Ecoprinted wedding dress

A couple of months ago I showed you a sneak preview of some ecoprinting I’d been doing for a special commission. I can now reveal (drum roll!) that I was working on fabric for a wedding dress.

Photo: The Kitcheners
Photo: The Kitcheners

The stunning photo above is by The Kitcheners, who were the official wedding photographers. It reminds me of a Pre-Raphaelite painting, with the woodland setting off the autumnal colours of the dress perfectly.

It was nerve wracking to be asked to produce the fabric for such a special occasion but I’m over the moon with how it turned out.

ecoprint wedding dress ecoprint wedding dress

It started when Daisy, an Etsy customer who had bought one of my ecoprinted scarves, contacted me to say that her daughter Mary was getting married, loved the scarf and wondered if I could ecoprint some silk for her wedding dress.

I admit my first reaction was panic. What would happen if it all went wrong on such a big occasion? And then there were the practicalities – I steam my ecoprinted fabric in a fish kettle, which limits its width to around 50cm, and I thought a wedding dress would require acres of fabric. But I agreed to talk about possibilities.

When we met up I explained the limitations of my facilities, but after we discussed the design of the dress they were interested in, it became clear that it could be possible.

I went off and printed some samples so that Mary could choose which colours and shapes she liked – and then took a deep breath and started printing the actual fabric. As ecoprinters know, there can be considerable variation in how leaves print, depending on the time of year, so it was important to try to get consistent results by printing all the fabric within a short period.

Each piece included rose and cotinus leaves for design continuity, plus a third type of vegetation for variety. These included sycamore seeds, eucalyptus, short-fruited willowherb, maple leaves, dock leaves and flowers and cranesbill leaves.

Daisy made the dress herself, and I think you’ll agree she did an amazing job. The silk was incredibly lightweight, and I wondered if she would have problems sewing it, but she said it was quite easy in the end.

mary wedding dress 1 mary wedding dress 2 mary wedding dress 3

As Mary was very interested in the process, I made her a small book as a keepsake. The front and back covers were covered with the cotton fabric dipped in iron solution that I used during the printing, and five internal pockets included some of the printed samples, dried sycamore seeds and a carefully wrapped rusty nail used to create the iron solution! I adorned the front cover with some more sycamore seeds stitched together.

hand made book hand made book

So despite my initial trepidation, this was a wonderful creative collaboration to be part of. Mary was a beautiful bride, and both Daisy and I are proud – and relieved. 😉


Foiling workshop

On Saturday I spent an enjoyable morning doing a foiling workshop with Anna Jackson of Black Cactus London. Anna is a screen printer and fellow Makerhood member, and she uses lots of leaves and textures in her work – so you can see why I’m a fan!

foil anna work

I bought one of her lovely foiled keypots (above) at Christmas, and I couldn’t turn down the chance to have a go at foiling myself.

We started by making a quick paper stencil to get familiar with the technique. Although we used a screen to push the glue through the stencil, Anna emphasised that this wasn’t essential – you can brush the glue on instead.

foil first stencil

Then we moved on to experimenting ourselves. Of course I spent most of the time using leaves and seeds!

Maple leaves
Maple leaves
Sycamore seeds
Sycamore seeds
Fig leaf
Fig leaf

I finished off with another more elaborate snail shell stencil.

foil last stencil

And here’s the happy group (including Kes of Heart in Art Workshops) showing off our work at the end.

foil workshop crop

Anna’s next foiling workshops are on 14 August and 3 September – a great way in to the metallic trend this summer!

Sneak preview of ecoprinting project

I’m currently working on a very special ecoprinting project, the details of which I can’t reveal yet.

But it’s meant I’ve been spending time experimenting and sampling, and I can’t resist showing you some of the results. I’m particularly pleased with some of the prints given by garden weeds, most of which I never knew the name of. I now have to stop ESP from weeding the garden! 😉

The photos below include rose and cotinus leaves as unifying elements, each combined with a different plant.

rose cotinus and rosebay willow
Rose and cotinus leaves with garden weed
Dock flowers
Rose and cotinus leaves with dock flowers
Sycamore seeds
Sycamore seeds
Cranesbill leaves
Cranesbill leaves

The sampling has led to some other new discoveries, like this vibrant green print from Robinia pseudoacacia.

robinia pseudoacacia

The colour didn’t really fit in with the project, but I’ve used the leaves with sycamore seeds and dock flowers on a scarf now in my Etsy shop.

ecoprint-robbinia-sycamore-2 ecoprint-robbinia-sycamore-3

And here are some other samples that I won’t be using in this project but may use in future.

