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Learning to eco-print

Eco-printing is a technique developed by Australian dyer India Flint, which involves bundling leaves in cloth or felt and then steaming or dyeing the bundles in a plant based dye vat.

Under the right conditions, the prolonged contact of the leaf on the cloth can make a beautiful print. This all sounds straightforward and easy enough, but I have been experimenting with this at home with only moderate success.

The odd vague outline of a leaf was the closest I had come to any of the pictures in India Flint’s book ‘Eco-Colour, Botanical dyes for beautiful textiles’ so I jumped at the chance to attend a 3-day eco-printing workshop in the New Forest with Swiss dyer & eco-printer extraordinaire Fabienne Dorsman-Rey.

One of Fabienne's many beautiful, beautiful pieces

One of Fabienne’s many beautiful, beautiful pieces

Fabienne's ingenious samples 'folder'

Fabienne’s ingenious samples ‘folder’

Fabienne: the art reflected in the artist

Fabienne: the art reflected in the artist

Fabienne is that most generous of teachers, happily and energetically sharing her experience, knowledge and mistakes for three solid days and carrying on way beyond official workshop hours. The days were spent happily collecting leaves and bundling them in felt and fabric, scribbling notes furiously, taking a ridiculous amount of photos and unwrapping bundles excitedly, all in excellent company and glorious weather.

I was disappointed with the bundles from my first day as there were no discernable prints, but with Fabienne’s support and encouragement day two’s unwrapping became a very happy occasion as print after print revealed itself. I shared my delight with another student who had been similarly disappointed the previous day; hugs and squeals of delight following each unwrapped bundle in quick succession.

Bundles waiting for the dye pots

Bundles waiting for the dye pots

Bundles from first day removed from onion skin dye vat

Bundles from first day removed from onion skin dye vat

First day of samples on display

Samples from first day on display

Finally, I've got some prints!

Finally, I’ve got some prints!

Out of everything I learned during this workshop, what struck a chord with me the most is the low-impact nature and the organic, time intensive approach this method dictates, and the open-minded and experimental attitude that is required of the dyer… A leaf here, a bit of metal there, some felt, a dye bath made of weeds, plenty of time, a sprinkle of magic et voila; something beautiful and unexpected emerges. Results can be unpredictable as there are so many variables at work in this kind of alchemy, and in that way I sense it is a bit like feltmaking: Rather addictive!

Really pleased with this one

Really pleased with this one

Arrived on day 3 to find this beautifu display of dyed bundles and rusty metal waiting for us (courtesy of Fabienne)

Arrived on day 3 to find this beautiful display of dyed bundles and rusty metal waiting for us (courtesy of Fabienne)

Home again and in between preparations for one of my own workshops, I have managed to prepare and mordant some second-hand fabrics and pieces of felt, ready for my next batch of printing experiments. I’ve still got a few unopened bundles left from the New Forest which I’ve hidden out of sight to let time do its thing. Autumn is well and truly here now, so my next ‘job’ is to go out there and start collecting leaves.

Beautiful print by one of the students

Beautiful print by one of the students

Another one of my favourites by one of the students

Another one of my favourites by one of the students

Getting friendly with the teacher...

Getting friendly with the teacher…

  1. I would love to purchase a book showing me how to do this. I once made a tray cloth with a piece of linen covered with leaves then covered with thick plastic with towel on top and the method was to hammer it with a wooden mallet to transfer the colour. but it came out well and washed out completely after !! I am just in love with this technique. sadly no courses down here in Exeter that I can find !! Thank you Jane

    Reply

    • Hi Jane,

      Like you I have been known to hammer flowers and leaves on to paper of cloth to obtain prints (a technique known as hapa zome). It’s great fun to do with kids and gives instant results, but as you have experienced, the results aren’t light fast and don’t last.

      Eco-printing or eco-dyeing (as it is also known as) is relatively young discovery, and workshops are not as wide spread yet as, say, felt making, although it’s a rapidly growing field of interest. In the UK, look for Nicola Brown (also known as Clasheen), further afield there are India Flint (Aus) Fabienne Dorsman-Rey (Netherlands), Irit Dulman (Israel) and Wendy Feldberg (Can) and may others. If you’re on Facebook, I recommend looking around there as its a very passionate and active little community – not unlike feltmakers!

      Reply

    • There are online courses but choose carefully!!

      Reply

  2. Thanks for sharing your experience at the leaf dying. I am just getting hooked on felt and I saw India Flints work on pinterest. I think this is something else to get passionate about.

    Reply

  3. Thanks for sharing! Are you able to say exactly how this is done? Do you mordant the fabric before the wrapping? And does the wrapped bundle have to go into a dye bath or can it just be soaked?

    Reply

    • No problem, glad it was of interest Sarah! If you’re interested in the technique I suggest buying India Flint’s book mentioned in the article, or looking it up on Youtube. These will give you a much better/detailed idea of how it’s done then I can provide here. I can’t/don’t want to give away all the teacher’s techniques and ideas as it’s not my place to do that, but in answer to your question, the general basics are as follows: Yes, the fabrics are mordanted first. The leaves are tightly rolled up in the (dry)fabric and the bundles are either popped in a dye bath or steamed, then left to soak and cool down in the dye bath overnight. The bundles are then removed and left for as many weeks as you can bear to wait… the longer you wait the better the print! Good luck

      Reply

  4. Hi there – can i ask you, what was it that you did to change your results on the second day? I have been playing with eco-dyeing for a while now, I have Indias book – i never seems to get the vibrant defined prints she achieves and yours from the second day of the workshop! is it the mordant you use?

    Reply

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