Eco-printing: Upcycling and Recycling

Giving new life to old things–it’s eco-conscious, and it’s a very good thing.  We may throw our unwanted belongings in the trash, or donate to Goodwill or Salvation Army or other worthwhile charities. But we may also consider up-cycling, giving new life to old items.

Recently I  have been using eco-printing as a way to make use of garments that I had shoved to the back of my closet.  There was nothing wrong with any of these three tops, but I simply wasn’t wearing them.  Why?  The Gap cotton T-shirt was very comfortable to wear–100% organic cotton–and I believe GAP products give value for the money.  But the color was puce, a color which was unflattering to me.

Another top–one by Tahari, modal fabric and versatile white–was a bit too clingy and a bit too sheer for my taste.  The third top was sleeveless, viscose, ivory, flowing and very flattering–but it wasn’t too exciting.  So I decided to eco-print the tops, and at the same time, continue my experiments with natural dyeing of cellulose fibers.

I gathered my leaves and flowers one day–all tops had been mordanted previous to the eco-printing session.  First up was the sleeveless viscose top, which I bundled with a variety of leaves from my deck garden, including geranium, mint, and smoke bush. I simmered the top in plain water, along with a few other scrap pieces of fabric, which I use for slow-stitching projects.

In the second, larger pot, I simmered pomegranate exhaust bath along with some spent leaves from previous dyeing.  I rolled the Tahari top with loropetalum, plum and smokebush leaves. The GAP T-shirt was sprinkled with Japanese maple, rose and smoke bush leaves.  Both pots simmered for an hour or so and then cooled overnight.  The next morning, all fabric was removed from the dye pot

Sleeveless top eco-printed with leaves
Sleeveless top eco-printed with leaves

and allowed to rest.  But because I am so

Abstract detail on Sleeveless eco-printed top
Abstract detail on Sleeveless eco-printed top
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GAP T-shirt printed with Japanese maple leaves

impatient, I did unroll the still wet sleeveless top first.  I set aside the other two tops to dry, but couldn’t resist opening the GAP top later in the evening.  The Tahari top was allowed to dry for two days, and then was unrolled.

How did they turn out?  You can see from the

Detail GAP T-SHIRT (Japanese maple leaves show green)
Detail GAP T-SHIRT (Japanese maple leaves show green)

photos below.  I am pleased and thrilled with the rebirth of my garments and am happily wearing all three–but not at the same time.

 Tahari top with smokebush leaves detail
Tahari top with smokebush leaves detail
Eco-printed Tahari T-top (loropetalum leaves front and center)
Eco-printed Tahari T-top (loropetalum leaves front and center)

Natural Dyes…with a little help from my friends

It’s great to have friends in various regions in the USA so that my natural dyeing can be supplemented by flora and fauna not available to a big city girl.  So recently I received a bounty from friends in Texas and California, namely plum and maple leaves and “balls” from the sweet gum tree (also known as liquidambar).

I could not find any research predicting color from the sweet gum tree balls, but someone in Australia blogged that their gum tree leaves produce good color.  Different species, different part of the plant.  So I decided to experiment with the gum balls by soaking them in plain water and using the liquid to dye a few small pieces:  yarn, hemp/silk fabric scrap, and cotton crochet piece.  The warm brown tones achieved were similar to those I achieved when black walnut dyeing, perhaps a bit lighter.

Naturally dyed with sweet gum tree balls: hemp/silk, wool yarn, cotton crochet
Naturally dyed with sweet gum tree balls: hemp/silk, wool yarn, cotton crochet
Sweet Gum tree balls (liquidambar)
Sweet Gum tree balls (liquidambar)

Next I grabbed three varieties of leaves sent from Texas:  plum, Japanese Red Maple, and Loropetalum (which I believe to be the Chinese fringe flower).  Please keep in mind that I am not a botanist!

I arranged the leaves on a piece of hemp/silk fabric, shiny on one side and flat on the other side.  The leaves were placed in a random pattern, along with a couple of marigold flower heads.  The fabric–and I wish I had more of this lovely stuff–was rolled around a copper pipe and tied with cotton string.  I was very pleased with the results!  Thanks, Marilyn and Elizabeth!

