Eco Printing Tests

lubhelu textiles

I became interested in Eco Printing after researching this wonderful technique that India Flint developed. I have been following #iritdulman , #danielaspinucci and #gumnutmagic. I wanted to work out how to achieve the amazing effects that they do, so with my friends at the London Guild of Dyers, weaver and spinners – Dye group.

I have tried eco printing before and have used it in workshops with children and our allotment association using fresh flowers. We achieved beautiful results but they were like bright watercolour wash – not clear imprints. 

So I took this opportunity to do research into the beautiful clear prints achieved by Irit Dulman ( ) and Daniela Spinucci ( @danielaspinucci ). I read everything  written by Irit Dulman on her blog regarding how her process has developed and that she now treats the fabric that she is printing onto, with mordants, and then does not mordant as the ‘blanket’. She wants the fabric base to ‘recieve ‘ and the blanket to ‘give’ the colour or background. The term ‘blanket’ refers to a second piece of fabric which is soaked in the desired dye or mordant and then laid on top of the printing fabric and leaves to ‘sandwich’ the leaves in the middle and make negative prints on the printing fabric. 

Daniele Spinucci has self published a downloadable book on her website and I bought this. Daniele achieves the most amazing clear prints on various materials from leather to silk. 

After the research I decided to try the blanket technique using the more traditional ‘Iron blanket’ and then Irit Dulmanns ‘tannin blanket’ and also ‘colour vector blanket’. 

In order to test these I decided on the following. 

I had some silk – which I wanted to try as I have seen that protein textiles print really well.  I also used a very old pure cotton sheet that has been washed for many years and thus would not need scouring and should print well.


Mordanting. The cotton was all pre mordanted with Alum at 12%WOF and soda ash @1.5% WOF simmered for 2 hours.I then dried the cotton Without rinsing and left for a week. I then rinsed it out before the experiment and left it wet. 

Silk I pre mordanted with Alum @15% WOF in warm water and then left it to cool overnight. I then rinsed it and dried it. 

Collecting leaves. I went out foraging along the Thames towpath in Walton on Thames. I collected tannin rich leaves . Oak, walnut, staghorn Sumac and blackberry. 

Then I collected things that I thought would make a good negative print, bracken, elder, grasses, geranium. ( you can see below that I was a little too over enthusiastic)

Tools. I had some cherry wood branches that the allotment society cut for a previous workshop and I collected some plastic cylinders . ( paintbrush tubes)

I had plastic sheeting from all the packaging around mail order parcels. I have 2 big industrial oven pans that I use as dye pans – I put one on top of the other and put ceramic dishes in the base to keep the eco print rolls above the water to steam. I used mini clamps to hold them together.

Lots of old recycled yarn.

Dyes/mordants – I used some old LAC extract powder that was in my cupboard, made into a strong solution of 6 grams of extract for 112g of fabric.

Iron mordant powder – (A bit old and clumpy) 2% solution

Tannin – Oak gall powder, 6grams per 100g of fabric. I put them all onto simmer or heat up two hours before the workshop and then placed the fabrics ( blankets and second mordant ) into them for 60 mins to simmer and take on the dye/mordant before making up the rolls.

  1. Cotton – Alum and soda ash mordant , then leaves dipped in iron 2% solution
  2. Cotton –  Alum and soda ash mordant, tannin leaves , Iron Blanket.
  3. Cotton – Alum and soda ash mordant, second Iron mordant, any leaves, Tannin vector Blanket.
  4. Cotton – Alum and soda ash mordant, second Iron mordant, any leaves, Colour vector Blanket
  5. Silk – Alum mordant, second iron morda any leaves, Tannin vector blanket
  6. Silk – Alum mordant, any leaves, Colour  vector blanket

These are the six different experiments

I joined the online workshop with Marietta Richardson and she demonstrated folding and rolling techniques. 

I Then placed leaves on the pre-mordanted fabric ( I only dipped the leaves in iron solution in the first example, where there was no Iron or vector blanket.

On top of the leaves I placed the Iron/vector blanket and then a layer of clear plastic. I then rolled the bundle and bound it with yarn as tight as I could. 

When I used a piece of fabric that had gone through the second Iron mordant process I rinsed these before placing the leaves on them. ( I think this was a mistake)

When using the Iron blanket or tannin / colour vector blanket I removed these pieces of fabric from the cooled pots, squeezed them and laid them directly onto the leaves. They were not rinsed. I started out being quite systematic about selecting leaves and deliberately trying to just make logical clear examples. However as I progressed through, my aesthetics could not be kept down and my selection and placement became less exact and more pleasing to me. 

placing leaves on an Iron second mordanted piece of fabric

laying an Iron Blanket over the leaves

Laying the lac colour blanket over the leaves

A finished roll


I then placed the rolls in my oven pan steamer and steamed them for 2 hours, checking the water levels and turning them over once.

After the 2 hours I took them out and left them to cool down.

My research had said that it is best to leave the rolls for 2 weeks before opening them, but I am afraid that I could not wait that long. Next time I will leave some to see the difference. 

So I started to unroll them. 

unrolling with the leaves still in place.

unrolling the silk with a colour vector blanket.

Thereafter I hung them up to dry inside out of the sun.


I have numbered these as per the experiment numbers above.

1 – Cotton – Alum and soda ash mordant , then leaves dipped in iron 2% solution

The prints are quite clear with some bleeding. From right to left – bracken, oak, walnut, sumac

2 – Cotton –  Alum and soda ash mordant, tannin leaves , Iron Blanket. ( The Iron blanket is on the right – I love the print on that too. ) leaves from top to bottom – sumac, birch, prunus, horse chestnut.

3 – Cotton – Alum and soda ash mordant, second Iron mordant, any leaves, Tannin vector Blanket. Again the tannin blanket on the left is as beautiful as the print. Leaves from top to bottom – a collection of flowers on stems (chamomile, dyes chamomile, lavender), then grasses, rowan, prunus, weeping willow.

4 – Cotton – Alum and soda ash mordant, second Iron mordant, any leaves,Lac  Colour vector Blanket

Leaves left to right – bottlebrush, blackberry, a cherry leaf, geranium, queen annes lace seedhead, sumac

5 – Silk – Alum mordant, second iron mordant, any leaves, Tannin vector blanket

This was very disappointing – a dark grey smudge

However this one totally made up for it all.

6 – Silk – Alum mordant, any leaves, Colour  vector blanket

Leaves left to right –  weeping willow, grass heads, jasmine, sumac, alder, hawthorne, fern


I was disappointed that the Iron and tannin combinations did not produce the very dark backgrounds that I was hoping for. I think that I should not rinse the Iron mordant out and should try a stronger tannin solution. 

The colour vector blankets were really lovely and I will definitely use this process again, trying different natural dyes. On these the leaves all printed well and were well defined. 

The cotton samples that were only pre-mordanted in the Alum soda ash mix were a bit dull, so I think that I will try only using iron as a pre-mordant with a tannin blanket and see the difference.The weeping beech leaves worked fantastically as did sumac, rowan and blackberry. Horse chestnut gave a good print however purple leaves ended up a bit of a purple smudge.

Silk – the iron tannin combination was dull and grey , however the alum only mordant and colour vector blanket was stunning. 

I would like to try on wool fabric, however it is so expensive. 

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