The Eco Printing Process

eco printing

I was so excited to announce The Botanical Energy Collection to you this spring. This little collection is another step forward for Indigowares, as we innovate new ways to bring you timeless styles through traditional natural practices. 

On top of our signature use of indigo dyeing, I placed a special focus for this collection on eco printing and bundle dyeing. These are natural printing processes that uses botanical dyes found in leaves, dried or fresh flowers, herbs, some food waste and natural dye extracts.

Eco printing

 

Part of the beauty of the Botanical Energy Collection is the lifecycle of the natural processes that are used to create it. One of our biggest goals at Indigowares is to reduce our environmental impact by only creating garments that are friendly to the earth and give back to it. 

The eco printing techniques that this collection highlights use only materials that come from the earth. This means they are safe to work with, safe to wear, and safe to put back into the earth once they reach the end of their lifecycle. And with the quality of our garments, they should be with you for a long time!

A Brief History

The use of natural elements to create a print on fabric can be traced back to the Middle Ages, with the creation of herbalism. There are even records of botanical printing in pharmacological manuals from Ancient Greece.   

The modern eco printing process was pioneered by India Flint, a globally renowned textile artist from South Australia. Her book, Eco Colour : Botanical Dyes for Beautiful Textiles was released in 2008. This is an amazing handbook for the eco printing methods that she developed, and was a huge step in making sustainable patternmaking accessible to all.

There is so much that goes into the process of eco printing: the preparation of the fabric in itself takes a lot of care and attention in order to get the colours to set. Since there are so many hidden parts of the process, I wanted to share a step-by-step look at everything that goes into creating your one of a kind, naturally dyed garments.

Eco Printing: Step by Step

STEP 1: Scouring

First, we prepare the fabric to be dyed through a process known as ‘scouring’. This cleans the fibre of any grease and grime that has become attached during production or storage. Scouring is important as it allows the dye to take well, and results in smooth clean colours. In this process, the fabric is washed then left to sit in boiling or simmering water for about an hour.

 

STEP 2: Garment Construction

After scouring, the fabric is then passed to our seamstress Daniela, who sews it into the style of the garment that we are making. Daniella cuts and sews our made-to-order garments— like those in the Botanical Collection— locally from her home studio in St. Albans, Hertfordshire.

Natural dye

STEP 3: Mordant

Mordant is a solution that helps bond dyes to fibres. Mordanting the fabric helps it to become colourfast, allowing it to hold onto the colour once dyed. In order to prep our fabric, I use alum lactate as a mordant. Alum Lactate is a substance derived from by-products of the UK sugar industry, maize, or starch derivatives. Different mordants, fabrics and water temperatures require the fabric to soak for varying lengths of time— for our garments, I allow the fabric to sit in the mordant for around a day.

Natural Elements

STEP 4: Creating the Eco Print

After a day goes by and the mordant has done its job, I then lay the garment out to cover it with the natural elements that will create the pattern. In our Botanical Energy Collection, these elements are mostly red onion skins, cutch, madder and rose leaves. You can see them scattered on our botanical Energy Pant in the image above.

This photo is a particular favourite of mine, and one of the reasons I love sharing details of the eco dye process with you. It really demonstrates the beauty in every step of eco printing. Even better, you get to carry this beauty everywhere you go when you wear an environmentally friendly garment.

 

STEP 5: Steaming

After covering the garment in natural materials, it gets rolled up tightly and tied like a swiss roll (as you can see in the image below). In order to bind the botanical inks into the fabric, the garment is steamed for an hour, then allowed to cool.

STEP 6: The Final Rinse

Once cool they have all the botanical leaves and skins shaken off, rinsed in cold water and then washed at 30 degrees in the washing machine to confirm colourfastness.

pull on trousers

…and that’s how it’s done! You can see this technique in action in the Botanical Energy Pant and Botanical Energy Studio Jacket. 

The unique pattern that you see on these garments is created using red onion skins, rose leaves together with cutch and madder extract sprinkles. It just goes to show the beauty that comes from us, working with nature instead of against it.

eco printing
eco friendly clothing

Want to read more about botanical printing? One of my favourite references for the process is Botanical Inks: Plant-To-Print Dyes, Techniques and Projects by Babs Behan. Would highly recommend a read!

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