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Eco-printing with Leaves in a Pomegranate Dye Pot

So many beautiful summer plants and flowers, so many possibilities for botanical printing!  With my coreopsis in full bloom and a surprise gift of smokebush leaves from a Texan friend, I fired up the dye pot (turned on the gas stove) to experiment with a different kind of dye bath.  Usually I use plain water to allow the plants to bring their own beauty to cloth, but this time I used pomegranate powder with a pinch of iron.

First I arranged a sandwich of cotton sheeting, homespun linen scrap, and a couple of small card stocks.  Wrapped in a square, it was clamped and set in the dye pot.

I  also rolled up a couple of copper pipes with various vintage linens and cloth scraps, using a few coreopsis and pink cosmos flowers, along with rose leaves.  I threw in a couple of smokebush leaves for good measure, rolled with cotton string and added to the dye pot.

After boiling for an hour and letting sit overnight on my deck, I unrolled the next morning to find a variety of effects.  I’m already thinking of the fun I will have with my next brew!

Full view coreopsis and rose leaves on cotton sheeting, eco-print clamped
Full view coreopsis and rose leaves on cotton sheeting, eco-print clamped
Smokebush and rose leaves on card stock
Smokebush and rose leaves on card stock
Coreopsis and rose leaf eco-printed on cotton sheeting
Coreopsis and rose leaf eco-printed on cotton sheeting
Wild rose leaves, coreopsis and cosmos on vintage buck towel
Wild rose leaves, coreopsis and cosmos on vintage cotton Huck towel
Eco-printed cotton sheeting in pomegranate and iron bath
Eco-printed cotton sheeting in pomegranate and iron bath

Dyeing with garden flowers and leaves: Early summer

Small annual and perennial garden flowers are blooming, and I couldn’t resist snipping a few, along with some leaves, for natural dyeing.  The flowers fade quickly, so the decision is whether to leave them alone to die or to clip a few and dye.

So I grabbed a few pansies, coreopsis and cosmos along with a few geranium leaves, false indigo leaves, and some golden barberry.  I used avocado pits and skins in the dye-pot and let them simmer for a couple of hours.  I was looking for a little color booster in addition to the colors I would achieve by simmering the plants on fiber.

In this experiment, I used bundled silk gauze and cotton sheeting as a sandwich with leaves and flowers as the filling.  I rolled it all around a small copper pipe, tied it with string and set it in the dye-pot.  Then I clamped a square bundle of cotton sheeting with plants in-between, and handmade paper as well.  Finally, I layered small torn pieces of a previously dyed large piece of Fabriano paper with small plant bits.

Bundles of paper and cloth were left to simmer in the avocado dye-pot for a couple of hours, then allowed to rest overnight.  The paper turned out fairly waterlogged and did not achieve a great deal of color.  However, I was very pleased with the silk & cotton sandwich.  Some of those bright colors you see were golden correopsis, pink cosmos and leaves, along with a pinky tinge from the avocado liquid.

I get the biggest thrill when unrolling the bundled packages!  You really should try this.

Handmade paper dyed with garden plants
Handmade paper dyed with garden plants
Cotton sheeting clamped in a square and dyed with plants
Cotton sheeting clamped in a square and dyed with plants
Garden flowers bundled and dyed on silk
Garden flowers bundled and dyed on silk
Garden plants bundled and dyed on cotton
Garden plants bundled and dyed on cotton
Bundled silk and cotton rolled and dyed with flowers and plants
Bundled silk and cotton rolled and dyed with flowers and plants

Rose Petals and Walnut Ink

 

Wild rose bushes with spent petals
Wild rose bushes with spent petals

When you are a city dweller, and you live in an apartment or town home or condo, you are somewhat limited in what–and how much–you can grow.  And what you can accomplish is all on a smaller scale than if you had a nice-sized garden.

So when I read that you can save wild rose petals–I have three bushes in front of my town home–and preserve them for use in cosmetics and jams, I got very excited. This morning, before the dew was gone, I gathered wild rose petals and stuffed them in a clean recycled jar. You are advised NOT to totally strip the bushes, leaving some petals for the bees.

