Eco Print Experiment: Silk Bundled Around Rusty Pipe

19 04 2016

Rusty iron intensifies the prints from leaves on fabric, and “saddens” or changes colors when used as a mordant with natural dyes. I found some HEAVY old iron window sash weights, thinking they might come in handy as a source of rust in the dyepot. I decided to experiment and tried using it in an Eco print bundle. It seemed like a LOT of potential rust, but gave it a try…

Eco print bundle with iron sash weight

Eco print bundle with iron sash weight 

The process: I sprayed a small silk scarf with 1:1 vinegar, added Eucalyptus and a few other leaves, tied it up and gently simmered it in a Eucalyptus-onion skin dyebath for about ½ hour with 3 other bundles. The color was looking pretty dark on the outside of the bundles, so I moved it to the steamer so it was no longer sitting in the dyebath, then steamed for at least another 1 ½ hours.

Here it is immediately after opening the bundle.  Too much of a good thing?  There was a dark rusty area on the scarf where it was in contact with the iron pipe that was a bit unsettling, but I love the depth of color in the rest of the scarf. To stop the action of the rust, I rinsed and washed it well, then soaked it 15 minutes in a dilute baking soda solution.  Some rust dyers say to use baking soda, others salt to neutralize the rust, so I also soaked it in a salt solution after that, about 1 T to 1 gallon water. (Using salt seems strange, since road salt causes the metal on our cars to rust here in Minnesota…)  Eco print with iron sash weight

The following images show both sides after washing, neutralizing the rust, and steam pressing. Too much rust?  I might try wrapping the iron weight in a couple layers of cotton before adding the sik scarf, to hopefully avoid the really intense rusty area in the middle…

I also had a few other scarves in the same batch, which show the effects of the iron sash weight in the Eucalyptus-Onion skin dyebath. The scarf on the left is 11″ wide Crepe de Chine silk, printed over a scarf that came out too light the first time. The long 8″ scarf on the right is Habotai silk, with Eucalyptus and maple leaves. I am quite happy with all 3 scarves!

** View available scarves in the Eco Print section of my ETSY SHOP.**


Dyeing with Onion Skins: Red or Yellow?

12 04 2016

Onion skins are one of my favorite natural dyes, with colors ranging from yellow with alum mordant to deep rust and brown (with iron).  I usually just mix them all in one dye bath… I’ve been curious whether red and yellow onion skins give different colors when dyeing silk, so I decided to do a test. I separated, then weighed out equal amounts of red and yellow onion skins, then simmered them separately in stainless steel pans for about an hour and let the dye cool and sit overnight.

red and yellow onion skin dye

Comparing dye color from red and yellow onion skins

I added some squares of silk into each pot: no mordant, alum pre-mordant, iron pre-mordant plus some cotton. The red onion skins gave a slightly darker, more muted color. I was surprised that pre-mordanting with alum didn’t make a difference in the color, at least this time. Simmering it longer, about 15 minutes, made more of a difference in color. The silk squares pre-mordanted with iron turned a very dark brown.

Dye test results

From front: Silk no mordant, with alum, simmered longer, iron mordant, cotton with alum

Onion skin dye test

Onion skin dye on silk: red on left, yellow on right


  • So far I still like the color I’ve gotten using a mix of red and yellow onion the best.
  • More onion skins to fabric and longer simmering times gave more intense colors.
  • Pre-mordanting the silk with Alum had little, if any, effect. (I don’t quite believe this one, so I’ll keep throwing test squares into future onion skin pots.)
  • Just a bit of iron mordant gives a very dark brown.

Here are a couple of examples of my eco printed scarves using onion skin dye.

scarf dyed with onion skins

Eco printed silk scarf dyed with onion skins (mixed colors)

eco print scarf with onion skin dye

Onion skin dye modified by iron, eco printed on silk with sumac leaves

*  Visit the Eco Print section of my ETSY SHOP. *

Eco Printing Workshop with Robbin Firth

1 04 2016

Last weekend I had the opportunity to take an eco printing workshop with Robbin Firth, of Heartfelt Silks in Hudson, Wisconsin. I had seen a few images of her work, and love her rich, densely printed fabrics. They remind me of watercolors. It’s a different style from how I’ve been working, as I usually love seeing the distinct shapes and detailed veining of the leaves. But it’s good to learn about different approaches and techniques, plus the class was less than an hour’s drive….

