Introduction: ECO PRINTING on Silk and Cotton Fabric

Eco Printing - A Beginner's Tutorial by

What is Eco Printing?

The way I understand it, Eco Printing is a form of natural dyeing where the colors from plant material are transferred to paper or fabric via steaming or boiling. (If anyone out there has a better definition, by all means let me know).

SAFETY NOTE: Even tho it’s called ‘Natural Dyeing’ and ‘Eco Printing’, beware that some substances used can be very toxic.

Step 1: ​Supplies:

– Fabric s.a. Cotton or White Silk Chiffon

– Various Leaves

– PVC Pipe or Dowel Rod

– Old Roaster Pan

– Stove or Portable Burner (so you can do this outside)

Step 2: Lay Out Your Leaves:

I used what leaves I have available in the yard: black walnut, red maple, green maple, cleome, croton and redbud. Lay them out on your fabric.

I folded the other half of the chiffon over the leaves and rolled the whole thing, very tightly onto a piece of pvc pipe. You can use a dowel, stick or even a piece of pipe for this.

Note: depending on what metal the pipe is, it may act as a mordant s.a. a copper pipe which will alter the result. Next, I wrapped a cotton string around the package, again very tightly to make sure there is good contact between the fabric and the leaves for printing.

I steamed the bundle over plain water for about 1 1/2 hours. Let this cool completely and left the bundle to set overnight. The longer the better but I don’t have the patience to wait. It’s too much fun opening it up to see what you got!

Not surprisingly, the black walnut leaves printed the best. Black walnut contains its own mordant (tannin??) and is washfast and colorfast. Here’s how I dyed some yarn with black walnuts.

Step 3: Here Was My First Eco Dyeing Experiment.

I printed the leaves on silk chiffon fabric. The red maple leaves left a pale but very pretty lavender/lilac colored print.

As you can see, the prints are fairly light. My second experiment yielded stronger prints.

Step 4: Here Was My Second Eco Dyeing Experiment.

The second time, I used the same types of leaves (red maple, black walnut, etc.) but I dipped them in an Iron Modifier first. I also used cotton fabric instead of silk.

(Here's how to make the Iron Modifier - at bottom of post)

Using an iron modifier made the prints much stronger and bolder.

A friend gave me some eucalyptus leaves so that'll be my next eco printing experiment. Give it a try!


See the full step by step tutorial at