My Washington Retreat

The beginning of our Journey

After seeing the results from an Irit Dulman workshop, we decided we wanted to experiment with printing leaves using natural dyes at our 5 day ITA retreat.  After all, dyeing is best done when many can take advantage of the measuring, mixing and cooking.  We included rusting and an indigo vat just to cover all the bases.

Early on September 19, 2016, we loaded two vans with textile artists, food, drink, art supplies and lots of equipment needed for dyeing. We took the ferry from Salt Spring Island to Vancouver Island and traveled north to Mt Washington in the pouring rain. We made one stop for coffee and one stop along the side of the road to collect broom to be used in print making. Upon our arrival, thankfully the rain slowed to a drizzle and we unpacked our load, sorted, chose bedrooms, had a delicious lunch, the first of many scrumptious meals.


The Dyes – Immersion Dyeing and mixing Dye “Paints”

We had set a list of things we wanted to accomplish with the silk, dyes and mordants we ordered, the botanical we collected, and the heavy rusted items we lugged up.  After lunch we decided how much cloth each wanted to put inot eith the lac or weld immersion dye bath. We weighed, labeled and measured out the mordants to be used.  While some were attending to the mordant pots, others were measuring, weighing and “cooking” the five dyes we wanted to use for “painting” : cochineal, lac, weld, pomegranate and logwood. We seemed to be on fire.

We got all this done and still had time and energy to do one immersion dye bath with 8 yards of fabric in Weld (yellow) before breaking into the G & T’s, wine and appys while another yummy meal was prepared.

We awoke the next moring to sunshine, refreshed and excited to get printing. Just a few more pots to prepare and we could play.  some of us made the lac dye bath and immersed 10 yards of fabric. The rest of us put plastic on tables inside and out, while the indigo vat was prepared.


Impressions with leaves

Iron and Tannin

Our dyeing/paint process included some interesting techniques. