Eco printing is still relatively new to the UK so it’s not surprising that I get asked this a lot.
Eco printing an ecologically sustainable contact print using plant material. All that is required to make a print is a leaf, material to print on, water and heat. It is an extremely low impact method particularly where second hand textiles are used. All my fabrics are fully mordanted and the prints are permanent and wash fast.
The leaves are laid out on the prepared fabric then rolled up tightly, bound with string and boiled or steamed for 2 to 4 hours depending on the fabric and the leaves. The heat and water releases tannins and other chemicals from the leaves, which as they are so tightly bound, have nowhere else to go other than the fabric they are in contact with. This then creates a permanent print of the leaf on the fabric.
Some of you may remember wrapping onion skins around eggs and boiling them to create marble patterns on the shells. The principle is the same, although the process for fabrics is a little more complex!
Botanical printing in various forms has been around for thousands of years. The first recorded botanical print was discovered in a herbal materia medica by Discorides a physician, pharmacologist and botanist in Ancient Greece. Since then the use of botanical printing was common in herbal manuals and Leonardo da Vinci published instructions for botanical printing alongside a print of a sage leaf. The development of engraving, printing and later photography made the need for accurate depictions of plants through direct contact printing unnecessary.
Over 25 years ago, India Flint, an Australian artist and author, accidently discovered a eucalyptus leaf eco print on the eggs of a broody hen on her farm in South Australia. Already experienced and knowledgeable about the dye power of the eucalypts she experimented with leaves and bundling and discovered that it was possible to achieve washfast leaf prints with great detail and variety of colour. Since then the art of eco printing has travelled the world and thousands of artists create beautiful prints, each one unique and impossible to replicate.
I’ve always been a forager, a forager of hedgerows, of second hand shops, of jumble sales and of my mother’s wardrobe. Fortunately my husband is exactly the same and it’s a love we have passed on to our three daughters whose own foraging skills are perhaps overtaking ours.
To forage is to make a wide search for provisions. It is a slow process not a grab and run. In terms of clothing and textiles it is the opposite of fast fashion. It is slow and deliberate, it sees possibilities where others see old or worn.
To find a beautiful silk shirt that has been loved and worn and discarded is an eco printer’s dream. A blank canvas upon which to create a new shirt, unique and reflecting the gardens, villages and fields where it was printed.
To wear an item of eco printed clothing is to say I have thought about my clothes, I care where they come from and I don’t want to add to the waste but to use it to create something new and beautiful. I can change the way we think about fashion one dress at a time and I will enjoy every moment.
Take a look at our Resources page for more information