I recently learned about “ecodyeing,” the process by which you can obtain images of leaves and flowers, in color, with surprising results on paper and fabric… by layering, compressing, steaming and/or boiling! The outcome is gorgeous. Images full of ethereal layers of colors and shapes. For sure no two can be alike.
Here are my results of my first attempt at trying out this process on October 3, 2017, here in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts. As fall sets in, I wanted to grab whatever flowers are left and leaves before they dry.
My first experiment with ecodyeing outlined below, with photos and detailed notes.
~ All pics are clickable to larger versions. Enjoy! ~
I decided to use Strathmore Mixed Media paper (90lb) with a very smooth surface, hoping the smoothness would give clearer images. I’d also read that another ecodyer used it successfully, so that was positive news, as at first I thought it may not be heavy enough.
I cut the paper into approximately 5” x 10” squares and folded each in half.
I soaked the 6 sheets in a vinegar and water mixture for about 30 minutes (approximately a 1:3 ratio). I’m not sure if the vinegar was necessary and I couldn’t find much information online about the use of mordants on paper vs fabric, the latter of which it seems they are absolutely required. One ecodyer’s website mentioned she soaked paper in vinegar. Another dyer said it wasn’t needed on paper. If anyone knows if it makes these more lightfast, please let me know.
Plants used and layout
I inserted leaves and flowers inside each paper “booklet” and then also on the top of each booklet as I stacked them, not wanting to waste the “cover” space.
BOOKLET 1: Geranium leaves and Geranium flowers (red and hot pink)
Before – such great “hot reds” and pinks!
Geranium flowers and leaves set into place…
A bit disappointed that upon revealing the boiled page, there are no large areas of red or pink, but some pretty leaf shapes and purples instead.
Some of the paper’s surface became stuck to the paper on the other side of the fold, so I carefully opened this booklet and then tried to settle down the rough spots best I could. At this stage, the image looked like an encaustic.
A closeup of the flowers, now pretty much one with the paper. I decided to leave them in place and not try to separate them.
Gorgeous! The petals dried a little darker, which was surprising, and the veins on some are very pronounced. Again, most are adhered firmly to the paper as if I had made handmade paper, and thus they shall stay. Love it.
These geranium petals remind me of a butterfly.
– On top of Booklet 1:
On top of the folded booklet above, I placed a green Peony leaf and a rust colored Chrysanthemum (flowers and stems/leaves)
After boiling: The Peony leaf was still very much intact but starting to lose its outer layer of cells. I wonder if tougher leaves like this require longer periods of time in the steam/boiling water?
After unfolding, while still wet – I’m amazed that the colors here darkened after drying (see next image). I thought in general they faded. (I dried the 6 folded sheets of paper flat, separate, no longer touching the ones they were sandwiched with.)
The dried image of Peony leaves and a hint of purple in the upper right, which I don’t think is from the rust colored chrysanthemum, but rather, the hydrangea that was in the inside of this booklet.
BOOKLET 2: Impatiens flowers and leaves (mixed colors – red, peach, pink) with a sprig of Rosemary
I really, really had hoped these flowers would push out enormous amounts of color, but …
Upon unfolding while still wet, the rosemary smelled nice but left no image whatsoever, and the flower impressions were rather pale.
The impatiens are so delicate, the petals pretty much disintegrated into the paper, leaving some cell structure behind, though.
And a hint of color.
But, very fascinating again is how what looked like almost totally dissolved flower petals, while wet after boiling, have now dried with paper like structures and visible veins.
After this page dried, it looks like this.
– On top of Booklet 2:
On top of the folded booklet above, I placed Peony leaves by themselves.
The dried result! Lovely!
BOOKLET 3: More of the same Impatiens and a small Rose branch (no flower, just new growth reddish/dark green leaves)
The rose branch left some images but the impatiens here did not. The yellow splotches bleeding through are from marigold flowers that I placed on top of this booklet.
What’s interesting to me here is that the almost non-existent impatien on the left “page”, lower right, while wet, is now very visible when dried. But the purple splotches on the righthand page, while wet, faded away after drying.
– On top of Booklet 3:
Again, taking advantage of the white paper on top of each booklet, I laid Marigold flower petals broken apart, and a small Hosta leaf, on top of the booklet above.
Sorry for the blurry pic! And my notes get fuzzy here. I don’t think the marigolds bled through the hosta leaf onto a previous booklet, but perhaps they did…
The hosta leaf didn’t leave much of an impression or color.
BOOKLET 4: Raspberry bush leaves
I’d read that these can create amazing images, both in shape, line and color, and hubby grows them, so I couldn’t wait to try them out!
So inside Booklet 4, I placed a stack of very textured, very distinctive veined, raspberry leaves …
Ooooh! After opening the soggy packet, this was the image on the facing page. So far so good…
And here’s the right hand page after removing the leaves. Nothing bold. As with the peony leaves, I wonder if raspberry leaves do better with longer periods of steaming/boiling? I also think they would have benefitted from better compression. The cardboard, which was my quickie choice to use instead of wood or tile, just didn’t smoosh things together enough after it got too wet.
Here are the facing pages of the dried raspberry leaves.
And a few closeups, because the details are very pretty:
– On top of Booklet 4 above, I placed more Raspberry bush leaves.
BOOKLET 5: Strawberry Hydrangea flowers and 2 leaves from the Hydrangea bush
Such pretty flowers. Hoping for some nice impressions!
Upon opening the booklet while still wet, it appeared that the flowers in the top right (righthand page) created some blue and yellow colors on the lefthand page, and the leaves not so much of anything.
Here’s the facing pages after removing the plant material, still wet…
And here’s the page after it dried. Definitely dried paler. Though closeups, as shown below, show some subtle and pretty detail.
Detail of strawberry hydrangea shrub flowers…
Detail of strawberry hydrangea shrub flowers…
– On top of Booklet 5, I placed more Hydrangea flowers and 3 Mexican Blanket Flowers (Gaillardia)
Aren’t these gorgeous! I had high hopes I’d get some great colors.Carefully smooshed into place…
After separating booklet 4 and 5, the blanket flowers (Gaillardia) still seemed relatively intact. Shown above is the top of booklet 5 on the right. The hydrangea flower left the purple and yellow splotch. On the left is the back “cover” of booklet 6.
There wasn’t much color under them… but then I lifted one off and some gorgeous purple squired out of the center, so I squeezed it to extract some more! But, unfortunately after drying overnight, that purple faded into almost nothing. Wonder why?
Last Booklet! BOOKLET 6: Sugar maple leaves that had turned yellow but weren’t too dry and crispy
I’d read that you get better color from living leaves, not colorful autumnal leaves. I gathered some sugar maple leaves from the ground that were a tiny bit dry, but not awfully so, and placed them inside Booklet 6.
After opening Booklet 6 while still wet after boiling…
One leaf still on the page on the right…
And after drying, the maple leave booklet looks as shown above. A bit paler than when wet, but still pretty!
As an aside, after laying out each “sandwich” and stacking them up, I used cardboard as the end pieces as the rigid surface to help compress them. Ideally I’d have used wood but I didn’t have anything handy and I figured the cardboard may be thick enough to use once. I wrapped the bundle with rubberbands but that didn’t seem to be enough compression, so I added the 2 binder clips (hoping, too, that they’d rust a little and add some color).
After the 90 min or so of boiling, the cardboard crumpled which worried me, but didn’t seem to have any effect on the pages inside. Whew!