A TECHNIQUE DRIVEN Blog dedicated to mastery of surface design techniques. First we dye, overdye, paint, stitch, resist, tie, fold, silk screen, stamp, thermofax, batik, bejewel, stretch, shrink, sprinkle, Smooch, fuse, slice, dice, AND then we set it on fire using a variety of heat tools.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Using Plants in Screen Printing

Deconstructed screen print made with dried American Beech leaves
In this post, I want to share a project I enjoyed recently – using plant parts and thickened fabric dye to screen print on fabric and paper. The plants were used in several ways:

  • as stencils to block the transfer of dye to the fabric
  • as materials to make a dried screen for some deconstructed screen printing
  • as direct prints using the plants that collected dye under the screen

I won’t go into detail here about the techniques of screen printing or of deconstructed screen printing – lots of great information elsewhere for that. Just to clarify though: screen printing is the process of using a sheer fabric (silk or synthetic) fixed in a convenient frame to distribute a medium (paint, ink, thickened dye, etc.) onto a substrate (fabric or paper, generally). Deconstructed screen printing uses the same materials but thickened dye is allowed to dry on the screen in patterns made by objects placed under the screen. The thickened dye is gradually dissolved during the printing process, then it can be washed completely off the screen with water when finished. Beth Berman has a very good tutorial on her blog. And Kerr Grabowski posted this video tutorial. I used thickened fiber reactive dyes for my entire process - screen printing, deconstructed screen printing, and direct printing. I soaked my cotton and linen fabrics with a soda ash solution and dried the fabric ahead of my printing session. I also sprayed the printed fabrics lightly with a soda ash solution before put them in plastic to "batch."

We'll start with basic screen printing. Below is a small screen with three fresh Alstroemeria sp. leaves laid under the screen. After the first swipe with the thickened dye, the thin leaves stick to the screen until rinsed or picked off the underside of the screen. That makes it very easy to make repeated prints, shown in the bottom left of the photo below. The fern print at top right was made by laying a fresh florist fern under a screen, printing with thickened green dye then swiped with yellow dye on a card without the screen. I love putting this additional layer of dye over a previously screen printed image to add a more random color layer. I let the original print set for several minutes, then it seems to resist the new dye layer that adheres to the white fabric left by the plant "stencil".
 Here is a series of prints showing the first screen print with the white stencil images and then some additional card-applied dye.

Multiple Alstroemeria leaf screen prints.
Alstroemeria leaf screen prints with added purple dye.
 BOTANICAL NOTE: The Alstroemeria leaves and petals I used for these prints are from the florist. Those sold in the florist trade are cultivars (meaning selected from wild plants and then propagated for desirable characteristics). One of their common names is Peruvian Lily. Great information and images at Wikipedia.

 Here are more plant parts used in my screen printing.
Alstroemeria petals

Alstroemeria petals under screen.
Multiple petals prints.

Grasses and fern on underside of screen.
Grasses and fern as stencils.

American Beech leaves as stencils.
Next, I let the screens dry with my thickened dye and plant material on them. I then used them with either clear print paste or with fairly pale tinted print paste as my printing mediums.
The Beech screen with dried dye, leaves removed.
Deconstructed print on paper from Beech screen with tinted print paste.

Deconstructed prints on fabric made with paperwhite narcissus, flowers left on screen in top print as stencils.
Back of grasses and fern dried screen, plants removed

Front of screen with tinted print paste ready to apply.
Detail from finished print on paper.

And here a couple of prints made with the dye-covered plant material first used under screens as stencils and then pressed onto substrates.
Balsam fir stem screen printed on right (with too much dye) and then printed with the residual thickened dye in center.
Alstroemeria stems with leaves directly printed on paper with the original thickened dye, then overprinted with lavender dye before stems were removed.
I find this process fairly addictive, as you can continue to use the original screens and plants in so many ways. Hope you enjoyed my fun day in the studio!


  1. This is wonderful. I love reading about your process and seeing the fantastic results. There is just something awesome that happens when using plant life for printmaking! Thank you so much for posting this.

  2. Wonderful work, Cris! And all of your posts have been so informative!

  3. Love the botanical prints! I am -like so many others drawn to nature. Thanks you for all the information.


  4. It was great fun to read your comments! This obsession with plants tempts me live in a friendlier climate part of the year ;-)

  5. thanks for the great, informative post - I am wondering if you can share the process you use for thickening your dye? I have done some reading (mostly blog posts such as yours) and am a little confused.

    Cynthia R.


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