Tag Archives: how to ecoprint

The Real Key to Ecoprinting

The Real Key to Ecoprinting

It is interesting to listen to my customers at a show when I briefly explain the basics of ecoprinting.
“Oh so these are real leaves and you just lay them down to get the imprint?” is a common reply!
Or maybe you have seen a few images on blogs or Pinterest of a few lightly wrapped “bundles” tied loosely with a beautiful ribbon? Well, let’s talk about what the key is to the best prints with ecoprinting!

Ecoprinting or Botanical Printing seems to have popped up everywhere and for good reason-it’s fun! It’s not a new art form-it’s been around a long time and I enjoyed using leaves to imprint paper way back in my University days. 🙂

The world of art has changed dramatically of course since those days! The Internet changed everything. Methods and techniques I learned in my major course studies of Commercial Art and Printmaking have undergone some of the biggest changes. Little is hand drawn now and certainly lithographs and etchings are no longer commercially viable! But what has not changed in printmaking are the basics. ALL Successful (non-inkjet) printing requires contact and pressure! Block printing, lithographs, etchings, woodblocks, screen printing, typewriters and ecoprinting to name a few, all require contact with the surface plus pressure to create an imprint.

So the key to successful ecoprinting is not the leaves or the mordants or even the heat. All that is of little or no value unless PRESSURE is applied to create sufficient contact.  That is what printing is all about.

So, how do we achieve the required pressure? Humor me while my art history kicks in 😉

Take a look at this image of the 1440 Gutenberg press if you want an idea of pressure!


So basically, in traditional printmaking, you “ink” your metal, plastic, rubber or wood template, lay the paper or fabric onto the “printing plate” surface, apply pressure…. and you have an imprint!
The popularity of stamping designs onto paper and fabric may seem recent but it’s not. India had been using wood blocks to imprint designs on their fabrics for centuries. I have a number of these beautiful wood blocks and they all require pressure to succeed.
Applying pressure to imprint a design onto cotton in India

Most people don’t realize that the photos of the American Civil War that were put into papers and most famously Harper’s Weekly were created by having woodcarvers, each with a section of the drawn out photos, carve his portion to combine under the printing press. Again-pressure  🙂

A sectioned wood block used to imprint into Harper’s Weekly during the Civil War

The old linoleum blocks we used in art classes have given way to a softer, easier to carve “soft cut” linoleum block that make it easy for any artist to make their own designs in a fraction of the time. Below are a few that I have carved for use on both my wool and silk fabrics.

So pressure plays the key role. When ecoprinters use words like “Bundling tightly” or tight Bundles, we can get an idea of the pressure involved when we understand that printing in its original context, means pressure!


You can imprint a leaf  or flower on fabric simply by subjecting both to enormous pressure (see first image!) But by far the easiest method to achieve as uniform contact as possible involved laying leaves onto the designated fabric and rolling the pieces into tight bundles using pipes of copper or wood as the central pivot. The final wrapping of the rolled piece with string adds to the tightness of the bundle.
People who are unaware of ecoprinting or beginners to this art form often envision this and little more. It is accurate but just the first step. Rolling this piece tightly on a wood dowel and finally tying with twine will result in a “bundle” like the one below.


This bundle is larger than usual as it just happens to be 3 yards of 45″ raw silk. It was folded, leaves inside, rolled and tied into this small missile like size and ready for the steaming pot! If I had kept it spread onto a table, exposing the leaves to the heat of the sun, very little would have happened. I tried once in an experiment. I had a piece of silk, topped with leaves and clear glass. I had contact, but no pressure. I did not even get stains :-).

The result of one large piece of properly bundled silk noil.

I’ve seen the use of shrink wrap rather than twine but I prefer not to use much plastic if I can help it. And besides I don’t mind the resulting “string marks” from the twine. And if you do not like those marks? Well use fabric strips instead of twine!

Learn to wrap tight bundles to ensure full contact with your plants to the surface and you will have mastered the real key to successful ecoprinting! It is simply another form of printmaking.

