The Zen of Eco Dying

For about a year I have been attempting to learn how to eco dye, eco print. It is a completely different world of wonder. I am not a planner, note keeper or otherwise. I like to play and experiment as I have no interest in repetition. Eco dying is perfect for me because, it is unpredictable. There are zillions of plants to try out. There are multiple combinations. It is too much effort for me to attempt to sort this out; thus, I am content to play.

My first attempts this winter were surprisingly good and easy; two good components.

I follow several people on Facebook that are eco dying and I belong to two Facebook Groups: Nature Artists and Printing Nature. The members are kind and very willing to answer questions. One of my favorites Facebook friends and eco dyer is: Kim Cowley (UK). She has a Facebook page as well: Kitchen Witch. She shares her results here.

I like to see the results people get; however, what I don’t see (much of) is the making of art or other beautiful things with it. A few people eco dye garments, some make books…which I love. These can be found in ETSY shops. Recently I saw photos from fashion shows with eco dyed garments….its catching on.

eco dying set up 1 eco dying set up 2Last month II decided to make a second attempt at eco dying. I was delighted to have good results again.

I have a perfect spot to do this. I set up tables and my equipment on a porch that opens from my laundry room to the outside (in the shade) complete with a clothes line.

Not every piece was good but I have enough to be happy with. The ordinary results have a place too….they are neutral more like solids and can be incorporated. The (few) true duds I pitch in the trash.

I have studied the fabrics from both sessions and have successfully combined some as compositions. I think the effects (alone) are art….simply art. Nothing needs to be added. Yet, I am compelled to add my personal touch with stitch (of course).

This piece is complete as a whole cloth, size 6″w x 11″ h. From the start I began stitching cautiously….because, I did not know at first what kind of stitches would look best or how much to do. I do not want to overwork a piece; this kills the natural energy in my opinion. So, ever so slowly I added stitching all the while considering the overall finished piece. As I worked at this (exaggerated slow) pace I realized that this is how I discover the paths to follow…which stitch, what color thread, placement etc. It is a conversation; I listen…responding respectfully. The evolution is like a (unspoken) conversation. Touching the surface with my hands and eyes simultaneously; feeling the qualities. This is ZEN…when I am quietly and patiently listening and responding; listening to the quiet. I found myself on the edge of the cliff several times contemplating about overworking.  These eco dyed fabrics call to me in a much more intimate manner. The qualities are genuine and pure which sets a totally different environment.

(I think) this piece is done….I may add a few French knots.

There is an imprint of a rusty key at the top horizontally. It is vague and is not defined enough yet….thus, I have to think of a stitch that will emphasize it just enough. Then there is the texture that develops between the stitches…is this distracting? Hopefully it is not.


The fabric is (new) white silk habotai, very light weight.  The silk was soaked in vinegar/water (1-1) overnight and  bundled with plant matter and a very old rusty key. The bundle was steamed for one hour and then left to cool for another whole cloth stitched full 1024

Moving onto some other eco dyed fabrics for more studying has lead to two more compositions which I am very happy with. It took a few hours trying various combinations, positions and scrutinizing; it was worth the effort.

The fabrics are from very old silk kimono which took the colors in a beautifully earthy way….the textures are rich and interesting, more than the silk habotai.

The second composition has two sections and is naturally contemporary which I think is a rather unique quality, 8″w x 13″h.

eco 2 300I love the simplicity. I will definitely converse quietly and sensitively with this one. I have begun to stitch already and I can see the fabric is firmer the stitches are sitting on top rather than biting deeper as in the pervious piece. Now I’m thinking about stitching minimally and utilize invisible stitches to secure the fabric over all.

The color of the thread is vitally important. I use mostly solid 6 strand embroidery floss; however I have some that is single strand hand dyed variegated colors that is especially beautiful to use on this one.

eco 1 300The third composition has three sections overlapped, 12″ w x 15″h. I like the natural effect of the torn edges instead of piecing; this is a subtle and natural divide. I use a slender strip of fusible web to adhere the layers, leaving the fine loose threads along the torn edge.

I don’t mind (small) holes that sometimes occur during eco dying.

The primary texture/design that I like the most from eco dying is the defined marks from the binding; either string or rubber bands. These are most interesting and somewhat graphic. The marks are less defined on the first silk piece because the silk is so fine.

So, how is all of this related to ZEN? The pace…slow, deliberate, quiet. Listening, feeling and embracing.

I would like to hear your comments. Do you like these effects and results?


10 thoughts on “The Zen of Eco Dying

  1. I absolutely love these pieces, especially the third composition. I cannot see the stitching very well, do you post them elsewhere with more detail? I havn’t begun to dye yet but It is just a reach away and your work pushes my inspiration. thank you for sharing your process.

    • Thank you Joanne. The third piece does not have stitching yet. If you dbl click on an image a larger image will open. Once the stitching is done I will post some more pictures. Typically, I write s post every month or so…I’m slow. I travel periodically and work on my art in between. Keep in touch and follow your inspiration. Subscribe to my blog too. And join some of the fb groups with this focus. Good luck to you.

    • Thank you!, you should definitely try it. It is not hard and you can use old things..found items, and old fabrics or garments. I have not tried a garment yet, as I want to know more. Go for it!

  2. Nice blog! I just came over from Printing Nature; been experimenting as you have for a couple of weeks, although I did a little last year too. I love your collages with the printed textiles, but when I double click, it doesn’t get any bigger so it’s hard to really see what you’ve got there. You may want to adjust your attachment details that are on the right hand side when you choose a pic from your media library to medium and see if that helps. Thanks for sharing!

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