An Introduction to Eco-Printing

What is Eco-Printing?

Let's start with the basics. Eco-printing is one of the most simple forms of natural dyeing. It's a contact dyeing technique where natural materials such as plants, flowers and even food are bundled inside fabric and steamed, boiled or pounded. This process releases the natural dyes in those materials and creates a "print" on the fabric.

 

What can you use to Eco-Print?

There are endless possibilities of fabrics and of natural materials. I prefer to use seasonally available flowers, plants and kitchen waste. Kitchen scraps are actually my favorite to use because they would otherwise go to waste. I also really like to collect dying flowers from my garden and from my neighbors.

You'll want to use mostly natural fibers for your fabric. Wool and silk take on eco-prints the best, but cotton will also work. The tights I dye are a cotton nylon blend and still work great with eco-printing.

If you're eco-printing something you don't plan on washing then you can ignore the next section, but otherwise read on. 

Can you actually wear Eco-Prints?

So let's talk color fastness and washing. Chances are you're eco printing something you're going to want to wear and therefore wash. You'll need to treat it before dyeing to make sure the color "sticks". This is called mordanting and is a very important step. There are a million different opinions on mordants, which ones to use and not use. I'll say that I've tried many different types and have had success will all, so you'll have to find what works for you. The big ones are soya milk, salt, vinegar, alum and pre-dying with a naturally tannin rich dye. The color you see immediately after dyeing will more than likely change after it's washed. Don't be alarmed! That's totally normal. The point of mordanting is so that the color will not wash out entirely. 

If you've mordanted your fabric washing should be mostly safe. When I say mostly, I mean don't wash it in hot water and hot tumble dry it. I wash mine on cold delicate cycles and lay flat to dry, although if I'm being honest sometimes I'm lazy and throw them in the dryer for a bit. Arguably though with modern detergents and washers you don't really need to wash your clothes on hot anyway, but that's a blog post for another day. 

How do I make an Eco-Print?

Each eco-printed piece is totally unique and one of a kind. Every piece of natural material can be placed by hand to try and create patterns or scattered to create a natural random pattern. Eco-printing is a dyeing technique characterized by experimentation. Part of the fun is learning what materials create which colors and how you can use them to create patterns. Do you crush the material? Cut up the food? Into what size or shape? Place whole flowers rather than petals? Do you mix colors or try to create a unified color palette? 

These are some examples of how I've placed material on tights, but really you can do it however you like. Play around with it and have fun! 

The Process

After you've placed the material onto your fabric it's time to roll it up tightly and secure with twine or a rubber band. Then you simply steam it. So easy! I typically let my bundles steam for 1-2 hours and then rest over night. If you're super impatient at least let them rest until they're cool enough to handle, but I promise you'll find the color is more vibrant and the natural bits easier to shake off from the fabric if you wait. But seriously, I know how hard it is to wait! I won't blame you if you can't resist the temptation to open them early! I like to do my eco-printing in the afternoon or early evening so I'm not super tempted by it. The bundles rest over night and then I wake up to a beautiful surprise! 

So there you have it. The basics of eco-printing!