Exploring Botanical Printing

A few weeks ago I spotted a last minute ecoprinting workshop that Kim Winter from Flextiles was running, this is a technique I have been curious about for some time so I jumped at the chance to go play with a lovely group of ladies. It turns out this is the perfect time of year (in the northern hemisphere) to be ecoprinting as most plants are at the end of their growing season and I don’t feel so bad about denuding my beautiful Acer knowing it will shed its leaves in the next few weeks anyway.

The workshop focussed on printing on silk, probably the easiest of fibres to print as it doesn’t need to be mordanted first. These are the pieces I made during the workshop, out of respect for Kim I am not going to share her methods here but I think most of what we learned is available on the net. All but the first piece were printed with an iron blanket:

Printed and simultaneously dyed with onion skin, note the repeat (ghost) prints as no barrier was used

Silk dyed with tanin and iron blanket

I also took a  few scraps of nunofelt along to the workshop just to see what would happen and was pleasantly surprised with the results:

Top piece was dyed with tanin before printing

Although I came away from the workshop with a good range of samples I wanted to test more of my local plants on both cotton and silk and with my notoriously hard local water. The cotton was mordanted with 10% Weight of Fabric (WOF) Alum (Aluminium Potassium Sulphate), rinsed and dried before use. Mordanting is a process that makes it possible for the dye to form a chemical bond with the fabric, therefore making the dye colours stronger and more light- and wash-fast.

For almost all the leaves I placed one leaf (on the left) with the veins facing the fabric and a second leaf with the veins facing up. In almost all cases the side with the veins gave the best print.

These are my results on silk, as you can see, some plants produce much better prints than others. Clicking on the photos should enlarge them enough to read my plant labels, I am ashamed to admit I don’t know names for all of the plants are, so some are just location labels for my own reference:

And these are my results on alum-mordanted cotton (the cotton is pink from a magenta coloured top included in the mordant bath, but had the unintended benefit of revealing which plants might discharge the dye):

In the next photo the leaves in the lower left corner clearly discharged the dye.

I also had a play with some natural dyes too, madder and logwood. My biggest learning is that madder loses its colour above 60ºC so printing with steam onto madder-dyed fabric causes the colour to fade. But how I love logwood! You can get anything from pale grey-purple through to the deepest indigo-purple colours depending on the strength of the bath and how long you steep your cloth.

Pre-dying cloth with logwood has opened up the option of discharge printing, a technique that relies on the ability of certain plants to remove the dye from the cloth. These are some of my test pieces, very few of the plants I tried removed any of the logwood dye:

Feeling brave I raided my local charity shops for pale coloured clothes with a high cotton content and these are the results of my first attempts, some I am really pleased with and have been wearing at every opportunity 🙂

This was my first attempt, I was a little disappointed that the large fern frond I placed on each side only left a pale smudge rather than a print but otherwise there were some nice geranium prints.

This was the offending magenta top that dyed my test cottons pink but I was really pleased with the subtle crimson prints it gave.

This one was initially shibori-dyed with logwood – that gave the barbed-wire effect across the top (best seen in the second photo) and then printed with sycamore and deutzia leaves.

This is my favourite print so far, it was predominantly sycamores and acer. The lovely orangey-yellows were from just one tree, it still amazes me how different trees from similar species give such different prints.

This shirt was dyed with logwood and then printed with sacred bamboo and sycamore leaves. Unfortunately you cannot see distinct leaf shapes from the bamboo, it looks more like I splattered the shirt with white paint, the sycamore leaves gave a nice crimson print though.

I tried reprinting over the white areas with some more sycamore leaves and some virginia creeper. I’m still not happy with it… perhaps I will dye it with logwood again and just print with sycamore leaves instead.

I found some very pale lilac jeans, they still had their original shop labels, clearly whoever bought them had second thoughts about them by the time they got them home. Initially I printed them with chestnut and geranium leaves but was really disappointed with the pale quality of the prints so over printed them with sycamore leaves, that added the yellows and greens you can see below. Some of the yellow patches were in some rather unfortunate places…

So back into the dye pot they went! This time I rolled the jeans up with more sycamore leaves and a few from my acer tree and put them in a logwood dye bath….

I was hoping the logwood would reach the groin area on the front as well as the back but I do like the way the purple plays against the yellow.

If you are interested in exploring ecoprinting, these are some resources that I have found useful:

Printing with Botanicals FB page – there are several FB pages dedicated to ecoprinting but this one insists that anyone posting their work shares the method they used – incredibly helpful for beginners.

Wild Colours  – a UK supplier of mordants and natural dyes but they also list methods and recipes on their website.

For natural dyeing I can recommend Jenny Dean’s book, Wild Colours, she provides recipes and methods as well as colour swatches to give you an idea of how alum and iron will impact the final colour.

If you are concerned about the toxitiy of mordants used in natural dyeing (that was my main reason for not attempting it sooner) you might find this post interesting: https://alpenglowyarn.wordpress.com/2014/11/11/mordants-and-natural-dyeing-the-great-debate/

Confused about the difference between mordants and chemical assists? Take a look at this:  http://www.pburch.net/dyeing/FAQ/mordants_and_assists.shtml

Have you tried eco-printing? What results did you achieve?


Adventurous Drawing and Colour with Mark Cazalet

I feel blessed to have spent the bank holiday weekend drawing in the beautiful landscapes around West Dean in  glorious sunshine. Mark Cazalet was an excellent tutor, I signed up for this course hoping to come away using colour in a more considered way and he did not disappoint. He set us a number of exercises over the 3 days including using cool colours on warm grounds (papers) and vice versa, exploring the effects of black versus cream grounds and seeing the colours around us in a much less literal way.

