Dyeing with Turmeric and Iron aka “Sad Turmeric”

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My last dyeing session left me with a pot of turmeric dye (about 6 cups of water plus 3 heaping tablespoons of turmeric and one tablespoon of alum) that was just begging for me to do something with it! I had recently seen an online post that said that if you add iron to turmeric dye it will “sadden” or darken the colors. It also said that you can get olive green colors by doing this…which peaked my interest.

I had two options to sadden my dye. The first was iron powder that I had purchased from Dharma Trading. The second was a homemade brew that was created by submerging one pad of extra fine steel wool (0000) in vinegar and letting it sit until the steel wool dissolved. This typically takes about two days. However, since mine was leftover from another project it had been sitting for several months, so it was good to go!

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My understanding was that it would only take a small amount of iron to alter the color. So I put my.pot on the stove, turned the heat to med/high and added 1/2 teaspoon of the iron powder.

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Hmmmmm, well it was really pretty but it didn’t look “sad” at all? I then added another 1/2 teaspoon and I waited. Nothing. Okay, time to give my concoction a go. I added approximately 1/2 cup of my brew and I waited. This time I was getting somewhere. After another 1/2 cup addition of my homemade iron solution, this is what I got.

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It was definitely looking more “sad” although it didn’t exactly look olive green. Since I had already added a good amount of iron to the mix, I chose to proceed.

Now it was time to address my fabric. I decided to use two silk scarves and some simple shibori techniques to create patterns on the fabric. I folded both scarves into a triangle shape as follows:

For some odd reason, this particular triangle fold has always been difficult for me to wrap my head around?! Hopefully it will be easier for you! I started by folding my scarf in half and then (as you can see above) I folded it past the edge of the fabric. Next I folded it back onto itself to create a triangle. Last, I folded the whole triangle back and forth (accordion style) until I reached the end. I followed the same procedure for the second scarf and then I gave each of them their own personality. For one, I used three extra large popsicle sticks that I bound with rubber bands to create a resist. For the other, I simply tied a row of rubber bands down the length of the triangle.

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Into the dye they went! I simmered them on low for one hour and then I turned off the heat and let them soak for approximately 3 hours.

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Next, I rinsed them in cold water until the water ran clear. There was very little excess dye coming off of the fabric which told me that the fabric and the dye bonded well. Unfortunately, the olive green that I was hoping for was nowhere to be found. But the color was definitely altered and is more of a mustard yellow than the bright sunshine yellow that I got from the turmeric dye alone.

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This brings me to the subject of colorfastness and washfastness. After doing a TON of research online (seriously, I could write a dissertation), I learned that while turmeric dyed fabric is very washfast it is not known to be lightfast. Although using mordants such as alum and iron will most certainly help with both wash and lightfastness, I have been unable to determine the extent to which this is true. This is my third foray into turmeric dyeing and I can tell you that my colors are holding fast so far. The fist piece of fabric that I dyed is now about 5 months old and I can see no discernible fading. I would be very interested to know if anyone has had any longer term experience with turmeric dyed fabrics, especially when an alum mordant was used. Please comment below if that’s you!!!

After air drying and a good ironing, here are my finished pieces.

I really like the one on the left and I’m not so sure about the one on the right. The pattern is kind of interesting, however, the color is blotchy and uneven. I am a fan of the mustardy yellow though and it was interesting to see what the iron did to my dye bath. All in all it was another informative adventure down dyers lane. I hope that you enjoyed the ride as much as I did! Please feel free to comment or ask questions. To see the scarf on the left in my etsy shop, go here. 🙂

 

 

 

Memory Scarf

 

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Ciao lovely readers! The idea for this scarf came about following my daughter’s performance in a play. To be clear, my little one was Tinkerbell in her school’s second grade play and she received an armful of flowers after her performance (which was awesome – but then I’m obviously totally unbiased). At some point, I looked at my baby girl and I said, “Why don’t we make a scarf out of those flowers? That way we can always remember them and your play.” She was totally game! 

There were some silver dollar eucalyptus in the mix, which I knew would dye well but other than that I had no clue what would and wouldn’t work.

We let the flowers dry out for a week or so before we got started.

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My kiddo picked out a narrow longish silk charmeuse scarf (the Dharma Trading site where I purchased it calls this a belt but it actually makes a cute narrow scarf). 

First we wet the fabric and then we laid it flat. We folded it in half to find the middle and then arranged some flowers and leaves on one half of the scarf. This is important because the second half will then be laid on top which will sandwich the plant material and give you a similar print on either side of the scarf. Capeesh?

