Eco printing with Natural Dyes

This our first look at some of the work that @spottedhyenas is creating. We have tried to outline the processes, illustrating them as a visual tutorial. These techniques have developed through trial and error and is based on what has worked for us. The end result is two beautiful scarves, with related but individual patterns.

Here’s what you need to get your dye pot going at home:

  • A stainless or enamelled large pot (other metal pots can be used but they will act as a mordant to your natural dye). DO NOT use your dye pot for cooking.
  • Natural dye ingredients. In this case we have used eucalyptus leaves and onion skins.
  • Vinegar
  • Water (the hardness of the water can affect the dye pot, some people prefer to use rainwater, but in central London flat, it can be difficult to collect!)

The method

  1. Chop up the eucalyptus leaves and onion skins, including all the stems and stalks.
  2. Pour in water until the ingredients are completely submerged, and then add the same amount of water again.
  3. Gently bring to the boil, and then turn down to a simmer for a minimum of an hour.
  4. Add vinegar (We use about a third of a cup in a 24cm pot)

What you’ll need to create your bundle:

  • Two scarves. We’ve 50 cm hand rolled silk.
  • Rope or cord, and something to tie up your bundle such as string. In this case we used string, some of which had already been used in rust shibori, and a woollen cord from some old curtains. You can use whatever you like.
  • Eco print ingredients, such as leaves.

Preparing the bundle

  1. Layout the first scarf, right side up.
  2. Think about how you are going to fold your scarf in order to roll your bundle. How you do this is going to define the pattern you will create on the scarf. Most shibori folding techniques should deliver good results.
  3. Lay out your selected dry ingredients on the scarf. In this example we used red onion skins, individual eucalyptus leaves and small rusted metal washers. Feel free to place them however you like to make a pattern.
  4. Take your rope or cord and wind up the scarf until you have a sausage. You can double back the cord as you go if you like.
  5. Use the sting to the up the bundle, making sure it’s secure and won’t fall apart when you put it in the pot. Tie the ends together so your bundle will fit in the pot.
  6. Soak the bundle in water for half an hour, as this will help it take up the dye.

Dyeing your bundle

  1. Put your scarf in the gently simmering dye pot. Some people prefer to strain out the leaves from the dye pot before using the dye. Doing this will give you a more even colour. We prefer to leave everything in the pot.
  2. Leave to simmer gently. If your bundle floats to the top, remember keep flipping it so the dye gets all the way through.
  3. After at least 2 hours, turn off the heat. If you’e patient, you can leave the bundle to cool in the pot over night. We use tongs, and rinse the bundle under cold water until it runs clear.

Now it’s like christmas time – unwrap your bundle (and give your 2 scarves a final rinse) to see what you’ve achieved.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Karen Lane says:

    Your results are fabulous! Can you tell me, do you wash and pre-soak your fabric in vinegar before adding leaves, etc?


    1. Hi Karen, I always do a prewash with any new fabrics to get rid of any residual chemicals that may have been used in the production. I don’t do a vinegar wash, I actually add it to the dye pot. With silk I spray the material (sometimes with a vinegar solution) to make it easier to roll into a bundle. I hope this helps.


  2. Karen Lane says:

    Thank you, that’s great. I need to get my act together and get some dyeing done!

    Liked by 1 person

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