preparing for rust dyeing

Eco Printing

This may be your first time hearing about eco printing, and to be honest, that’s perfect! At New Hobby Box, we’re all about discovering new things and sharing with others – sparking new interests and trying new things is what it’s all about.

After my first time eco printing, I was instantly intrigued and spent hours researching what the experts were up to in this space. What I found was amazing, to say the least.

Eco printing goes by many names and can be done in many different ways. At its root, eco printing refers to the act of directly applying plants to textiles to alter color, apply color and create interesting designs. “Natural dyeing” is a component, as everything used is natural, such as flowers, leaves, bark, bugs, roots etc. (yes…. bugs! I’ll get into that a little later)

Throughout this tutorial, you’ll learn different methods that you can try with the materials we’ve sent, but you will hopefully have gained enough knowledge and confidence to branch out and try new approaches!

Sooo what have we sent you?

Your Eco Printing Kit From New Hobby Box

  • Semi-dried Eucalyptus
  • Twine
  • Plastic Gloves
  • Plastic Apron
  • Plastic Jar with Lid
  • Wooden Stick
  • 80z of Alum
  • 100% Cotton Squares (4)
  • Metal Fasteners
  • 100% Cotton Apron

Let’s talk about Alum (potassium aluminum sulfate). When working with textiles, in order to make colors ‘stick’ you have to use something called a mordant. Side note: not all methods require a mordant. For example, if you use a copper, brass or iron pot, they will do their own mordanting… Cool- right?

The Alum we’ve provided will go a long way. A general rule of thumb to remember: use 10-15% of dry goods weight in dye-pot. (Dye-pot refers to the pot you are soaking your textiles in.)

Each of your cotton squares weighs approx. 1.2oz so you will add a whopping .2oz for each square. If you’re like me and rather ‘wing’ it… this is definitely acceptable. Below is photo evidence that you can get away with about a teaspoon per square 🙂

The next thing I’ll point out before we just get into the process, is the plastic jar and fasteners! Right away, you should put the fasteners inside the jar, add a little water, and let it sit for a few days. This will allow you to experiment with rust-dyeing.

After one day, you’ll already start to see the water accumulating rust. The longer it sits, the more concentrated it will become.

The plastic gloves and plastic apron are for your ‘protection’ if you so choose. But the great thing with eco dying is the worst thing that can happen is that you get a little stained! The plastic apron also has a second use, and that is as a resistor. I will demonstrate this a little later on.

You can also wear the cotton apron as a protectant OR (and I hope you choose the latter) eco print on it!




Even though each dying experience will be a little different, the beginning generally stays the same.

1: Measure out the amount of Alum you will need and then mix it in a bowl with warm water until it dissolves. Set aside.

2: Fill pot up with water and bring to a boil. Note: stainless steel works best as it will not stain if you choose to add dyes directly to pot.

3: Add the Alum/water mix. (Alum is natural and is safe to use in cooking pots)

4: Add textile and turn heat off.

5: Let fabric sit in water to soak for about an hour or until textile is cool enough to remove.

6: Remove fabric from pot and lay out. Be sure not to wring or shake the fabric. You want the mordant to stay in there! Gently squeeze fabric to let out excess water. Also make sure not to rinse your fabric with cold water- this will shock it. Also working against the mordant.

THIS CONCLUDES THE INSTRUCTIONS. From here on out, it’s purely about playing, experimenting and making mistakes.. aka where the real learning begins. 😉




For the following example I’m going to show you, I went out and foraged for materials during step 5. For this go-round, I’ve chosen to pluck from an evergreen in my back yard and some leaves off of a holly bush.

Different flowers and leaves create different colors! For instance, the eucalyptus we sent can create a range of colors from orangish-red to light green! For a list of plants and colors, check out this resource: List of Natural Dye Colors It’s super helpful and I will also add it to the bottom of the blog 😉

After following steps 1-6 above, I laid out my square on a flat surface and arranged my large evergreen pieces.

Next I took some of my rust water and put it in a dish. (leaving the metal bits in jar… so they can keep producing rust for later projects)

One by one, I dipped each holly leaf and placed it them on my square. (Gloves are recommended when working with rust water)

At this point, I decided that this square was a little bland, so I ran out side quickly and grabbed some mulch! A little bit more satisfied at this, I moved on.

As mentioned earlier, I called the plastic apron a resistor. And I’ll show you what I mean. Here I have taken the apron and pressed it on top on the square to keep the leaves and mulch in place.

