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Flower Transfer Dyeing

Helen_Allsebrook
Published on August 9th 2018
3
This is a really fun activity for adults and children and a great way to capture summer. Having worked as a college art teacher in a former life, I know that anyone can do this, regardless of ability and the results are fun, rewarding and fantastic.
There are two methods you can use;

Flower Pounding

The easy method
What you'll need:
  • Bright vibrant flowers or leaves
  • Good quality paper (for a good result, something thicker than printer paper)
  • A hammer
  • Masking tape (other tapes may work but there's a risk the paper will tear)
  • Kitchen roll
  • Scissors
Technique:
  • Simply secure the flowers, face-down onto paper using masking tape.
  • If the stem sticks up, chop it off.
  • Place another piece of paper on top.
  • Place a piece of kitchen roll on top of the flower sandwich.
  • Get your hammer and start pounding the area the flower is placed, being careful the flower and papers don't move too much.
  • Once thoroughly pounded, lift the paper and carefully remove the tape and flower remnants.
You should be left with a perfect print of what was once a flower!

Flower Print Dyeing

The more complicated but longer lasting and professional method
The only way I can describe this process is that it's adult, professional tie-die, with flowers. It gives such permanent and long-lasting results that I'm giving it a go on pillowcases and an apron in the upcoming weeks.
What you'll need:
  • White cotton cloth or a cotton garment. This could be an apron, shirt, t-shirt, tea towel or simply a piece of fabric you might want to frame or sew into later. Any cotton fabric will work but be sure it has absolutely no man-made material in it, or the process won't work.
  • A 'mordant' fixative of aluminium acetate (explained below). Aluminium acetate is easily available for a low price online and from many craft shops.
  • A bucket
  • A small container
  • A teaspoon
  • Hot and cold tap water
  • Gloves (recommended)
  • A fine particle dust mask (recommended)
  • String
  • A selection of brightly coloured flowers and leaves
  • Two days of spare time (intermittently).
These are some flower options, but be adventurous. I'm tempted to try it with my abundance of Rainbow Chard but the shape of chard stems aren't as nice as flowers. Leaves also work but tend to give more subtle, delicate effects. I've used blue iris before and they work extremely well.
A purple Iris sibirica flower on a plant

Siberian Iris

Iris sibirica

Gerbera 'Sweet Glow'

Gerbera (Garvinea Sweet Series) 'Sweet Glow'

Polyanthus 'Elpiro Yellow'

Primula 'F1 Elpiro'

Begonia 'Fortune'

Begonia 'F1 Fortune'

Fuchsia 'Cascade'

Fuchsia × hybrida 'Cascade'

Bidens 'Golden Glory'

Bidens ferulifolia 'Golden Glory'

Geranium 'Designer'

Pelargonium zonale 'Designer'

Polyanthus 'Crescendo'

Primula spectrum 'F1 Crescendo'

Mordant is a fixative that allows dye molecules to bind to the cotton. Without using it, the flower colour will likely wash out or bleed so you won't get a nice clean print that lasts. From the Latin word mordere, meaning to bite, a mordant is a chemical compound which brightens a dye colour, darkens it, or make it colourfast. In this case, we're using aluminium acetate.
How to mordant the cotton with aluminium acetate
  • Soak the cotton fabric(s) in a bucket of warm water for a minimum of two hours. This softens the fibres and enables the aluminium acetate to be accepted into the cloth.
  • Remove the cloth and half fill the bucket with hot tap water (I'd recommend doing this outside).
  • Dissolve approximately 10 teaspoons of aluminium acetate in a small container with boiling water. Please wear a dust mask and gloves for this as the powder is very fine, and best not inhaled.
  • Add the dissolved aluminium acetate to the bucket and stir.
  • Add the wet cotton and squeeze it a few times wearing gloves. Leave in the bucket overnight.
  • The next day, remove and wring the cotton well and allow to dry naturally.
  • When dry, rinse the fabric carefully.
Creating your flower dye prints
  • This is the fun part. While the cloth is wet, place your chosen flowers onto the cloth. Think about placement and the overall effect you want to achieve. Once placed, fold and roll the fabric as tightly around the flowers as you can. You need to make a flower sandwich that has absolutely no air gaps in it. The tighter you can get this rolling and folding, the more successful your dye print will be. The technique doesn't matter but cloth to flower contact does.
  • Tie the bundle EXTREMELY tightly with string. You may need a bit of help with this part.
  • Dip back into the mordant solution, remove, then leave overnight.
  • The next day is the big reveal. Untie and see the result!
Hopefully, the colours from the flowers will have transferred to the cloth and you are left with a beautifully unique garment or piece of cloth. The fabric can now be washed as normal on a low temperature. It will fade and dull a little but the aluminium acetate will have set the colour in place better than without having used it.

If you have a go, please show us pictures! Everyone gets a different exciting outcome. Good luck!

Helen (The Impatient Gardener)

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