I was too busy playing with all the great leaves Robin had gotten from a florist friend (still too early here for local leaves) so I forgot to take pictures. I did manage one “before” picture and here are my 3 completed scarves. The darker two were wrapped around copper pipes and steamed about 1.5 hours. The lighter scarf was wrapped around a dowel and simmered.

Eco print scarves

3 eco printed scarves from workshop with Robbin Firth

Leaves on silk scarf

“Before” image, tropical leaves and silk scarf wrapped around copper pipe

** View available scarves in the Eco Print section of my ETSY SHOP.**

Eco printing on eggs

27 03 2016

I hadn’t used leaves and natural dyes to decorate Easter eggs in years, but since I seem to want to print leaves on everything these days, from cloth to clay, it was time to try it again. All my eggs were brown, so I stopped at the co-op to pick up some white ones to dye, and raided the bottom of the onion bins for skins. After a huge Easter brunch out with my friend Maria, I found a few small yarrow leaves that were up in the garden, plus some small sprays from a cedar tree. We layered the leaves under the onion skins, wrapped them in pieces of old pantyhose and rubber bands, and simmered for 10-15 minutes.

I love the golden brown the onion skin dye often produces, although Maria pointed out that the color wasn’t that different from my brown eggs!

Eco printed eggs

Eggs with leaves and onion skins

and on clay…


Eco Printing in Mexico

18 03 2016

In January 2016 I was invited by some Minnesota friends to teach a mini-workshop on eco printing in Puerto Morelos, Mexico to a Mexican artisan friend of theirs in exchange for staying at their winter home there. I had been dreaming of a winter vacation where I could experiment with tropical leaves while spending time by the ocean, so the timing was perfect!  We had a great time and I think my new Mexican friend is hooked too.

Angelica knew many local plants and trees, and I shared the info I knew so far about eco printing. After some experimenting, we found some local leaves that printed well. We also used rusty iron water and alum as mordants, made a dye bath of onion skins, tried bundling with and without a plastic barrier, etc.  Here are some images from the week, including the enormous tamale steamer we used over a 4 burner propane stove to steam the bundles.

If you ever get to Puerto Morelos, about an hour south of Cancun, look up Angelica at her stall in the Artisan Market, or the evening markets in the square to check out her “paintings with leaves”.

** View available scarves in the Eco Print section of my ETSY SHOP.**

Adventures in Eco Printing

18 03 2016

A chronicle of my adventures with my new creative passion, eco-printing!  It seems like a perfect fit, combining my previous interests with natural dyes and leaf printing with inks, which I shared with many groups of all ages at Wilder Forest, a camp and conference center outside Stillwater, Minnesota. I coordinated nature-related arts and crafts programming part-time over the years. (My favorite job!)

What is eco printing? A direct contact dye technique which coaxes the natural pigments from plants with heat. I use mostly leaves, but prints can also be made from bark, flowers, berries, and other plant parts. The dye from some plants and trees, like the black walnut tree, are strong dyes that don’t easily wash out or fade in the sun. Those are called substantive dyes. Other plants produce color that doesn’t last on the fabric and are called fugitive dyes. Most berries and flowers fall into the fugitive dye category.  The key is to EXPERIMENT with local plants. Here are a few examples of my more successful experiments.

16 before

Before: Sumac, Eucalyptus, Rose + leaves laid out on silk

16 close-up medium

After: Leaves eco printed on silk with repeating pattern


eco printed silk scarves

** View available scarves in the Eco Print section of my ETSY SHOP.**


100 Iconic Cameras

28 10 2013

Milners Blog

Such a beautiful poster from the guys over at Pop Chart Lab, a meticulously illustrated catalogue of 100 landmark cameras, put together from over a century of our photographic history, depicting both professional and amateur models, I’ve still got a 1952 Leica M3, and a 1982 Ricoh KR10 Super which looks the strikingly similar to the illustrated 1982 Nikon FM2.

This is a must have print for us photography geeks…which ones have you still got?

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