 30 minutes and a maximum of 90 minutes.

These times can be adjusted based on your own experience over time.

I find that less than 30 minutes doesn’t allow for enough time for the plants to transfer and more than 90 minutes can create a blurry print due to too much steam/water exposure.

a steamer pot on top of a stainless steel pot.

#10 Boiling times

I only like to use the boiling method if I am bundle dyeing. Also I usually add plant material to the dye bath that I use for boiling, similar to what is commonly know as the dirty pot method.

I love using different plants such as eucalyptus leaves or black walnut dye.

I hope you have enjoyed these tips! The best way to obtain great results in eco dyeing and eco printing is to try different things and to experiment.

Make sure you are always working with natural materials and that you enjoy the beautiful natural colors that you can get from this type of printing.

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