Pelargonium flowers
Pelargonium flowers
Fig leaf
Fig leaf
ecoprint heuchera
Heuchera leaf

Starting with Photoshop

A few months ago I mused about whether I should learn how to use Photoshop so that I could get some of my designs digitally printed rather than making everything by hand. This would enable me to make larger pieces at more acceptable prices.

This week I finally got round to doing a two-day class on Photoshop for beginners at Morley College. It was a very popular class, with most of the participants wanting to learn Photoshop to improve their photos or restore old prints. And it turned out that I already knew the tutor, Estelle Vincent, as we had been located next to each other at Lambeth Open at the Portico Gallery a few years ago. Small world! 🙂

We covered a lot in two days, but what was most useful for me was learning about layers, filters and flipping/rotating to produce repeat patterns. Here are some of the patterns I created.

The first was a section of an ecoprint of eucalyptus on silk.

Original ecoprint of eucalyptus on silk

After changing the colour with a filter and flipping and rotating:

Repeat pattern created with filter

A similar process starting with a section of sycamore ecoprint:

photoshop-sycamore-before photoshop-sycamore-blue-repeat

Then I experimented with some indigo shibori. I didn’t bother changing the colours with filters this time.


photoshop-kuno-before photoshop-new-kuno

It’s fascinating to see how different the patterns look when repeated on a larger scale, which is something I could never achieve by hand. And using different filters to create different colourways adds even more potential.

Lots for me to think about here!

How to rub a fish

One of the most unlikely titles for a post is actually the title of a booklet written by Eleanor Morgan, currently artist in residence at the Grant Museum of Zoology, part of University College London (my alma mater).

how to rub a fish

I attended a workshop run by Eleanor last night on the art of fish rubbing, or gyotaku as it is known in Japanese. As obscure as it sounds, the workshop was ludicrously popular (I only managed to get a place – or plaice!) because someone cancelled.

I became interested in gyotaku a few years ago, when I entered a competition to win a trip to Japan by submitting a blog about why I wanted to go there – gyotaku was one of the reasons. The technique originated in the early 19th century so that fishermen could record the size of their catch in the days before photography.

I thought I would have to go to Japan to witness this esoteric technique, but in fact I had a go at the Slow Fish stand at the Salone del Gusto in Turin last year. Because Slow Fish is all about sustainability, they had made flexible moulds from real fish and were offering the public the chance to print one on a tote bag. As you can see, my attempt was not entirely successful – though that’s probably more about my technique than the rubber fish!

gyotaku slow fish

Last night we used real fish – and printed with squid ink, so the fish could be eaten afterwards! 🙂

Essentially you rub the ink onto the fish and then place the paper on top, rubbing it against the surface to pick up the detail. It works better with scaly fish that have some texture, rather than smooth fish such as mackerel. The paper also needs to be thin but strong – Japanese paper is ideal because the longer fibres make it stronger.

gyotaku demonstration
Gyotaku demonstration

After the demonstration we had a go ourselves, first using tissue paper and then Japanese paper.

Small ladyfish printed on tissue paper
Dover sole on tissue paper
Dover sole on Japanese paper

Then Eleanor demonstrated a slightly different method for squid and octopus, placing the inked-up fish down on the paper rather than vice versa. And Sam Curtis from the Centre for Innovative and Radical Fishmongery (yes, really!) showed us how to gut an octopus.

Here’s my first attempt at printing a squid using the fish down method:


Previously I’d applied the ink with a dauber (a ball of stuffed muslin), but this time I use a brush, and I really like the visual brush strokes that show on the smooth skin of the squid – they seem to add a sense of movement.

I re-inked the squid and tried a print with the fish-up method (putting Japanese paper on top of the squid). The paper is so thin that you can see the squid beautifully through it:

Inked up squid underneath Japanese paper
Squid print on Japanese paper

Then I took another print on tissue paper without re-inking the squid. This gave a fainter, more ghostly print:

Second squid print on tissue paper

All in all, a fantastically fun evening, although my dining room now smells very fishy, due to the squid ink!

Luckily, Brixton is not short of fishmongers, so future experimentation is on the cards.  🙂