Ecoprinting, or plant printing, is a process consisting of several steps. The first step is to go into the nature.
In the nature that surrounds us, there are many plants of different sizes, shapes and colours. Of course, not all plants are suitable for plant printing, but experimenting with different plants is the best way to find out which ones are good for printing and which are not. Each season has its own charm, and the results of printing with plants (ecoprinting) are also different. Plant printing can be done in the spring with the buds of the maple leaves that have just opened, and in autumn, with the colourful fallen leaves.
On the already cool autumn days of October, colours can still be found everywhere. Bogs and the beach grass have a golden glow. In my home place, on the western coast of Estonia, the autumnal junipers are deep green, and their bluish berries can be seen from far away. The autumnal garden is also colourful — you can see different shades from yellow to purple and those in the form of berries, flowers and leaves.
Be sure to familiarise yourself with the list of protected plants before picking up any plants so that you do not accidentally harm the nature in any way. Printing with plants gives you an opportunity to work with plants all year round, walk in the forest or in your garden and see things from a different perspective. Pick up a couple of leaves from the ground, lay them on the fabric, roll it up, and then steam it. Heat transfers the pigments and images to the fabric, creating shapes and highlighting colours and patterns. This technique is great for already worn and stained fabrics.
Getting the colour out from plants can be difficult at times. A few tips for experimenting:
- natural dyes only work with natural fibres (cotton, linen, silk);
- larger fabrics can be folded up, but in general, the fabric should fit into a stainless steel pot with a lid;
- dried leaves, berries and flowers can also give a new life to an old fabric.
Printing with natural colours consists of three stages:
If you are using a new fabric, then it must be washed beforehand. For washing you can use the most common soap and hot water. A clean fabric allows both stain and plant dye to be properly absorbed. The stain ensures the binding of the colour to the fabric. Without staining, the colours tend to fade when the item is being washed. I generally use vinegar for staining.
NB! Do not use your daily cookware when printing with natural colours.
Preparing the fabric
- Firstly, weigh the fabric (when it is clean and dry).
- Place the fabric into a large pot, add enough water so it covers the fabric and soak for at least an hour (better still — all night).
- Make sure that the fibres can move freely. Then add environmentally friendly soap or dishwasher.
- Place the pot on the stove, cover it with a lid and leave to simmer for 30 minutes on a very low heat, while stirring the fabric.
- After that allow it to cool, then rinse until the water is clean. The next step is staining the fabric.
Staining the fabric
- Fill a container with vinegar solution (half vinegar, half water) so that there is enough of it to comfortably cover the fabric with water.
- Add the fabric and stir.
- Soak for at least 45 minutes, stir frequently.
NB! The stain can be used repeatedly if you cover it airtightly.
Dyeing the fabric
- Squeeze the excess water out of the fabric.
- Lay the fabric on a clean surface.
- Place the collected plants on the fabric. It is also important to think about the composition. However, the result may not turn out exactly as planned in the beginning. The colours absorb through the fibres and merge again and again. In one spot, the result may be brighter, and in another one darker.
- When you are satisfied with the arrangement of the plants, place a small stick on one edge of the fabric and start rolling it up, while making sure that the pressure of the rolled up fabric is nice and even. It is important that the roll fits properly into the pot. Fold up the bigger pieces of fabric two or four times before rolling them.
- Attach a string to one end of your roll and start winding the fabric up tightly. Then tie up the roll with the end of the same string.
- Place the roll into a large pot. The water level should be low enough so that the rolls do not soak.
- Steam the rolls in a pot covered with a lid for an hour, while also turning them every once in a while.
- Carefully remove the pot from the heat and let it cool.
- Take off the string and unroll the fabric to see the colours and patterns that have formulated.
- Remove the plants from the fabric and rinse and wash the fabric in cool water.
- Hang the fabric up to dry, and you can admire your work.
You can read more about my previous explorations to dye with plants in the post “Dyeing with plants”.
If you have tried out dyeing with plants yourself, then share your thoughts in the comment section in the bottom of the page. Thank you!