Eco dying - Tutorial, T-shirt makeover

I have made four really unpresentable T shirts come alive using Eco dying.  I love doing the process.  It's really easy to do and it's fun.  I learned a lot by reading India Flynt's book Eco Colour (which I of course bought in the end).

What is needed is a piece of fabric, some string, a collection of leaves and flowers and a small branch from a tree or a bush, ideally slightly smaller than you largest pot.  Since this dyeing is not done with harmful materials it is ok to use your regular pots, but should you decide to start to dye it is generally recommended to have a separate pot for that.

Take an old T-shirt (or a brand new one if you want or any other piece of cloth for that matter, but not synthetic).  I used a dropper to put some Iron water and Copper water spots on the fabric, but that is not necessary.  And be aware that Copper water is poisonous so I do not suggest you use that.  Making Iron water is easy though, just put some rusty object into a jar filled with a mix of two parts water and one part white vinegar (5%).  Let the rusty objects sit there and disintegrate.  The water will turn a rusty (naturally) orange colour in a few weeks.
Now go outside to your garden or the nearest park or wilderness and carefully snip off a few leaves and flowers that catch your fancy.  Naturally, well known dye plants will give the most colour.  In this shirt I used Geranium, Cherry leaves, Apple leaves, Euphorbia leaves (gives a great green colour) among others.

Then you can start arranging the leaves and flowers on you fabric.  Some leaves print really well, white others don't really come through, but sometimes act a a resist.

Then start to wrap up the fabric.  

The size should be just slightly smaller than the size of the branch you are using.

Wrap the fabric tightly around the branch.  The tannins in the bark will act as a mordant to fix the colors to the fabric.  If you have any rusted objects lying around, like nails, bottle caps, hairpins or anything like that, feel free to add those to you bundle.  The iron will also act as a mordant and will produce gray and black colors and patterns in combination with the plant material.  Alternatively use an iron pot and you'll get a gray colour.
Now tie the bundle tightly with a piece of string.

Now put the bundle into hot water and simmer it for at least an hour or two.  If your bundle is larger than the pot, just turn it a few times during the simmer.  I used the left over dye water from an Avocado pit/skin dyeing experiment.  But clear water can be used.
I let my bundle sit in the dye bath overnight.  Some people steam their bundles.  I've never done that.  Simmering them in water works fine for me, but steaming is a possibility for those who have an easy time doing that.

I let the bundle sit for a while in the sink before I unravelled it.  I am not a patient person, so few hours is all I've ever managed.

The unravelling!  There is no way to predict what comes out, really.  I have started to recognize how some leaves print, but there are always so many factors that affect how this turns out.  One thing for certain is that with rinsing, the colors will fade a bit.

My revamped T-shirt.  The Avocado didn't really stick, but I got some really nice markings.

I have done 4 T-'s so far and am still working on an off white sweater that got a small stain.  I was going to trow it out, but decided to try and treat it to the plant experiment.  It's sitting in my cast iron pot (great gray colour) and I'm going to let it sit for a few days to soak up all the iron.  So far it looks very dark gray.  I unravelled it a bit, but saw that the iron water hadn't penetrated the whole bundle, so I'm letting it sit for a bit longer.  I can't wait so see what comes out.  Also, the sweater is part synthetic so I'm curious to see if how the dye will take to a blend.   I've only ever dyed cotton, wool and silk and synthetics don't accept natural dyes that well.  But we'll see.


  1. Will definitely try this. The shirt looks great.

  2. Thanks, I love them all. It's so much fun :)

  3. Thank you so much for the tutorial Ambra. Excellent pictures! I love how your t shirt finished :)

  4. I love how the shirt turned out!! Thanks for sharing Ambra! This is a very interesting art and I might try it out one day!! :)

  5. I'm curious as to what will happen when it is washed :)

  6. joanna, I have washed them all and the colour is fast. The trick to that is the branch because it contains tannins that act as mordants (colour fastener). Iron water is a good mordant as well (and gives the grau colour) and tea can also be used and will give a tan/brown. I've also thrown these in the dryer on hot and the colour hasn't suffered.

  7. Wonderful idea. I shall try with oak leaves If I can.

  8. I have only steamed my ecoprint for one hour (or a little more). That works well. I have so far only used cotton which has worked fine. It is very dependend on what kind of plant leaves I use, and the print goes much better from the underside of the leaves. I used Alun as mordant on one cotton thing, and Ironsulphate on another cotton thing, and had the leaves between these two. I used clean water and emaljepot. As the wood round stick I cut a broom stick into peaces that fittet into the pot. But I will now definitely try your way. It is expensive (and a bit complicated) to buy Alun and Ironsulphate in my country, much better idea to use the natural stick with barch on that you use. And I will now make my own ironrustsolution. Also a good idea to use tea as mordant. Could somebody tell me more exactly how you do that?


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