 

Felting on Raw Silk

Felting on Raw Silk

Update! A workshop in this same technique will be offered at my studio July 13-14, 2019! Learn how to design, ecoprint, felt your design then construct your wallhanging! Complete details and description here:  http://thesilkthread.com/workshops/eco-printing-on-silk-2-2/

Felting has become a popular medium with fiber artists! Depending on your personal knowledge of felt in general, most people think of those multi-colored felt pads you see in all the craft stores when someone mentions felt. According to Wikipedia ” Felt is a textile material that is produced by matting, condensing and pressing fibers together. Felt can be made of natural fibers such as wool or animal fur, or from synthetic fibers such as petroleum-based acrylic or acrylonitrile or wood pulp-based rayon.”  It is an ancient craft and felt is used in art, fashion and industrial applications.

My alpacas Bella, Virginia and Kicho, supply me with much of the animal hair that I use for my kind of felting. But I supplement much of their black and white hair with the beautiful shades of wool from my friends with sheep. Fiber shows supply the additional wools dyed in a variety of beautiful colors.

After the shearing and the summer heat, 2 of the girls enjoy a spray bath!

There are a number of types and techniques of felting (nuno, knit, wet, sculpture, hats, etc.) and since a complete “how to” is beyond the scope of this newsletter, simply google “felting” and that will bring up a huge array of sites for you to further research! I do “Needle Felting” which basically is the only felting type that does not require wetting the fibers beforehand. Needle felting simply hooks onto fibers with specially placed barbs (felting needle) and forces fibers to tangled as you punch through the fabric!

Fiber shows and craft stores carry the basic tools for Needle felting. Crucial of course are the needles.They come in various sizes-either single or as groups. And a surface on which to place your fabric to begin the felting (poking) process. The image shows several gathered from various suppliers. All I use is in the image. Both the “brush” surface and the “Styrofoam” offer the necessary cushioning effect plus allow you to easily carry your lightweight supplies anywhere. Most needle felting done as a painting or scene use a sheet of wool as the “canvas” on which to begin an image. Below is a first result from a student of mine who first painted this very same scene on canvas before using the wool as her canvas!

Since I am a painter, my needle felting takes on the feel of painting. I mainly use it to embellish my ecoprinted silk noil (also known as raw silk)
I use raw silk for many of my garments and wall hangings as it feels very different from what we think of as silk…it has a pile (noil) is much heavier and is created with much shorter strands of silk. After ecoprinting a piece of yardage I look at it awhile and can envision where my embellishments such as birds, flowers or my Woodland Fairies might go to enhance my vision. Raw silk takes the use of the needle far better than regular silk.

One of my earliest needle felted pieces was a felted bird on a silk handkerchief. I had to be careful of over stabbing the silk as it can damage the area in which you work 🙂
My original photos do not do it justice but I learned that if I wanted to use my Habatoi silk stash I had to switch from felting on Habatoi silk to hand painting on it! SO you will see my raw silk wall hangings embellished with needle felting and my charmeuse or Habatoi silk embellished with hand painting.

My Woodland Faeries series are all hand painted onto the smoother silks! But below is a closeup of one of the birds being felted onto the raw silk.Most are created on large pieces ranging from 20-30″ wide by 36-48″ long!

I collect driftwood from oceans, lakes or rivers and have quite a stash as eventual hangers. I love the feel and texture of the old wood. In many of the hangings I have added backings ranging from cotton fabric to raw silk to burlap. The figures that I use to embellish are my own. You can use a pencil to lightly draw in your bird or flower or whatever. A lightbox can make it easier to lay your fabric down (if it is light colored) on top and trace out a darkly outlined image.
It takes practice but if you are familiar with shading techniques in painting, it is essentially the same! Use dark to outline and use lighter and lighter pieces of your wool or hair to show tonal changes. I predominantly use the 3 needle and switch to single use with outlining. The point is to make sure they are thoroughly adhered.


My “Bluebirds” (sold) attached to a burlap backing.

The fun to me is to “attach” whatever images I am using to the previously ecoprinted piece to make it look as though it was planned in advance lol. The ecoprinted piece comes first. I like to make my birds bold or hide them among the foliage and it all depends on how the original ecoprinted raw silk design looks.  And wall hangings are not the only decorative piece that can be needle felted on!

Daises felted handbag


Dandelion puffs

Needle felting is an art form that varies with what you are creating, what you want to achieve and how involved you want to be! Like all needlecrafts, it’s relaxing, easy to learn and only gets better with practice!

Update! A workshop in this same technique will be offered at my studio July 13-14! Learn how to design, ecoprint, felt your design then construct your wallhanging! Complete details and description here:  http://thesilkthread.com/workshops/eco-printing-on-silk-2-2/