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.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Fabric, Mordants and Alice Fox

There are four things you need to know to successfully eco-print: fabric, mordants, leaves, and the cooking process.  Fabrics is probably the easiest of the four.  Think of what will dye with MX dyes--natural plant based fibers (e.g. cotton and linen) and silk.  That is pretty much the same for eco-printing. Consider the weave of the fabric because the finer the weave of the fabric the better the print you will get from the leaves.  Some of my favorite pieces to eco-print are second hand items like antique hankies and table scarves.  The little extra lace, monogram or embroidery just adds more interest to the finished piece. I always wash my fabric first to get rid of the sizing but frankly with all the treatment that the fabric gets I don't know that it is necessary.  I have found from experience that smaller pieces of fabric will print better.  I love using yardage but when wrapping lots of layers of fabric for cooking the inner layers don't seem to get as much heat and don't print as well. 

 A mordant is necessary to create the chemical reaction for the leaves (et. al.) to print on the fabric.  Think of the necessity of soda ash for MX dyes.  There are lots of mordants and lots of debate on which mordants are best.  I think "best" is probably determined by the fabric, plants, heating techniques you use, and the outcome you want.  I have tried soy milk but without great success.  Soy milk makes the fabric react like a protein rather than a cellulose so the tannin in the leaves print better.

My mordant of choice right now is alum.  You can buy it at the grocery store in small quantities or online at places like Dharma.   Some people use a combination of alum and soda ash.    Alum needs to be dissolved in a bucket with water.  You need 5% -20% alum per weight of fabric ( Here is an example of the math: 5 to 20 grams alum per 100 grams fabric) or a combination of 4 tsp alum and 1/5 tsp washing soda per 4 oz fabric.   You need enough water to allow the fabric to move around freely.  Soak the fabric for at least 24 hours.  The fabric will then be ready to use immediately or to dry and use later.

Artist: Alice Fox

Another eco-print artist that I absolutely adore is Alice Fox.  She also rusts (yeah!!) and stitches leaves (who would have thought?) among other artistic uses of natural objects.  She has also written a book that I adore.  I don't know if I enjoy the book because I know more about eco-printing now  or if the book covers several topics in less depth.  Either way, I can follow the instructions.


  1. Ahhhh......the book is out of print! Anyone have one to sell?

  2. According to Alice Fox's web site the book will be back in print soon.

  3. I have several! containers of wood chips given to me by a couple who would dye their own yarn. I did 'dye' a beautiful, pale purple from one of the wood....need to get back into this. Have you ever used wood to make your own dye from? I only remember using alum but don't remember what ratio...


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