Most printers will use trash bags, plastic wrap or plastic bags… so this apron works perfectly. Also note, resistors aren’t necessary project-to-project, it just depends on how you wish to have your design come out! I only want the design on one side, so I chose a resistor.

Next I folded the square in half. And then in half again. *Types and quantities are all preference. However, it is important that you do it tightly, so your materials have maximum exposure to the fabric.

Taking the dowel rod, I started at the very edge and tightly rolled everything into a bundle. (Wine bottles, jars and large sticks also can be used for this if you want a larger bundle.)

After rolling, I secured everything together with the twine.

Now is the waiting game….  the first time I eco printed, I jumped the gun (out of excitement) and unrolled the bundle after 45 minutes. This is a bit too soon. Different people will say different things, but at least overnight is a must. A good 24 hours could never hurt.

Other people choose to steam or boil their bundles as they wait. This will help the plant’s cell walls to break down and release color.

There is also a hammering method that is pretty popular for releasing more color from plants and onto your fabric. Basically, after rolling, you beat it with a hammer! (Works well with nuts and barks)

This time, I chose to re-submerged the bundle back into the dye pot and let it sit for 24 hours. At this stage, a lot of people choose to dye it with something. (Like Eucalyptus, wink-wink)


Meet Brick. Hi Brick! For the next one, Brick is going to do a solid color and then something a little funky.

He’s decided to add the dried Eucalyptus to the dye-pot to create some color on the next square. If you choose to add plants directly to the pot, the dryer the plant, the better.

Also (if you want to do this) boil the water! Ps, your kitchen will smell amazing.

Don’t be afraid to add some other things (refer to the color guide at end of blog for ideas). He added a little bit of bark from a pine tree.

We let this mixture sit in the boiling pot for 2 hours and it came out like this.

After the fabric soaks, we rinsed with warm water until the water ran clear.

Then, hung out to dry.


On to the funk…. Brick decided he wanted to use the boiled Eucalyptus leaves and the rusted fasteners for his design.

Instead of using a resist like I did, he’s using a different method. Notice how he only added his items to one side of the square.

Brick did this so he could fold the square in half. Now, the leaves and fasteners will transfer to both sides!

Next, it was folded and rolled into a bundle around the dowel rod. (Just as before)

Then, the bundle was thrown into the pot with a little bit of water at the bottom and brought to a boil. (Creating steam)

This bundle then was taken out of the pot about an hour later. Then the bundle stayed bundled overnight (about 12 hours) until it was opened the next morning… (along with the first bundle)

Hung to dry……

And voila…… some gorgeous prints!

I mentioned at the beginning of this tutorial about the first time I eco printed. I’d like to share with you what I did, and what I learned…. I decided to try the Shibori printing method. This method was developed in and used in ancient Japanese cultures.

See the edge of the print? This is small example.

The first time I tried, I used a scarf and a mixture of pomegranate and madder root as my dye. I simply took the scarf, folded it into pleats, and used twine to bind the edges. Then I bundled it up with twine and dropped it in the pot. This specific method is called Kumo Shibori. This is what happened:

A post shared by Kylie Randolph (@kyflyinhigh) on

Before this video was shot, I cut the twine off. As you can see, when tied tightly the twine will create an absence of color.

Here is a nice compilation of different Shibori methods:

Shibori Dyeing  |  Seamwork Magazine


Eco Printing Resources

Please take your hobby further by seeing what other people are doing. Here are some videos on YouTube of eco printers, dyers and hobbyists like yourself!

I mentioned towards the beginning of the blog about dyeing with bugs… This video actually demonstrates that. At 0:34 you see the small things in the palm of her hand? These are dried Cochineal beetles. Aside from natural dyeing textiles, it is a popular food color and also used in lipsticks! These beetles are primarily found in South America on Prickly Pear Cacti. They actually date back to Mayan and Aztec civilizations!


Here’s a handy tool for your arsenal, a list of plants/materials and the colors they make:


^^^ I suggest looking over this list before you go out foraging for materials! It’ll help you decide on which leaves, flowers, barks and even spices you’d like to print and dye with 🙂 🙂 🙂

Remember, your Alum will go a long way. Also if you watched some of the videos or articles elsewhere, you’ll learn about substantive dyes meaning they have a natural mordant and you won’t need to use the Alum for everything. (Walnut  is an example of this) But to start off, I would recommend adding it to everything!


Do you have any questions before you get started? Or maybe you would like to share some of your experiences with eco printing so far? Or…. do you just want to say hi? Drop a comment below!

As always, thanks for trying new things with us & HAPPY HOBBYING 🙂

-Your friends @NewHobbyBox

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