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.

Monday, June 6, 2016

More about fabric and mordants

I’m Janine Gates - the other half of the eco-printing team for the month of June. I am not an expert on all things eco-printing - but for the last few years I’ve been an avid learner. I began eco-printing after taking a workshop with the gifted Canadian fiber artist Maggie Vanderweit (http://www.stonethreads.ca).  I was a member of Kingston Fibre Artists (http://kingstonfibreartists.ca – I miss you women!) and I was lucky to connect with fellow artists in that group who were also inspired to continue eco-printing after Maggie’s workshop. We had a blast and learned a lot together.

I moved to Maine in 2015 and discovered Amelia Poole – another wonderful teacher and fiber artist (http://ecouturetextilestudio.com). Two excellent workshops with Amelia taught me lots more, and I continue to be inspired. Here in Maine, I’ve had the good luck of connecting with Judith – we share a passion for eco-printing and fiber art generally.

Judith has laid out the key information about eco-printing in Friday’s post - I’ll add a few things that I think about when printing. 

Eco-printing is sometimes called contact printing – that term is helpful to me because the better the contact between the plant materials (leaves, stems, pods, petals) and the fiber, the more successful the print is likely to be. Judith and I will talk more about how to maximize plant-fiber contact later in the month, when we talk about preparing the bundles.

Many kinds of fiber can be eco-printed. I like to repurpose fabrics – I troll second hand stores for linen, cotton, silk or light wool garments and linens that I use for printing – white, cream or even pale colors work well. Silk or wool scarves are great, and a light wool shawl or throw is always a welcome find. I also love to print silk organza, which I order on-line.

 Three linen and cotton pieces printed with torn sugar maple, birch, and an assortment of other leafs

Silk scarf printed with Japanese maple, raspberry, and apple tree leafs

I scour fabric before the mordant soak – even old, worn, second-hand linen or cotton that has been washed many times may have bleach or detergent residue.  I generally use very hot water with a little synthrapol and soda ash to prepare these fabrics to take the mordant.  For wool and silk, I do a warm water wash with a gentle, neutral soap. If you want to know more about scouring, the Maiwa website has good instructions (http://maiwahandprints.blogspot.com/2010/12/natural-dyes-scouring.html).

Some thoughts about mordants

Protein fibers (like silk, wool, and alpaca) take prints beautifully using a simple alum mordant. Cellulose fibers like cotton, linen, viscose, and paper print less readily and can benefit with some extra preparation when mordanting.

Here are two ways to prepare cellulose fibers for eco-printing:

Soy Milk Soak
Some people have had good results from soaking cellulose fibers in soy milk before the alum soak. The soy milk is intended to infuse cellulose fibers with protein, increasing the effectiveness of the print.  I’ve used this method, and it did help to improve the print color and quality.

Aluminum Acetate
Amelia Poole introduced me to this mordant for cellulose fibers and I’ve been very pleased with results. Aluminum acetate can be purchased on line through various sources.I purchased mine at Dharma Trading. (http://www.dharmatrading.com/dyes/aluminum-acetate-mordant.html). This mordant can also be mixed in your own studio (I haven’t tried this) - instructions can be found on the Maiwa website. (http://maiwahandprints.blogspot.com/2013/01/natural-dyes-mordants-part-1.html ) This site also has a great deal of information about eco-printing and natural dyeing.

Using mordants can be a complex, multi-stage process.  I’m a simple soul… so far, I’ve been pleased with results I’ve had from just using alum (for silk or wool) or aluminum acetate (for cotton, linen and paper). I do almost always use iron (which is a co-mordant that can enhance uptake of images) somewhere in the eco-print process.  I don’t measure the amount of iron – I  introduce it to the process by wrapping rusted iron objects among the leaves in bundles, or by placing a piece of rusty iron in the dye bath, or by adding a very rusted piece of fabric to a bundle or to the dye bath… or all of those methods.  I find that iron helps to make colors darker (saddens the colors) and prints more distinct – this suits me but you may be looking for different effects in your eco-printing. Many plants that I like to use contain tannin, another co-mordant – for example sumac and maple leaves – and I often use these in bundles.

If you’re interested in learning a lot about how to use a full and varied range of mordants, the Maiwa website is a good information source for that too. Having more information about the effects of various mordants, and when and how to use them will give you more control over the process and results.   Most of the time, I don’t try to aim for specific effects – I love the elements of chance and surprise that are intrinsic to eco-printing… the thrill of opening those bundles to see what the process has given me. More about those little bundles in the weeks ahead.

How much mordant to use? Like Judith, I weigh the dry fabric that I’ll be eco-printing and compute the corresponding amount of mordant needed for that weight. For cellulose fibers, some eco-printers recommend a ratio of 15-20% aluminum acetate mordant to the weight of fabric; others suggest a lower ratio of 5-10%. I generally use a ratio of 10-15% and have been happy with results.  I find that I can use less mordant on thinner fabrics, or when I know I’ll be using plant materials that tend to print well. And if I know that I want strong, distinct prints of specific leaves, I’ll often use the higher ratio.

Back to Judith for the next post – happy printing!

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