These lovely summertime eco prints are made from the dyes which naturally occur in wildflowers. The dye is released by pounding the plants with a mallet, then the print is heat set. Prepping your paper with a solution of alum allows the dye to chemically bond to the surface of the paper while it is heated, giving you a more permanent and lightfast image.
Wildflowers and herbs contain mostly yellow and chartreuse dyes. Stick with recommended dye plants for the most lightfast dyes, or experiment with any plants you find for more surprising results!
It is important to use dye-dedicated or disposable cookware and utensils when working with natural dyes. For this project, the size of your final prints will be determined by the size of your dye pot. My garage sale pot fits 6” square prints, but for larger prints you can use a disposable roasting pan. Beware of rust on old cookware you might appropriate for this project, it will stain your paper. -Natalie
Materials for 6” square prints:
-wildflowers, see instructions below
-scissors or secateurs
-hot press watercolor paper, cut to 12×6” pieces
-3/4 teaspoons alum (aluminum sulfate or potassium aluminum sulfate) wide paintbrush
-cardboard, 1 large sheet plus 2 pieces cut to 7” square newsprint
-painter’s or washi tape
-mallet or hammer
-dye-dedicated pot and tongs
On a beautiful summer day, gather your wildflowers! I found Queen Anne’s lace, goldenrod, yarrow, mint, and clover in a nearby field. You can also look for black-eyed Susan, purple loosestrife, St. John’s wort, berry brambles, herbs, and leaves from oak, walnut, or fruit trees. Be careful to forage responsibly. For every ten healthy plants you see of a particular species, you may take one. Place your flowers and leaves in a vase of water while you prepare your workspace.
Working outside if possible, cover your work surface with a sheet of cardboard. Place your tools and a stack of newsprint nearby.
Dissolve the 3/4 teaspoons alum in a pint of warm water. Brush this solution over the entire surface of each piece of watercolor paper, and stack them up. They do not need to dry.
Place one piece of paper alum-side up on the cardboard. Place a flower or leaf on one half of the paper; you will be folding it in half over the plant to create two mirror images. Arrange the plant, flattening its leaves or removing extra buds as you like. Fold the paper in half to sandwich the plant, and secure it to the cardboard with tabs of painter’s tape.
Lay 2-3 pieces of newsprint over the paper. Use the mallet to pound the paper/plant sandwich, keeping your blows at 90 degrees to the surface and working your way over the whole sandwich. You can peek inside to check your progress, but be careful not to shift the plant out of position. The print is ready when you see an outline of dye describing the foliage, veins, and petals.
Keeping the plant firmly in place within the sandwich, lay your print on the square of cardboard. Continue stacking the prints here as each one is completed, then cover with the remaining square of cardboard and tie the bundle securely.
Fill your dye pot with water and bring it to a simmer. Use the tongs to carefully lower the bundle of prints into the water, angling it to allow the water to penetrate from each side. Leave the bundle to simmer for ten minutes, then remove the pot from heat and let the water cool to lukewarm.
Remove the soggy bundle from the dye pot, and let it cool completely before opening. When you carefully peel open each sandwich, you will see that the water has pulled the dye from the smashed plant giving the printed image an aura, and the heat has set these colors. Fill the dye pot with clear, cool water and gently swish each print through the water to remove the plant material.
Lay the prints out to dry, and when they are just barely damp stack them beneath books to press flat. Cut each piece of paper in two, giving you a set of mirrored prints. Frame your eco prints, hang away from direct sunlight, and you’ll have a bit of summer to warm your home all year long.