Paper dyeing – Transferring an image

Natural dyeing experimentation.

My head is moving in the direction of printing, as that is what I’ll be doing for the next year or so in my coursework.  Whilst dyeing isn’t strictly printing, it is still a method of transferring images to fabric and paper and I enjoy it.

Torn gum leaves were added to my boiling dye pot and once the colour had leached into the water I added a smidge – literally a quarter teaspoon – of iron sulphate.  It immediately turned charcoal and I was sure I had overdone it.  My aim was to create some colour on the paper but not completely coat the sheets.

Not having done this process on paper before, and wanting to create an art book as the final outcome, I used a heavy weight cotton rag paper cut and folded to finished sheet size.Paper-1  The pages were held between two blocks with a protective layer between the wood block and the paper to avoid a transfer print  from the block.

Gum leaves, bottlebrush stems and ferns were inserted within the folded pages and the whole thing was tied with string.  I had intended using clamps but mine aren’t big enough so I tied it, not terribly tightly as I didn’t want the string marks to come through.  Having the results in front of me now I realise that I should have either tied it more tightly or waited to buy bigger clamps but, despite that, and considering this is my first attempt on paper, the results are fairly amazing.

The photos mostly show double pages folded flat whilst drying.  These will be stitched into a book.


Paper-5The black edging is where the dye penetrated fully and it’s given a burnt sooty look, as if these pieces have been saved from the remains of a bush-fire ravaged home.

The leaf prints have taken well but haven’t come out green as I would have liked.  I put this down to the fact that I didn’t pick them fresh, they were from the ground although still fresh-looking, and also the iron I used always darkens the liquid and overrides other colours.  Next time I’ll try copper and newly picked leaves and see how that comes out.

Paper-10On the left I have a print of both a gum leaf and some bottlebrush stems.  This is one of the outer papers where a protective layer was placed on top of it next to the wood block.  That sheet buckled under the prolonged boiling, and crimped, enabling the dye to snake in along the rippled surface.  What a serendipitous stunning result.

Paper-11Here, again, the same result with a different plant layout.

There is always a build-up of dye around the twigs or stems because they don’t lie very flat.  If I clamp more tightly next time this will reduce, but I quite like it.

It seems that more colour came out of the bottlebrush leaves than the gum leaves and this has added more depth to the first print done in this manner.

Paper-9Paper-6Above I can see where the plant material was placed between the two double sheets – on the right hand side of the top sample and in reverse on the left hand side of the bottom photo.

A friend recently placed plant material between papers sheets, clamped tightly and boiled it up without any mordant or other leaves or twigs in the water, just plain water.  She got wonderful prints on almost white paper.  The only colour was coming from the trapped leaves and they were very green.  She got beautiful results.  That’s another one for me to try.


About Claire B

I am a passionate printmaker, paper maker and book artist. I'm a 'forever' student and frequently attend courses and workshops to extend and improve my creative skills.
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6 Responses to Paper dyeing – Transferring an image

  1. Jane Bodnaruk says:

    I think your prints have turned out really well. I did some at Mudgee and didn’t get a lot of colour – but the print on paper is always good.Particularly like the 3rd last pic. Wonder whether you just dont get good colour from winter leaves. I wouldn’t actually have expected to get green at any time. I think your clamping looks tight enough – the water needs to penetrate a bit or you wont get any colour under influence from the mordant. I’ve just bought a gas ring to boil up outside on, so will get dyeing over the next week or so …

    • Claire B says:

      Thanks Jane. Stella has done some printing with huge gum leaves, obviously another variety of tree than in my area because the leaves here are quite different to hers. She skips the mordant, puts the clamped paper with inserted plant material in cold water (no floating leaves or twigs in the pot), boils it all up for 2 hours and then removes and dries the paper. She has got beautiful greens, very crisp images but no colour on the other sections of the paper. I like the surrounding patterning and colour I produce, hence the reason I use the mordant.
      I use a camping gas stove in the shed which is very successful and keeps the mordant and plant smell out of the house.
      There are just so many things I want to try out.

  2. Pia says:

    These are amazing!

    • Claire B says:

      Thank-you so much Pia. It’s one of those techniques that you never know what you’re going to get but it’s always amazing and surprising.

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