dye printing on cotton fabric
A few weeks ago I attended the second class in a series on natural dyes taught by Rebecca Burgess. (My post on the first class is here.) It was a beautiful Spring day at Commonweal Garden, the site of many great classes offered by the Regenerative Design Institute. We gathered excitedly in the green house to dye our cotton fabrics in the vats of native Toyon and California coffeeberry that had been aging for the month since our last class.
Once the fabrics were dyed and while they were drying in the sun, Rebecca demonstrated how to make inks from natural dyes. Her method is to leave the plant matter in an old dye bath and let it stand uncovered for several weeks or months, so that the liquid becomes stronger and thickens as it evaporates. An alternate method to to boil lots of plant matter in a small amount of water to get a strong color.
Then she strains 3 cups of the dye liquid into a blender and adds 2 tsp. of sodium alginate, which is a natural thickener made from brown algae that is available at craft stores. Experiment with the ratio of liquid to sodium alginate until you get a thick ink that doesn’t drip.
We carved designs into pieces of linoleum block and brushed them with a variety of inks that we made: Black walnut, Toyon and Oak gall. Some students also used leaves they collected to make prints with the ink.
In the photo above of prints made by some of my fellow students, the fabrics on the left are dyed with Coffeeberry and printed with Black walnut ink; the fabrics in the center are dyed with Toyon and the top one is silkscreened with oak gall ink, the bottom one printed with Black walnut ink and Toyon ink (lighter color); the fabrics on the right are undyed cotton printed with Black walnut ink and Toyon ink (lighter color).
My test print (in the photo below) didn’t come out as sharp as I would have liked, and I learned that with this technique it’s better to have a less intricate design.
We also unwrapped the fabric that we had placed leaves in and rolled and secured with rubber bands, and then left soaking in iron water or oak gall water. My results (below) were really unusual, and I want to experiment more with this technique.