Eco-print; feijoa leaf on silk. Image: Su Leslie 2019
This week’s Lens-Artists Photo Challenge ask us to focus on the details, so I’m going to take you on a wee journey through a very cool fibre art process I learned recently. This is not a lesson in technique (I’m a total novice here), but a glimpse at some of the processes and outcomes. (1)
A couple of weeks ago, I did a workshop (2) on eco-printing — a process which transfers colour and shape from plants to another material (generally textiles or paper).
The basic principle is fairly simple. Many plants contain chemicals that will, under the right conditions, leach into other materials. Plant dyes are usually made by boiling leaves, bark, roots, fruit and/or flowers and then immersing fabric in the liquid.
Eco-printing eliminates the first stage; instead bringing plant and fabric into direct contact. The actual transfer process can apparently take place without water or heat — but takes weeks rather than hours to achieve. It is more usual to bundle plant and fabric together and either steam, or immerse in simmering water.
Eco-printing is not for anyone who wants a precise result. It’s a process with so many variables that every piece made will be different — even if they use the same plants from the same source in the same water-bath.
The fun is in the detail!
Basically the same plant material; the same fabric, “cooked” at the same time. Image: Su Leslie, 2017
For someone like me — traditionally driven by results rather than process — that knowledge was oddly liberating. It meant I could simply PLAY.
Olive, feijoa, bracken fern, onion skin, layed out on silk. Image: Su Leslie, 2016
The chemistry bit
Some plants — eucalyptus in particular — make excellent dyes while others need a little chemical help to release their colour into fabric. The “chemical help” is known as mordant. Mordants are often (but not always) metal salts. The one we used in the workshop was iron-based — made by soaking rusty nails and steel wool in vinegar. After a week or so, the liquid can be mixed with water and the plant material dipped or soaked in it before being laid on the fabric.
A jar of rusty nails; otherwise known as iron mordant. Image: Su Leslie, 2016
Silver dollar gum leaves (Eucalyptus cinerea) give bold colours and definition without an extra mordant. Image: Su Leslie
Detail; silver dollar leaves on silk. Image: Su Leslie
The transfer of colour and outline from plant to fabric happens when the two are in direct contact. The method we used to achieve this is called bundling.
We laid out assorted leaves, stems and bits of bark on our silk fabric, rolled these up, tied them and put them in simmering water to “cook” for at least an hour. The longer you leave the bundles, the darker and more intense the colours.
Happy with the layout. Image: Su Leslie
Practicing at home. Tied bundles ready for the pot. Image: Su Leslie
Slimy mess. Once the bundle is cooked, the leaves are removed to reveal what’s been imprinted. Image: Su Leslie
Finished scarf. Image: Su Leslie
Finished scarf. Image: Su Leslie
Detail, finished scarf. Image: Su Leslie
(1) If you are interested, online resources abound (of the usual variable quality). I’d suggest you begin here. India Flint is widely credited with “inventing” the eco-print process.
Brian at Bushboy’s World had the fun idea of posting our last photo of each month, without editing or explanation.
The rules are simple: 1. Post the last photo on your SD card and/or last photo on your phone for the 30th November. 2. No editing – who cares if it is out of focus, not framed as you would like or the subject matter didn’t cooperate. 3. You don’t have to have any explanations, just the photo will do 4. Create a Pingback to Brian’s post or link in the comments 5. Tag “The Last Photo”
“The whole world before you, and a horizon that’s always changing.” — Kenneth Grahame. Image: Su Leslie 2021
It’s a strange contradiction that while April has been my most sociable and outward-looking month in a long time, I’m remembering these thirty days mainly as a time of introspection.
The month began with a trip to the theatre. Dreading the CBD’s nightmare roadworks, T and I caught the ferry from Devonport, had a meal, strolled around the waterfront and sat down to one of the most interesting productions we’ve seen in a long time.
The Haka Party Incident was visually stunning verbatim theatre (1) that tells of a few moments in history which changed race relations in Aotearoa New Zealand.
In 1979, after enduring several decades of Auckland University Engineering students staging a highly offensive mock “haka” as a capping stunt, a group of young Maori activists confronted the engineers during a rehearsal. Punches were thrown, arrests were made, and institutional racism was laid bare.
But the engineers never again performed their “haka”.
T and I are both graduates of Auckland University (T of its Engineering School) and though the haka party incident was before our time, it is part of our collective history. To see events that we understood from the perspective of Pakeha teenagers, re-told 40-odd years later was a sobering and quite empowering experience.
An evening in the city. Image: Su Leslie 2021
Carved entrance to Te Wero Island, Auckland. Image: Su Leslie 2021
Really, April has been all about a road-trip to visit my father and attend a workshop on eco-printing/dye on fabric. I love solo travel, and having seven days to visit people and places I love — and learn a new skill — was absolute bliss.
I’ll write a separate post on what I learned in the workshop, but here a few shots of my efforts on the day
Laying out the plant material to be “printed”. Image: Su Leslie 2021
Bundled, “cooked” and then unrolled to reveal what’s been imprinted. Image: Su Leslie 2021
Hanging the results out to dry. Image; Su Leslie 2021
Looking back on the photos I shot while away pretty much confirms my obsession with desolate landscapes, lowering skies, quirky buildings and food.
Celeriac soup at The Kirk, Hamilton, NZ. Delicious! Image: Su Leslie 2021
The Changing Seasons is a monthly project where bloggers around the world share their thoughts and feelings about the month just gone. We all approach this slightly differently — though generally with an emphasis on the photos we’ve taken during the month.
For many of us, looking back over these photos provides the structure and narrative of our post, so each month is different.
Others focus on documenting the changes in a particular project — such as a garden, an art or craft project, or a photographic diary of a familiar landscape.
But in the end, it is your changing season, and you should approach it however works for you.
There are no fixed rules around post length or photo number — just a request that you respect your readers’ time and engagement.
Tags and ping-backs
Tag your photos with #MonthlyPhotoChallenge and #TheChangingSeasons so that others can find them
Create a ping-back to this post, so that I can update it with links to all of yours.