While I could be making rose hip jam or rose water, I’ve decided to use the petals for “rose attar” or infused rose oil. The decision: whether to use organic safflower oil or my costly extra virgin olive oil. I’ve decided to use equal amounts of both oils. Pressing the rose petals tightly in the jar, I pour a mix of oil over the petals, leaving an inch of space at the top so the rose petals have room to expand. Tightly capped, I will steep the petals for about two weeks. I look forward to using the rose petal oil as a skin balm.

In the meantime, I have been steeping exhaust liquid from black walnut IMG_2203husk dyeing, and the mostly evaporated liquid is getting close to becoming walnut ink.  Walnut ink was used at one time by scribes for writing on parchment, way back in the day, before ball point pens. Today, walnut ink is used by artists to create beautiful impressions on paper and canvas. You may be surprised to learn that both Leonardo da Vinci and Rembrandt used walnut ink in their paints. My tiny bit of walnut liquid will not yield much ink, but just enough for me to practice on handmade paper and recapture a bit of history.

Rose petals and infusion oils
Rose petals and infusion oilsStay tuned!

If you would like to learn more about the history of black walnuts and their many uses–or about wild roses and their usage in cosmetics, medicine and food–I have provided links.

Rose petals stuffed in a jar
Rose petals stuffed in a jarI have provided the links below.
Rose petals and infusion oils
Rose petals and infusion oils

How to Eat a Wild Rose: Roses for food and medicine

http://www.herballegacy.com/Berry_History.html

Natural Dyeing on Cellulose Fibers

I incorporate natural dyeing with plants in many different types of fiber arts.  I use mulberry silk skeins for hand-embroidery, wool roving for felting, silk ribbons and yarn for weaving. But I also enjoy “slow stitching,” and so it’s always good to have a small collection of cotton squares and crochet pieces for incorporating with free-form stitching projects, such as shown in these photos:

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Cellulose fibers are treated differently from protein fibers when dyeing with natural plants.  Mordanting involves several different processes, depending on your preferences.  There are 2-step tannin/alum mordanting and 3-step involving tannin/alum and tannin again.  Some folks I know use soda ash or calcium carbonate in their mordanting process.  It all depends on preferences, water quality in your area and the types of dyeing you intend to do.

I experimented with alum acetate and calcium carbonate as mordants in preparation for using a saved madder exhaust bath and a newly prepared pomegranate dye bath.  My intention was to build up a larger collection of hand-dyed pieces for stitching projects, as well as having extras to trade with other fiber artists.

Here are the results of the madder exhaust.  You can see in the photos where the dye “struck” first, leaving a variety of madder shades–from salmon to deep pink–almost red–and a hint of raspberry.  I included cotton scraps as well as vintage cotton crochet pieces from my stash to be dyed.

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My second dye pot contained pomegranate, which came out in the photo below a bit lighter than in reality.  These pieces are also cotton, and may be over-dyed later with other plants or perhaps eco-printed as samples in future experiments.

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In any case, the pieces are bagged and labeled and ready to be used or traded.

Eco-Printing in the Spring

 

It’s a bit early in Chicago to begin eco-printing with leaves and flowers. After all, I just procured my annuals and perennials from the local nursery, Mielke’s on Touhy Avenue. Terrific place to get your plants. Such a huge variety of plants and flowers and it’s a family-owned, long-time business.

Another reason not to eco-print so early is that the chlorophylls are not as strong as they will be later in the summer and fall. But I cannot wait. I am impatient when it comes to natural dyeing. So those chlorophylls have a big job to do besides getting their energy from the sun. Those green pigments are what helps dyers produce contact-printing on fabric. I don’t mean to obscure the fact that the photosynthesis releases oxygen into the air–the kind we breathe. And that animals and insects depend upon the plants for food.

In any case, by using plants for eco-printing or dyeing early on, the pigments may not be as strong and may not produce the intense colors some dyers expect. However, I was pleased with the results of the eco-prints achieved on cloth, using my own simple and very young garden plants, including geranium leaves, wild rose bush leaves, false indigo leaves and a few frozen spent tulip blooms, with a dash of golden barberry. My only addition to the dye pot besides water were yellow onion skins.

Here are the results:

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