Are you ready for some eco dyeing? I have been interested in exploring eco dyeing for sometime now and after playing around with rust dyeing my interest in plant based dyeing was peaked. So I began poking around online to see if any of the plants in my yard were suitable for dyeing. I was excited to see that eucalyptus (a native of Australia that is plentiful here in Southern California) can be a great source of natural dye. Fortunately I have one in the open space just outside my back fence.
After convincing my husband to hop the fence and snatch some branches I realized that I have an ideal variety for dyeing! It’s a eucalyptus sideroxylon or a red ironbark. Who knew? My hubby actually hates it and has tried to get our HOA to cut it down. Honestly, I haven’t been terribly fond of it either, it’s scraggly and it blocks part of our view. But now that I know that it may be a great source of dyestuff I’m warming up to it. Perhaps I’m putting the cart before the horse, however, since I have yet to see how well this much maligned tree performs!
- protein fiber – I’m using two silk scarves
- wood boards, plastic, vinegar solution (50:50) – probably NOT necessary, see below
- stainless steel pot
- steamer basket
Step 1: Gather your plant material. This may require a little research and experimentation. If you’re lucky enough to live in an area that has eucalyptus trees then they are a more obvious choice. But from what I understand not all eucalyptus are created equal when it comes to dyeing. If you don’t have a red ironbark nearby then you can buy a bunch of eucalyptus from a florist or Trader Joes! The silver dollar variety that is often used in floral arrangements is supposed to be wonderful for dyeing.
Step 2: Get some fabric! I’m using two blank white silk scarves that I purchased at Dharma Trading. Protein fibers like silk and wool are the simplest fabrics to dye with eucalyptus since they don’t require a mordant (mordants help to fix the dye to the fabric). If you want to dye cotton or linen then you will need to use a mordant like alum (available through Dharma Trading). I decided to dye two scarves at the same time because I was curious to see how each fabric would take the dye. One scarf is an 8mm silk Habotai and the other is silk chiffon.
Step 3: Find two flat surfaces that you can use to sandwich your fabric – I used two plywood boards. Then line one of the boards with plastic. I simply used an opened up trash bag. I gave my fabric a quick soak in vinegar (a little insurance to help fix the dye) and I laid it out on the plastic. I then arranged my leaves on half of the scarf so that when I laid the second half on top the pattern would repeat. This may require some fussing and editing.
Step 4: Spray your fabric with a vinegar and water solution (I used a 50:50 ratio). Put another layer of plastic on top of your fabric and make a sandwich with your second board. Then weight the whole thing down with rocks or bricks.
Step 5: Let it sit. I let mine sit overnight and I took a peek in the morning. This is what I found:
So you can see that some color is transferring around the stems but the leaves aren’t doing anything! Hmmmmmm, back online to research this technique.
It seems that my error was not sealing the plastic well enough to retain the moisture. The leaves won’t print if things don’t stay wet. My failure to secure the edges of the plastic combined with a very warm and windy Southern California day really dried things out. 😦
I decided to abandon this method and try something else. As I was researching, I saw the name India Flint again and again on the eco dyeing posts and blogs. Apparently, she is the eco dyeing guru of sorts, so I dug a bit into her techniques. One of the techniques she uses most is to lay her plant material onto a piece of fabric, roll it into bundles, tie it with twine, and steam it for a few hours. So let’s back up a little!
Step 3ish?: Okay, I’m not sure how necessary the whole board sandwich thing was but I do think it helped to soften up my branches so that I could actually roll the fabric into bundles. So you may want to skip that step and simply soak your branches to make them more pliable or just use the leaves. Here are my bundles:
Step 4: Place your bundles in a pot with a steamer basket and steam for one hour. I have a pot that is only used for dyeing. You definitely don’t want to use a pot that you plan to use again for cooking!
It’s been one hour and Wow! The leaves are bleeding color onto the fabric, maybe my eucalyptus sideroxylon is good for something after all!
Step 5: Turn over your bundle and steam for another hour. Make sure to add more water to your pot. I didn’t add enough water and I scorched the bottom of my pot. 😦
Step 6: Pull your bundles out and let them cool.
This first pic is side one and the second is side two. It looks as if side two has gone a bit gray-green and a tad murky. I read that this can happen if you steam for too long, so maybe a shorter steam time next time. Or maybe not, I kind of like the contrast of that murky color against the redish orange colors. And the blue, OMG I love the blue! I can’t begin to tell you how badly I want to unwrap those bundles!!!
Step 7: You have a few options here. I found some sources that said that you can unroll your bundles after they have cooled. Then again some folks said that you should wait a day or more. I’m going to unwrap one and wait on the other.
Here they are. The silk chiffon scarf on the right is the one that I unrolled right after it had cooled. The one on the left is the silk Habotai that I let sit overnight. It’s still wet in this picture so the color is darker then it will be when it’s dry. I’m not sure that waiting overnight made any difference?
I was underwhelmed with my results. The color is pretty but the design is way too haphazard for my taste. I think next time I will lay my leaves out on the entire piece of fabric before rolling it up. I suspect that I will get a much cleaner print that way.
Step 8: If you are happy with your design you will need to let your fabric dry and then “cure” for several days. Iron to heat set the color and give it a quick wash.
I’m definitely going to overdye both of these. For much better results check out part deux here!