Natural Dyes: Captured in Print

Mordant dyes can create a look of nature that will last long after the leaves in the garden are gone.

| August/September 2003

  • Prepare mordant baths (see “About Mordants” on Page 30) and set aside. Then, place a crisp leaf, vein side up, on a non-porous work surface.
  • Lay the fabric, right side facing down toward the leaf, and cover with a piece of paper towel. Hold the leaf in place with one hand and begin pounding firmly but gently until you’ve pressed the entire leaf evenly.
  • Pull back the paper towel to make sure the entire leaf’s imprint is distinctly revealed. Carefully remove the leaf from the fabric, peeling away any remaining bits of leaf. Be careful not to smear the edges.
  • Submerge the printed fabric in a tannic acid bath (or other mordant) for 2 minutes. Rinse well in water.
  • Then, submerge the fabric in an alum bath for 2 minutes (see “About Mordants” at left) and rinse well in running water. Wash the completed print in warm, sudsy water, rinse and dry.
  • Use herb prints to make placemats, pillows, quilt squares, herb-printed clothing or any other fabric craft you can come up with.

With natural dyes and this simple leaf-printing technique, you can bring your herbs into any room of the home and keep their images year-round. Using edible plants and nontoxic chemicals, even children could help with this project outside on a sunny day. Print your favorite herbs on placemats, napkins or tablecloths, or take it a step further and put them on slipcovers or pillows. Try these prints on a cotton t-shirt or shorts, and wear a little nature in your travels.

You can take fabric with you on field trips, hikes or vacations and pound your leaves in the field, then mordant (used to hold the dye) them when you return home. Keep your fabrics away from light until you’re ready to mordant them, or your images may fade without being fixed to the fabric.

We tried test strips of basil, cilantro, dill, two types of lavender, marjoram, mint, rosemary and sage. The most successful images were produced by cilantro, dill, French lavender and basil. When experimenting with different dye plants and chemical baths, leave a sample out in the sun for a few days with half of the image covered to see how colorfast your fabric is in sunlight.



September 12-13, 2019
Seven Springs, Pennsylvania

Fermentation Frenzy! is produced by Fermentation magazine in conjunction with the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR. This one-and-a-half day event is jam-packed with fun and informative hands-on sessions.


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