Eucalyptus Leaf Print Tutorial

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Hello folks! If you read my first post on eucalyptus dyeing then you may have gathered that I was none too thrilled with my results. So I was determined to get back to it and see if I could get some crisp eucalyptus leaf prints. I figured that it might be nice to work on a smaller scale this time (or at least until I achieve a result that I am pleased with) so I will be using some silk pillow covers. Here goes!

Materials:

  • protein fiber such as silk or wool
  • vinegar
  • eucalyptus leaves (you will need to find a eucalyptus species that is suitable for dyeing such as red ironbark or silver dollar)
  • paper towels
  • stick, small piece of pipe, or a dowel
  • artificial sinew or twine
  • pot with steamer basket – please use a pot that is dedicated to dyeing!
  • Derwent Inktense color blocks (optional)
  • iron

Tutorial

Step 1: Alright first things first! Technically you can dye nearly any natural fiber with eucalyptus. However, if you choose a protein or animal fiber like silk or wool you will not need to use a mordant (mordants help to fix dye to fabric). So if you would like to use cotton or linen you will need to pre-soak your fabric in a mordant such as alum. Alum is available online and some say you can buy it at the grocery store although I have never seen it there. I generally purchase mine here.  As I previously mentioned, I will be using two blank silk pillow covers that I purchased through Dharma Trading (I swear they need to start paying me for the free advertising!).

As far as the eucalyptus is concerned, this may require a little research if you don’t have easy access to a tree. The silver dollar variety is readily available in the U.S. through florists and some markets. I would try Trader Joes since their prices on flowers and plants can’t be beat! The leaf shape on this variety is much more circular (as the name implies) so you will end up with a different but no less lovely result. I will be showing you two examples of this process, one is very simple and the next is a bit more complex.

Now let’s get down to business! First wet your fiber in a vinegar bath. This isn’t absolutely necessary but it will help to fix the dye and it’s an easy step so why not? If you choose not to use vinegar you should definitely wet your fabric. Then lay it out onto a layer of paper towels making sure that it is as flat and smooth as possible. I didn’t do this the first time and I needed to carefully lift up my fabric (with the leaves already in place) to slide the paper towel underneath. So learn from my mistakes people and put down the paper towel first! Then lay out your design on one half of your fabric. I’m doing this in part because I like that I will get a mirror image of my design but this also allows me to make a smaller bundle that will easily fit into my steamer basket (this will make more sense later). If you have a larger steam set up and want to do a different design then go for it!

 

Step 2: Lay the second half of your fabric on top of the first being careful not to disturb your design. Press with your hands to smooth.

 

Step 3: Place another layer of paper towel on top of your fabric then use a stick (I’m using a piece of eucalyptus), a small pipe or a dowel to roll your fabric into a bundle. Be mindful not to disturb your design as you are rolling it up. Tie it tightly with artificial sinew or twine to create a neat bundle.

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Step 4: Place in your steamer basket and turn your heat to high. When it comes to a boil turn your heat to low and let it go for one hour. When your hour is up, turn your bundle over and steam for one more hour.

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Step 5: Let your bundle cool completely and unroll. Some folks say that you should wait 24 hours to open your bundle, but having tried this I really didn’t feel like it made much of a difference. It’s truly like opening up a present! Here’s what I got.

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Sooooo pretty! I love that there is variation in the leaf color on number one. And the shadow of each leaf is nice in number two – I’m not sure why that happened but I like it. I decided to add stems to the second one using these. I took the red and rubbed it on the metal lid, then added some dark grey and a bit of orange. I added some water with a small brush and I was able to get a nice reddish orange.

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Hmmmm, maybe I liked it better before the stems? What do you think? I’m toying with the idea of giving this one a quick dunk in some black tea. Stay tuned…

Step 6: Hang your fabric to dry and let it sit for a minimum of 24 hours to “cure.” Waiting truly is the hardest part!!!

Step 7: Iron to set your design, give it a quick wash in a mild detergent, hang to dry and iron again.  Now they’re ready for their cover shots!

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So as you can see I decided to give both of them a little tea bath. I dunked them for approximately one minute and then rinsed them under some cold running water. I then ironed them while they were still wet to set the color. They dried almost immediately with the hot iron.

Although I loved the crisp white background I began to notice that the areas where the dye had bled were looking a bit like the pillow case was dirty, which was not a good look! I figured that a creamier background would help to blend things. Mission accomplished. 🙂

 

 

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.