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Also important is that we laid the scarf out on top of a length of paper towels.

The flowers and leaves that I could identify are silver dollar eucalyptus, rose petals, and chamomile. The hot pink flower running down the center is unknown to me.

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Next, we put a stick at one end and we rolled everything up including the paper towels. I like to use them as a barrier between the layers so that the leaves and flowers print more clearly.

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The next step is to tie it up into a bundle. We used artificial sinew but twine or white dental floss would work equally well.

We put our bundle into my dedicated dye pot to steam.

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After about two hours of steaming, we took it out and it occurred to me that we would most certainly need to use a mordant of some kind to “fix” the plant dye into the fabric. Although some plant materials like eucalyptus are what is referred to as “substantive” and don’t require a mordant, most are not in this category. So since I had some homemade iron mordant (vinegar and super fine steel wool left in a jar for approximately one week) on hand I poured a few tablespoons of that into my pot, gave it a stir, put the bundle in, brought it to a low simmer, turned the heat down and let it go for an hour or so. An alternative to the iron mordant would be to add approximately one tablespoon of alum.

We pulled out our bundle and took a look. Bear in mind that the fabric is wet so the colors are darker than they will be when the fabric dries.

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Here are some close ups.

At this point, we both felt like the scarf could use a bit more color and pattern and since we still had a ton of plant material we did another layer that mostly consisted of leaves of unknown origin.

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We rolled it up again but this time we skipped the paper towels and we put it straight back into the iron mordant bath. We turned on the heat and let it go for about an hour and then turned off the heat and forgot about it for about 3 or 4 hours. At that point, we pulled it out and let the bundle sit overnight. Some folks who dye using this method let their pieces go for a week or more, but we were too impatient for that.

Here it is when we first unrolled it. I’m honestly not sure how much round two added to the design?  But, and this is a big but, my daughter loves it! Now we have the memory of the event permanently on fabric and we have the memory of making the scarf! 🙂 So lovely.

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Finally, we hung the scarf outside to dry and ironed it.

In conclusion, it seems to me that the eucalyptus really did the heavy lifting here. The other plant material added a bit of texture and color and the iron mordant definitely added some grey bits here and there. The eucalyptus left some fairly defined prints but it’s really the gorgeous shades of orange and rust and peach that are the most striking. The other leaves didn’t leave distinct shapes behind. Perhaps a much longer sit would have made a significant difference. I also noticed that the steaming method seemed to do a better job of transferring the color into the fiber. So in addition to a wonderful memory with my daughter, I learned a thing or two. Win, win!!!

Here’s my girl modeling her new treasure. Bellissimo! 🙂 🙂 🙂

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Plum and Eucalyptus Leaf Printed Scarf

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Hello dear readers! I was taking a walk the other day when I noticed some ornamental plum trees in an open space area. I recalled reading that they could be used for dye so I plucked a few leaves. The color of the leaves was really gorgeous and the leaf shape was pleasingly simple so I decided that a leaf printing technique would be fun to try on a silk chiffon scarf. My next thought was that the pretty purple would look great contrasted against the orange from eucalyptus leaves. Lucky for me, there was a eucalyptus tree just down the hill from the plum tree so I picked a few stems.

Materials:

  • Ornamental Plum Leaves
  • Eucalyptus leaves  – not all species are created equal, so please be sure that you are using leaves from a tree that will dye your fabric
  • Protein fiber such as silk or wool – I’m using an 11 x 90 inch silk chiffon scarf
  • Paper towels
  • Stick or dowel
  • Artificial sinew, twine or dental floss
  • Dye pot – please use a pot that is exclusively used for dyeing!
  • Steamer basket – again for dyeing purposes only!
  • Alum 

Tutorial

Step 1: Wet your fabric and fold it in half so that you can find the middle. Lay one half of your fabric on some paper towels and bunch up the remainder (see pic below).

FYI – I am doing this because I would like the same image on both sides of the scarf. By “sandwiching” your leaves your print will be repeated on either side of your piece.

Step 2: Lay out your leaves to create a pattern of some sort.

Step 3: Carefully place the second half of your fabric on top of the first. I’m not going to lie, this is a pain in the butt. You will probably have to go back and rearrange your leaves along the length of your fabric more than one time. I noticed that I would get one section right and then move on only to find that the prior section had shifted. Grrr! Hang in there, with a little patience and persistence you will get it done!

Here are steps 1-3:

Step 4: Place a stick or a dowel at one end of your scarf and roll tightly and smoothly making sure to include your paper towel. The paper towel will act as a barrier so that your fabric doesn’t bleed back onto itself. For a more eco friendly alternative you could use a scrap piece of fabric in place of the paper towels.

