Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Eco-dyeing - my first attempt!

Last November I had the pleasure of staying with CZT Bette Abdu for a few days. During that time she showed me some beautiful papers she'd made during an eco-dyeing workshop with CZT Bette Beauregard. They call themselves Bette A and Bette B!

Bette A generously gave me three of the sheets she'd dyed, and I was delighted to tangle them once I was home: oak leaves, maple leaves, and unidentified round leaves. They are each about 8"x5".
'Oakenfall', 'O Canada', and 'The Magic Happens at Night' - (c)2017 Margaret Bremner
Bette B was kind enough to share her workshop notes with me (although you can find various instructions for this process online). To do this, you need LOTS of leaves. I intended to wait until spring or even summer when leaves would be in better supply. I heard that it can work with dried leaves too, and I'd finally reached the end of my patience and decided to try it with what I had on hand. I raided my "Leaves and Butterflies" file (real leaves, pictures of butterflies) and some carrot tops and tulip leaves that came home from the grocery store.
I adore gingko leaves!
Tulips are also nice.

I can't resist:

There are tulips in the garden.
There are tulips in the park.
But the tulips we like best
are the two lips in the dark.
I suspect that one reason I so much prefer drawing to painting is that - being a Type A and eldest sibling - drawing is not messy! Eco-dyeing pushed me a little ways into make-a-mess mode. This is my workspace with lots of leaves, papers, water, string, and instructions.

The process involves layering art paper and vegetation, squashing the layers between two pieces of cardboard, and tightly tying it all into a bundle. Here's one of two bundles I prepared:

And here's the whole whackadoo in a turkey roaster, simmering on the stove for an hour and a half. The brick is to weigh it down because the bundles floated and they aren't supposed to. There are some onion skins in the water as well as a dozen pennies I'd saved and white vinegar as mordant.
If it's your first time here, no, this is not
some sort of weirdo cooking blog.
Once the bundles have simmered you have to let everything cool before they can be unwrapped.
One bundle, cooling. I really like the woodsy, witchy, herbal look!
I hope this works. If not, it's going to be a disappointing blog post! But we will have learned something, yes? Let's see what we have.

Hmmm. My first conclusion: the tulip leaves and carrot tops are a write-off; I won't try that again. I may even send some of that paper through the next eco-dye bath. However, I got a lovely bit of purple from a Wandering Jew leaf I threw in! Must remember that for next time.

The oak leaves left a lovely brown, and the onion skins some wonderful oranges, as I had expected.

I'm pretty sure this is a basswood leaf. Isn't it interesting how the veined side left such a fascinating pattern and the non-veined side is so blah?

Now I have a couple dozen sheets of paper with interesting patterns to tangle more patterns onto! But I'll be collecting leaves this summer, for sure.

UPDATE: Read about a later eco-dyeing here.


  1. Bet it smelled like you were canning or pickling if you had vinegar in the water. What do pennies do for the mixture? I know I keep pennies in my palette when I am traveling and it seems to keep things from getting moldy. Those of us facing spring/summer will have to try this with shades of green.
    What kind of paper did you use? Could you send me a link for an online demo? I don't know what to put in the subject?

    1. Try this website: https://wendyfe.wordpress.com/2011/11/14/eco-prints-on-paper/
      It seemed quite good. I also had notes from a friend and had read a bit elsewhere. Copper may work as a mordant? I'm not really sure! Try Eco-dyeing or Eco-printing as a search term.

  2. Margaret, these are spectacular!!!! Love to try this.

  3. I have tried this during september and october 2017 and had a lot of fun. Now I have eco-dyed papers all around me in my studio going to work with them! :)

    1. It’s great fun isn’t it?! Enjoy your papers. ­čśŐ

  4. Beautiful papers! I'm going to have to try this.

  5. Margaret. Es muy bueno lo que compartiste, son elementos que podemos tener y seguir dándole uso. Lo voy hacer. Muchas gracias se las ve hermosas

    1. Muchas gracias Viviana! Estoy feliz que puedo ayudarte.
      (Perdoneme mi espa├▒ol!)