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Abstract Eco Printing with Eucalyptus Leaves

The eco printing process involves fixing tannins, acids and pigments found in nature to textile materials. With the help of a simple iron mordant, eco printing with fallen eucalyptus leaves can create intricate abstracted markings on fabric.

Fallen leaves from a Red Spotted Gum tree (Eucalyptus mannifera) to harvest for eco printing fabric
Fallen leaves from a Red Spotted Gum
  • Iron mordant (see below)

  • A handful or more of dry, fallen eucalyptus leaves (here I've used the leaves from a Eucalyptus mannifera or Red Spotted Gum) - make sure there aren't any insects clinging to your collected leaves. They won't like being steamed very much.

  • Fabric (I use organic, undyed cotton or cotton lawn fabric cut into 20 cm x 15 cm rectangles approx)

  • A roll of string or thread

  • Scissors

  • Gloves

  • A pot and steamer

  • A stove

  • Tap water

A mordant is a substance that helps bond a dye to fabric more effectively. For eco printing with eucalyptus leaves, I used the dregs of my rust-dyeing liquid as a mordant.

rust dye as a mordant for eco printing with eucalyptus leaves

To start an iron mordant, put a handful of rusty iron objects in a glass jar. Fill the jar halfway with white vinegar, then top-up the rest of the jar with water. Screw the lid on the jar and leave the concoction where it will be exposed to sunlight for at least 2 weeks, agitating once or twice a day. The rusty mordant is ready when the liquid takes on a saturated orange/brown colour.

1. With gloves on, briefly dunk the loose fabric in the iron mordant and wring out.

2. Add tap water to the cooking pot and put it on the stove to boil. Position the steamer on top of the pot.

3. Spread the mordanted fabric out on a protected surface and scatter the dry leaves over the material.

4. Tightly roll the fabric and eucalyptus leaves up and secure the bundle with string.

5. Place the bundle on the steamer over the boiling water and leave to steam for at least 30 minutes, turning occasionally.

eco printing process fabric bundle in the steamer
An eco print bundle in the steamer, note the blue dyes visible through the layers of fabric.

6. After 30 minutes, carefully unwrap a loose corner of the fabric bundle (use caution, it will be hot), and check for colour transferral. If the results aren't dark enough, re-roll the bundle and place it back in the steamer for 15-minute increments until the bundle is adequately printed.

7. Once printed, unroll the bundle completely and remove the leaves. You can reuse steamed eucalyptus leaves in further dyeing bundles - they give a more subtle result, building layers when used together with unsteamed leaves.

8. Rinse the printed fabric under cold water and hang out to dry.

How to make abstract eco printed fabric
abstract eco printing fabric results with brown and blue markings

I usually focus on using dry fallen leaves sourced from a local Red Spotted Gum, but fallen leaves from other eucalyptus trees work too. Leaves from the Bluegum (Eucalyptus bicostata) and the Black Gum (Eucalyptus aggregata) produce generous amounts of blue-grey dye for less time in the steamer (I've found 5-10 minutes works well for still-green fallen leaves from these trees).

Be sure to keep gloves on during the whole dyeing process. The combination of eucalyptus leaves and iron makes a substance that can stain skin (and furniture etc..) a stubborn blue hue.

I don't recommend using a pot and steamer that will also be used to cook food. You can often pick up cheap pot-and-steamer sets at op shops. In addition, the vapours from steaming eucalyptus leaves can be quite strong, so keep the area well ventilated.

abstract eco printing fabric results
layers of eco printed fabric dyed with eucalyptus leaves

Happy eco printing!


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