Step 5: Now that you have your cute little bundle, you will need to tie it tightly to hold everything together and to insure that the fabric and the leaves are nice and cozy. I’m using artificial sinew but you could easily use twine or dental floss (It probably goes without saying, but you will need to use the white stuff, no blue colored mint dental floss).

Step 6: Add an inch or so of water to your dedicated dye pot, put your steamer basket inside, add your bundle and put a lid on your pot. Turn your heat to high and bring your water to a boil. Once your water is boiling turn your heat to low and steam for 2 hours. I typically turn my bundle about half way through. I’m not sure if this does anything, but it makes me feel better. 🙂

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Step 7: Let your bundle cool in the pot and let it sit overnight.

Step 8: Unwrap your bundle and take a look. This is always my favorite part! However, my results were less than spectacular. 😦

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Okay, so here’s where I messed up. First I assumed that the tree that I got my leaves from was the same variety as the tree that I had previously obtained leaves from (they looked very similar). After this result, I took a closer look at my leaves and stems and I could clearly see that this was not the same species of eucalyptus (there are over 900 varieties!). Here they are side by side:

The leaves and stems on the right came from a red ironbark or sideroxylon tree that sits just behind my back fence. The leaves on the left were the ones that I used for this scarf. Below is an example of the result that I got from the red ironbark tree, quelle difference!

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And another thing…I failed to consider the fact that natural dyes fall into two categories, substantive and adjective. Substantive dyes don’t require a mordant or fixative to be permanent and light fast. Examples of substantive dyes are eucalyptus, turmeric, tea and onion skins. However, most natural dyes fall into the adjective category and require a fixative of some sort. The most basic mordants are salt and vinegar but natural dyers often use fixatives such as tannin or alum which are quite low in terms of their toxicity. This information is relevant to this discussion because while the eucalyptus is a substantive dye, the plum is not and it will most certainly fade if I don’t “fix” it.

Last but not least, although this doesn’t qualify as something that I messed up, I noticed that I got a good depth of color and detail from the front sides of the plum leaves while the backsides are pale and blobby. So, I’m back to the drawing board!

*To avoid having to make any corrections and to get a beautiful result from the get go I would do the following:

First, use the correct eucalyptus leaves! This may require a little research. Red ironbarks are relatively easy to spot because of their bright red stems (yes, I know that I screwed this up, please don’t remind me!). Silver dollar eucalyptus are also a good choice and you can generally pick them up at Trader Joes (in the US).

Now as for the plum leaves, I would simply double them up so that the face of the leaf is facing the fabric on both sides. With regard to “fixing” the plum leaves, you have a few options. You can pre-mordant your fabric or you can add your mordant to your dye bath. The second option is much faster and easier so I vote for that one! Instead of steaming your fabric bundle place it in a water bath that contains one gallon of water and one tablespoon of alum (or vinegar and tea – see below). Bring it to a boil and let it simmer for one hour. Turn off your heat and let your bundle soak for about 2-24 hours. 

Alright, if you’re interested in hearing the rest of this saga, sigh, here’s how I corrected my errors. First I laid out the half of my scarf with the “good’ plum print. Then I gathered a bunch of eucalyptus leaves that had fallen into my yard from the nearby tree and I placed them along the length of my scarf. Next I carefully put the second half of the fabric on top. This was still a bit tricky but it wasn’t as hard as it was the first time that I did it.  I then put some plum leaves onto the side of the fabric that didn’t print well. My guess is that they may bleed a bit onto the “good” side…so my fingers are crossed that this doesn’t totally mess that side up. I then laid more paper towels on top, placed my stick at one end and rolled the whole thing up.

After binding my bundle with sinew, I put it in a water bath that contained one part vinegar to four parts of water (I ran out of alum, so although alum would be my preference, I’m using vinegar instead).  I also added a tea bag to help soften the color and to aid in fixing the plum (the tannin in tea is a natural fixative). I then brought it to a boil, turned down the heat and let it simmer for one hour. Finally, I turned off the heat and I let the bundle soak for about 5 hours.

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This is how it looked when I unwrapped my bundle and let it dry:

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So the good news is that the eucalyptus is much better! The not so great news is that my plan to improve the plum leaves didn’t work out very well. They actually look worse. Because I am a perfectionist (which is truly a curse) and I simply can’t leave well enough alone, I got out some Inktense sticks and a little brown fabric paint and I went to work defining those plum leaves.

