Saturday, March 29, 2014

Leaf Bundle Dyeing - I

Ever since India Flint's book, Eco Colour, found its way into my dye library, I have wanted to try bundling leaves in cloth to make "beautiful marks" on fabric, as she does.

For my first experimentation with this, I decided to begin with 100% cotton fabric.  I mordanted the cloth with milk and wood ash.  My plan was to bundle the fabric with a variety of leaves, along with a few twigs I had picked up off the ground at my son's home, and throw in a few onion skins I had in my stash of dye stuffs.  After soaking these items in water to make them more pliable, I laid them out on the fabric.  To add a little color, I had a jar with some saved blackberry juice, left over when making pie.  This juice I poured in very small amounts on some of the empty spaces on the cloth, rolled it all up, tied it with string to hold everything tight, and stored it in my pump house, where I left if for 4 weeks.
The results were okay for a first attempt, and considering I was using leaves which I had no idea if they would impart color or imprints of any kind.  When I cut the string and unrolled my bundle, the fabric was spotted with pale orange blotches, probably left mostly from the onion skins, and a few marks that looked like they might actually be leaf prints.  It didn't appear that any of the color from the blackberry juice had stayed.  How could that be?  Now, I am certain that if I had spilled that juice on my favorite white cotton shirt, I would never have gotten the stain out!  But Mother Nature is full of surprises, and doesn't always behave as we expect.

Unfortunately, there were also some spots of mildew, caused from the damp fabric sitting tightly bundled all those weeks.  Hmmm....having nothing to lose, I decided to try some over-dyeing.  After cutting the fabric into 3 pieces, I took one of those pieces, spread it out on the grass, and laid a few handfuls of old, dried poinsettia leaves, along with some copper pipe on the fabric, rolled it up and tied with string.
Poinsettia leaves, copper T-pipes.
Another piece of the fabric, I bundled with Madrona tree leaves, a rusty iron blade, and some copper pipe.
Madrona leaves, iron blade, copper pipes.
Rather than leave these bundles to sit for weeks, I decided to put them together into a pan of water on the stove and cook them.  I probably should have done them separately because of the iron blade in the 2nd bundle, but I didn't.  After a couple of hours of cooking, the iron had saddened the dye bath considerably, and the fabric of both bundles as well.  All the pretty orange markings on the fabric disappeared.  At this point I added a couple of handfuls of onion skins, laying them across my bundled fabric, hoping perhaps they would add a little color to the fabric, but I don't believe they did.
After simmering on the stove for a couple of more hours, I turned off the heat and let the bundles cool down in the bath.  Unrolling the bundles, I was excited to see the purplish color left from the poinsettia leaves and the turquoise-green from the copper.  The string acted as a resist where it was tied around the bundle, leaving interesting lines.  The sunburst patterns formed by the the fabric tied around the T pieces of the copper pipe really pleased me.
Poinsettia leaves with copper T-pipes on cotton.
The madrona leaf bundle was not quite as colorful, but interesting none the less.  The iron from the iron blade overrode any color the copper pipe might have offered, leaving black marks against a drab green-brown backdrop.  But I like it!
Madrona tree leaves, iron blade, copper pipes on cotton.
After ironing the fabrics, I am enthralled with them.  They look like batiks!

Having thought that I might like to do some sewing with these fabrics if they turned out, I had wound off 30 yds.of a nice cotton quilting thread into a skein and put it in the dye bath with the bundles and let it simmer with them the last hour.  The thread blends nicely with both fabrics.
Though I have never met India Flint, nor had the privilege of taking a class with her, I am sincerely grateful she has chosen to share her color inspirations on cloth with the world.  Her work is truly unique and beautiful, and her books Eco Colour and Second Skin, both of which have a special place in my library, are the treasures among my dye books.  India's new book, Field Notes, will soon join me.  Thank you, India, for inspiring me!


  1. Awesome! I think your results were great. I bet you're ready to do more. :D

  2. nice of you to say. Yes, there is more I want to try..just need to find the time! Real life gets in the way...which is okay, really. Loved your blog about the new chicks in your life...I want some! and your poem to David was very touching...especially the picture at the end, which really says it all.

  3. These look really good. I hope that you can find the perfect application for them, and that you'll get even more interesting results in the future.

  4. Thanks. I laid the 2nd fabric with the black marks against a black cotton top covered in embroidery with a dull gold thread, found at a thrift shop, and they look like they were made for each other. They may become a bag with my dyed fabric as the lining.

  5. You are more than welcome. I want the whole world to know of you!