Getting Ready for Shibori Dyeing

Two summers ago we did some indigo dyeing, and although it was a tremendous amount of work (especially for Marilyn who prepared the indigo vat)–I have been thinking about the shibori dyeing we did as part of our indigo dyeing day.  We had gathered, stitched and bound shibori cloth prior to the indigo day and had very successful experiences.  Here you can see the bound corks I used for my large cotton gauze cloth.

I dye shibori patterns with indigo vat
I dye shibori patterns with indigo vat


To refresh my memory of different shibori techniques, I checked out a few library books, among them Lynne Caldwell’s “Shibori:  A Beginner’s Guide” and a lovely book on the history, designs and methods of shibori by Yoshiko Iwamoto Wada entitled “Memory on Cloth.”


Many shibori practitioners today use acid or fiber reactive dyes, but in keeping with my desire to use only natural dyes, I decided to begin there.  Start simple.  I gathered odds and ends from my household which could be used for making patterns in the shibori tradition.  Next week, I will post about my first experimental shibori dyeing with NATURAL dyes.

Gathering odds and ends for shibori
Gathering odds and ends for shibori
Tools for designing shibori patterns on cloth
Tools for designing shibori patterns on cloth
Clamping linen in triangle pattern
Clamping linen in triangle pattern
Rolling cloth on copper pipe
Rolling cloth on copper pipe

Stitching & Eco-printed Linen

Sometimes the WOW factor is not desirable when eco-printing.  And when would that be, you ask?  When you are stitching story cloth, for art quilts, for hand-embroidery.  For mixed media collage. When you want to follow subtle patterns and not be drowned out by bold purple, orange and red leaf prints.

I enjoy stitching on linen, and so with that in mind, I cut some strips of scoured new white linen fabric, then mordanted it with alum acetate.  Wrapped a few geranium leaves in a flat bundle, along with a few stray crape myrtle leaves and stems.  Steamed in plain water with a touch of pomegranate powder for about an hour.  Oh, and there were some quick leaf dips in iron water, but not with all of the leaves and stems.

Unwrapped immediately, air dried.  Waiting now for my stitching.  A new story to tell.  With cloth and nature and thread.

eco-printed linen with geranium leaves and crape myrtle
Geranium leaves on builder’s sheet metal ready for natural dyeing
Linen pieces lightly eco-printed and ready for stitching
White linen eco-printed with geranium, wrapped and bundled with string

Eco-printing with Handmade Paper

Recently, my friend gave me leaves she had collected on a recent trip to Florida.  I was anxious to discover whether or not they would produce botanical prints.  While I usually eco-print on cloth, I decided to experiment with handmade paper.  I have collected a small assortment of handmade paper–some purchased on Etsy and some gifted by a paper-making friend.  In addition, I had a few sheets of Fabriano paper leftover from another project.

I started by gathering the leaves from Florida, which I had frozen for preservation:  cape myrtle, bougainvillea, live oak and sumac.  Although I had never before printed with these particular leaves, I had read about the possibilities.  I also decided to do “leaf dips” with various modifiers:  vinegar, pickle juice, and iron water.  My kettle was filled with plain water and a small amount of diluted sandalwood powder for color.

I simmered the kettle for an hour and then removed the paper bundles immediately.  I have observed in my past paper experiments that additional time in the pot was not beneficial–the paper began to disintegrate in some cases.  I have preserved the leaves and will do further experimentation.  (Only the live oak leaf did not print!)  Below are the results:

Sumac leaves printed on handmade paper with sandalwood
Bougainvillea leaves eco-print
Handmade paper rolled with plants on a copper pipe
Sumac leaf print on handmade paper with deckled edges
Cape myrtle leaves on Fabriano paper with sandalwood

Private Eco-Printing Classes

Lately I have been holding private or semi-private eco-printing classes in my home studio.  Teaching one or two students at a time gives us more space and enables me to tailor the class to the individual.  My latest student is a designer who sells her unique garments at juried art fairs around the country (USA).  She specifically requested lessons in making direct contact prints with leaves and flowers.

