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What's so special about botanical 'eco' printing?

Updated: Aug 25, 2022

You may have heard of botanical contact printing, or ‘eco’ printing .. but if you’re new to it, you may be wondering what it’s all about.

Maybe you’ve had your head turned as someone walked past with a gorgeous scarf or dress printed with leaves and flowers, and wondered where they got it.. or you’ve seen a gorgeous framed print of leaves and wondered how it was done?

By Maggie .. Naturally's botanically hand printed creations on her market stall. Silk and wool carves, zipped pouches, mounted prints on paper.
A range of my botanically hand printed creations

So what IS botanical contact or ‘eco’ printing?

Well, it’s a process which, put simply, draws on nature’s magic.. it is what it says on the tin .. plants printing by contact with fibres, be it cloth or paper. Didn’t know plants could do that? Read on, my friend …

Botanical contact or ‘eco’ printing uses heat and moisture to release natural pigments from leaves and flowers and transfers the pigments to make prints. The heat and moisture can be applied by steaming, or by immersion in a bath of simmering water with or without dye stuffs.

Often, a metal salt [most commonly iron and/or alum] is used as a ‘mordant’ to fix the pigments in the fibres, or a ‘binder’ such as soya milk can be used. These mordants or binders are either added to the fibre by soaking, or metal ions are released from the pan in which the prints are processed [or even a combination of the two].

It all sounds very simple and straightforward. In many ways it is, but like a lot of things, the devil is in the detail: in this case, the practice of printing and the plant matter and fibres used.

This blog discusses the botanical contact printing process and what’s special about it. My next blog will give 10 Top Tips for success.

Where did botanical contact / ‘eco’ printing come from?

India Flint[1] is regarded by many as the ‘mother’ of ecoprinting. In her book Eco Colour,[2] she describes watching her Latvian grandmother revive tired clothes with onion skin dye or tea, and dyeing eggs with leaves and onion skins at Easter. It was experimenting with the egg-dyeing traditions using eucalyptus leaves on cloth which led India discover ‘ecoprint’ in 1999.

Two hard boiled eggs hand dyed with onion skin dye and printed with leaves
Eggs hand dyed for Easter with onion skin dye and leaves

Others including Irit Dulman,[3] Caroline Nixon[4] and Nicola Brown, [5] to name but a few [from all of whom I have learnt so much], have built on India’s discovery. Some have added colourful natural dyes to the process.

Nine special features

In a world where the textile industry is responsible for:

· massive carbon emissions from the production and use of synthetics;

· water pollution from pesticides used to increase cotton yields;

· appalling working conditions in unregulated factories

· over a million tonnes annually of clothing waste, much of which is incinerated

and as human made global environmental disaster feels all too near, botanical contact/eco printing, and its sister process of natural dyeing, have nine very special features:

1. they use only natural fibres, which are renewable

Whether from animals [silk, wool] or plants [linen, hemp, cotton, paper] natural fibres don’t involve irreplaceable raw materials such as oil, the basis for many synthetics. That said, it’s important to note that cotton, particularly, can be environmentally damaging and resource-hungry, and the working conditions in its production are not always good. Moreover, some animal fibres such as mass produced silk and wool are extracted with pretty cruel practices. Using both plant-based and animal fibres, we need to be discerning about their source and extraction, the environmental and social conditions under which they’re produced, but it IS possible to find ethical, environmentally friendly sources.

2. they work brilliantly on upcycled/recycled fabric!

3. they use naturally occurring pigments

4. they use natural processes

5. they use local vegetation, even weeds!

6. they are individually and lovingly hand made.

7. they are full of surprises!

8. botanical eco printing brings us close to nature

9. it’s a wonderfully mindful activity

What next?

So having given you a whistle stop tour of the nine special features of botanical contact ‘eco’ printing, my next blog will give you Top Tips for success.

I hope this summary has answered some of your burning questions, but no doubt it’s also prompted questions. Email them to me at and I’ll do my best to answer them directly and in a future blog.

Thanks for reading. Do keep in touch .. my next blog will be here soon!

Maggie Pearson

By Maggie Naturally

12 August 2022


[1] Website and her blog [2] Flint I [2008]. Eco Colour. London: Murdoch Books [3] Website [4] Website [5] Website https://www.nicolabrow

By Maggie Naturally Logo, white text on green


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