image of gloved hands placing green leaves on white paper in the process of eco dyeing the paper. - by Colleen Kastner

An Easy Fun Way to Eco Dye Papers for Collage and other art projects

Eco Dyeing Paper with Foraged Materials is fun and easy

Have you tried eco-dyeing? It’s an easy fun way to dye papers for collage and other art projects. A batch of papers will yield a harvest of gorgeous marks to inspire your next project. You may have seen videos on YouTube and social media. Mostly they are about eco dyeing fabrics. However, I wanted to learn how to dye papers I could collage into my paintings and art journals.

I’ve enjoyed everything about eco-dying from the time outdoors foraging for pretty leaves and flowers, to the mixing witchy concoctions in my kitchen, and the beautiful, always surprising outcomes when I unbundle my papers at the end.

The first time I tried eco dyeing papers was in North Carolina a few summers back. I collected materials on my walks through the forests where I’ve been lucky enough to see black bears several times. I used some of the papers I made as collage in a small collection of bear paintings that sold as soon as they were finished. It seemed a fitting circle of meaning that I made papers with materials foraged from the woods where the bears lived, to make art about the bears. I focused on a young bear who visited our deck when I forgot to bring in the bird feeder.

papers, green leaves, a metal roasting pan filled with water and leaves are materials used in the  process of eco-dyeing papers

Eco Dyeing is inherently connected to a love of Nature

I was a little girl before the internet and cell phones, climbing (and falling out of) trees, eating plums and guavas straight from the tree, stubbing the toes on my always bare feet, and reveling in everything outside. I think that’s part of what made living in Florida so difficult for me. It was too hot for me to spend much time outside for most of the year. Living with seasons again in Connecticut, and sometimes North Carolina, is heavenly.

I’m writing this as Spring is pushing green things through the greys and browns of winter, little white and blue flowers are waving in the breeze, and birds, chipmunks and squirrels are everywhere. Everything smells fresh and it’s literally the best time to get out and go for a walk.

I like to collect beauty in photographs I can share and use for inspiration in my art. And I like to forage, pretty leaves and wildflowers, smooth pebbles with interesting colors. They fill little vases and bowls around the house and are perfect for eco-dyeing papers for my art and other projects.

I am no expert by any means, and researched this on the internet and YouTube before I tried for the first time a few years ago. Most of the information I found was about fabric dyeing but I pieced together what I could and put together my own recipe. It’s easy and fun but a little messy, takes several hours, and needs space (to spread out and dry all your papers.)

gloved hands placing leaves on a sheet of paper as part of the process of eco dyeing paper

Materials:

  1. Foraged material, leaves, flowers, seeds, etc, (nothing poisonous please!) and scraps from your kitchen like tea bags, avocado pits, red onion etc.
  2. Some different papers (nothing too thin) and/or fabrics to dye. They don’t have to be blank papers. I’ve had great results from using photocopies of old documents. Once you start experimenting, you’ll discover different papers absorb the dye differently and do more of whatever you like.
  3. A large metal pan for boiling. I use an old roasting dish I found at a thrift store.
  4. Disposable gloves. The first time I tried this was without gloves and my hands were stained for days.
  5. Allum powder (potassium aluminum sulfate) to fix the dye on the paper.
  6. Twine for wrapping.
  7. Two sturdy boards (I used plywood pieces) the size that will fit in your pan.
  8. A few rusty bits of metal to create a rust bath.
  9. White vinegar
  10. A metal bowl or glass jar for your rust bath.

My easy fun way to eco dye papers for collage and other art project: (also see the video below)

1 :Prepare a rust bath. Soak a few rusty objects in a solution of half water and half white vinegar overnight or longer.

2: Go for long, leisurely nature walks and collect leaves and flowers that interest you. Stay away from anything poisonous please! If in doubt, check first.

3: Prepare your work area. This is messy kitchen work. If you have surfaces you’re afraid may stain, please cover them. Also, I recommend good ventilation so open all the windows.

4: Add water and dye materials to your pan, filling to just less than half full.

5: Start making your dye sandwich. Think of the two boards as the bread on each side. Lay the first board down next to your pan. Take your first piece of paper, dip it into the pan to soak the paper, then lay the paper flat on the board.

6: Dip a few of your foraged items in your rust bath then arrange them on the paper. You’ll want to spread them out as much as possible into an arrangement you like and try to lay them flat.

7: Dip a second piece of paper in the pan and lay it on top of your foraged items.

8: Repeat until you have a pile of about 10 pieces of paper then place the second board on top of your sandwich. Press it together and wrap as tightly as you can with the twine. (Some people use clamps.)

9: Place the pan on the stove top and bring to a boil on a high heat. Gently so you don’t splash, add your sandwiched bundle. Bring it back to a boil then turn the heat down and simmer for about 2 hours.

10: Remove from heat and allow to cool. Use tongs to remove the bundled sandwich and don’t try to unbundle before it cools, or you may burn yourself. It’s hard to be patient here I know!

11. Cut the twine and carefully unwrap your bundle, separate the sheets of paper, remove the foraged materials, and place the papers on paper towels or old kitchen towels and let them dry.

12. Use your new papers in all the wildly creative ways you can dream up. Notecards, gift wrap, journal covers, and collage materials are just a few ideas.

Watch my process of an easy fun way to eco dye papers for collage and other art projects. https://colleenkastnerart.com

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