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After I was (finally) satisfied with my scarf, I let it cure for 24 hours and I heat set it before giving it a wash and hanging it to dry. Another quick press with my iron and it’s done…

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I think it’s really pretty and I learned a lot, so alls well that ends well. Thanks for hanging in there with me through this one!

Eco Dyeing with Eucalyptus – Part Two

Alright so I decided to move on and make a vat of eucalyptus dye. Over the fence I went to snatch some more leaves. While I was clipping I saw some low hanging branches with flowers and pods and I couldn’t resist.

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Okay, so I got a little carried away with the pictures. But, really pretty, right? I’m not sure how the flowers and pods will affect the dye but I’m throwing them in the pot. After doing more research, I saw that a lot of folks were soaking their leaves overnight and then simmering for two hours followed by another overnight sit and then possibly more simmering. Geez!

I filled my pot and added filtered water from our reverse osmosis unit. I had read that rainwater is best for your dye pot, but since that is in short supply here (even with our El Nino winter), I decided to use filtered water. When I first saw the recommendation to use rainwater it seemed really “granola” and I figured that it was more about being eco-conscious. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE granola and I’m definitely eco-conscious but I have since come to learn that there is a more specific reason. Apparently tap water can contain trace amounts of copper and other minerals that can affect the color of your dye. So the rainwater is presumably more pure. I’m not so sure about that, but at least I understand the rationale.

As I was gathering my leaves I couldn’t help but notice the gorgeous red color of the stems as well as a bit of red on some of the leaves. Hopefully this bodes well for my dye pot!

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Materials:

  • eucalyptus (red ironbark, silver dollar – if you use this variety it must be fresh not dried )
  • rainwater or RO water – optional
  • protein fiber – I’m using silk chiffon scarves
  • rubber bands
  • patience!!!

Tutorial

Step 1: Put your plant material in your dye pot, cover with water and let it sit overnight. Here’s my pot, it’s a little more than halfway full:

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Step 2: Bring your pot to a low simmer and let it go for 2 hours.

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It’s looking a little murky at this point.

Step 3: Let your pot sit overnight…or not. I did some more reading and I saw that some people were saying that it can take 3-4 hours of simmering to extract the color from the leaves. So, I decided to simmer my pot for another hour or so. The color is looking much better, yay!

It sat overnight and I brought it to a simmer again for about one hour and I let it sit for most of the day. My patience has been rewarded! Look at that gorgeous color! This really isn’t a project for those of you who want fast and easy results!

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Step 4: Give your fabric a quick wash and fold and/or bind it to create a pattern. I prefer a pattern to a solid color, but obviously this is completely up to you.  If you are dyeing a scarf then be certain to fold it in half end to end if you want the pattern to match on each side. At this point, I will be employing the following itajime shibori folding techniques:

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Both images are from this site.

 

 

So here are my folded stacks per the above diagrams. As you can see, I then bound each of them with rubber bands.

Step 5: Put your fabric in your dye bath leaving all of the plant material in place. Bring to a simmer and let it go for two hours.

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Step 6: Turn off the heat and let your fabric sit for another two hours.

Step 7: Unbind and unfold your fabric and let it dry. It should “cure” for at least one day. Iron to heat set. Done, finally! The color is more terra cotta than the orange-red I was hoping for, but that’s okay. I think I extracted every possible ounce of color from those leaves!

 

 

My Thoughts:

After spending the last week or so immersed in eucalyptus dyeing I have mixed feelings. I love that it’s an “eco” process that doesn’t require any chemicals or toxic ingredients. I also LOVE that the dye is free. 🙂 The color is pretty and it’s fun to experiment with natural materials. But you have to be incredibly patient and persistent. I really can’t stress the patience part enough. This is a multi-day, multi-step process. It was definitely (mostly) fun and I certainly learned a lot. So all in all, no regrets. Next, I’m itching to do some more eucalyptus bundles and I’m hoping that I can get some beautiful, clean leaf prints (unlike the prints that I got in Part 1!).

To check out some of my leaf prints go here and here.

 

Eco Dyeing with Eucalyptus – Part One

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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!

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Eucalyptus Sideroxylon

Materials:

  • eucalyptus
  • protein fiber – I’m using two silk scarves
  • vinegar
  • wood boards, plastic, vinegar solution (50:50) – probably NOT necessary, see below
  • string
  • stainless steel pot
  • steamer basket

Tutorial

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.

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Step 5: Let it sit. I let mine sit overnight and I took a peek in the morning. This is what I found:

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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:

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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!

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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!

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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. 😦

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Where did the blue come from?

Step 6: Pull your bundles out and let them cool.

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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.

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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!

If you’re interested in getting more distinct leaf prints go here and here.