We primarily used oak and maple leaves, black-eyed susans, smokebush, rose and geranium leaves with a few marigolds, cosmos and coreopsis.  I prepared a purple dye bath from purple carrots in one kettle, and plain water with onion skins in the second kettle.

Here are some of the beautiful prints we made!IMG_2691IMG_2688


Up-cycling with Eco-printing

This hot summer and intermittent rain has given us lush foliage in Chicago, so on the order of making hay while the sun shines, I decided to do more eco-printing and up-cycling of cellulose fibers this past week.

First up, my Mom gave me her old Jones, NY 100% cotton T-top and asked if I could “do something with it.”  There were a few old food stains and some tiny blood spots, so why not try?  Generally, the items I eco-print with the intent of up-cycling tend to be light colored tops that just need a dash of color.  I had never before tried to dye a stained item.

I went ahead and scoured the top in Synthrapol, then mordanted it with alum acetate.  And after rinsing again, I proceeded to lay out some leaves, including rose leaves, milkweed and loropetalum.  After an hour or two of boiling, and an overnight rest, I was delighted with the results.  My mom is tickled pink!

Detail up-cycled Jones NY Shirt
Upcycled Jones NY T-Top for my Mom

In the same pot, I eco-printed an old Hanro long-sleeved undershirt (100% cotton) that I wear in winter. I used the same scour and mordant process as above, but layered the shirt with false indigo (the yellow), some geranium and rose leaves.  Again, very pleased!

Detail eco-printed underwear
Detail eco-printed underwear

Finally, I made myself a long skirt last week in 100% organic cotton jersey but had some leftover cloth when I trimmed the hem.  Perfect for an infinity scarf!  Scoured, mordanted and eco-printed with mostly geranium leaves.

I am having way too much fun without spending any money.   I love it!!!

Infinity Scarf up-cycled from skirt hem remnant
Infinity Scarf up-cycled from skirt hem remnant



Eco-print results from this week’s class!

It’s been hot, hot, hot here in Chicago, but that did not deter us from our scheduled Eco-printing Class on Tuesday.  With the air conditioning on full blast and the kettles boiling, we were able to start and complete our botanical prints class.

All the scouring and mordanting of the cloth had been done previously, so we were able to focus on arranging our plants on cloth and steaming and boiling in the kettles.  Here are some of our very successful results:






Awaiting a break in the heat for more botanical printing.

Next up, combining natural dyeing of cloth with eco-printing.

Preparing for teaching natural dyeing

Preparing for teaching a natural dyeing or eco-printing class requires advance planning, as with so many other arts and crafts.  In the case of natural dyeing or printing with plants, any fabric you intend to use must be properly mordanted.  And before the mordanting takes place, the fabric must be scoured.

Of course, you must have ready your tables, equipment, natural dyes and plants.  Are there any dyes you are using which must be prepared a day or two in advance?  Shredded bark dyes come to mind.  They often need several days to cure in a prepared liquid, as did  the black walnuts I dyed with recently.  IMG_2073

If you are fortunate enough to live near a local natural dyer, why not sign up for a class this summer?  If you are unable to travel, there may be good books available at your local library.  I try to preview arts and crafts books prior to purchasing them, since there are sometimes disappointments–not enough photos, not enough practical instruction.  I remember purchasing a promising book about surface design but realized too late that it was large on photos but short on techniques.  This may sound obvious, but if you are gathering plants for dyeing, it probably won’t be helpful to purchase a book on Australian eco-dyeing techniques if you live in Vermont.  You simply will not have access to the same vegetation.

You may also be interested in a brand new “Introduction to Natural Dyeing” PDF available from me on my Etsy shop.  Just click and begin your adventure in natural dyeing!



Be sure to post comments about any natural dyeing you have done recently!

And stay tuned for results from my upcoming eco-printing class!