The first drawing was made in the gardens, Mark suggested I redraw it from my original drawing without looking at the source.


It is interesting how the colours are so much more vibrant…


This one was a 10 minute sketch, playing with different colours to give and impression of depth, light and shade:


This drawing was exploring the combination of warm and cool colours together on a neutral ground:


I had 10 minutes before we were expected to pack up and return to the studio so I did this one just for fun:

We were asked to create some sketches of abstract forms  from what we saw in the gardens, from those I repeated the same design several times on different coloured grounds, it is curious how the colour of the paper has such a an impact on the feel and tone of the drawing.



These last two drawings are my least favourite but it was an interesting exercise, the first was warm colours on a cool ground:

And cool colours on a warm ground:


Now it is back to work for me! Enrolment for the new online felted bag class closes on the 22nd and the class starts in earnest on the 25th, I am still doing the final edits on the tutorials while trying to prepare for the Surrey Open Studios event beginning on June 2nd it is going to be a busy few weeks but both are projects I am really excited to be taking part in, if you would like to join in the fun please follow these links:

Felted bags online class: link

Surrey Open Studios: link


Preparations for the Oxmarket in Chichester

The last couple of weeks have been a whirl of screen-printing, trying to get a couple of new designs ready for exhibition at the Oxmarket gallery in March. The exhibition will feature a selection of new and established printmakers and will be open from 13-25th March, if you are in the area  please do pop in, there will be over 100 framed prints on show and hundreds more in browsers. It promises to be a wonderfully ecletic exhibition of different printmaking techniques and styles.

This is a small sample of my prints (no two are the same, even though only 3 sets of stencils were used).

This series I titled “dinner time” and I’m sure anyone who owns a cat will be very familiar with this pose 🙂

I have struggled to come up with a title for this one (any ideas?), but I was trying to capture that fleeting glimpse of a fish beyond the ripples in the pond surface…



The address for the exhibition is:

Oxmarket Gallery
St. Andrew’s Court
off East Street
West Sussex
PO19 1YH

Open Tue – Sun 10am to 4:30pm
Free admission

Bacchus Exhibition

I am very pleased to say my Tropical Reef wall hanging that I made in response to the Felting and Fibre Studio Forum Challenge 18 months ago is currently on display in the Bacchus exhibition at Denbies near Dorking, Surrey. The exhibition is only on for another week so you’d better be quick if you want to see it. Entry is free.

This is my exhibit, some of you might recognise it 🙂

These links will take you to the story of its creation…






And these are a selection of the exhibition pieces that caught my eye… Clicking on the image will make it larger and the labels easier to read.

Natasha Mwaegbe was the only other textile artist in the exhibition. Her work reminded me of Maggie Grey’s books.


Anna Scott also has a print exhibition at Watt’s gallery, I am planning to visit that in the next couple of weeks.


This piece by Caroline Bond was made from glass, sand and rocks, it invited the viewer to touch it.


I liked how Grace Ellen had used the gloss medium sparingly, it really made the bank on the other side of the river recede.


This painting of a cow was my favourite and I was surprised it did not place in the judging.


If you are thinking about embarking on Ruth’s current mixed media challenge, I say go for it! You never know where it might lead! 🙂


Feeling Inspired

Yesterday was the last day of a 3 day workshop with the genuinely lovely and inspiring, Louise Anderson. Normally I feel a bit deflated and sad when a workshop comes to an end but this time I think I am feeling too energised and excited by the new possibilities to feel sad that I will not be meeting up with my classmates again. It sounds trite but this workshop really has changed how I look at even the most mundane of objects, I am noticing colours and shapes that I was previously oblivious to.

Louise is a lecturer from UCA, a university that I mentioned a few weeks ago, but she was teaching this course, Colour and Abstract Design for Textiles, from City Lit in London. To be honest I wasn’t really sure what to expect but it came recommended from another UCA lecturer so I signed up and kept and open mind, and I am so glad I did!

The first half day was spent on the basics of colour theory, a favourite topic of mine and one I would have happily spent all 3 discussing. Then we moved onto using view-finder techniques to find interesting combinations of line and shape from various still life objects. The second day was spent predominantly working from photos for inspiration and the 3 day for me was spent working with scale and repetition (I went off on a bit of tangent here, I don’t think this was intended to be part of the class).

Here are a few of the designs I produced over the 3 days…

This next series was derived from the photo on the left, the panel in the top right was drawn from the photo while the panel below was a more geometric representation of the one above, focusing on the elements I found most pleasing.

Photo found on http://katia-lexx.livejournal.com/1325217.html but no credit given to the photographer so I’m afraid I do not know who took it.

Then I played with repetition and scale, out of all the designs this is the one (or at least sections of it) I can see myself translating into felt and fabric prints.

This next one solicited the most interest from my classmates, this is it after playing with scale and repetition.

I’m not sure I like the large layout, it is too chaotic and makes me feel tense just looking at it, but small sections of it are appealing and worth further exploration…

We also had a brief discussion about rust dyeing as part of the “how to translate your designs into textiles” segment, so when I spotted a rusty, ornate metal plate in the garage, I had to give it a go didn’t I? 🙂

For a first attempt a rust dyeing I am enormously impressed with the results, the print is far clearer that I expected and it only took 2 hours (I was told to leave it for 2 days but could see the rust seeping through after just 30 min). On the left is cotton muslin and the far right is a scrap of habouti silk.

A close up of the cotton print…

I have already wrapped another piece of cotton around the plate for attempt number 2, fingers crossed it is as beautiful as the first!

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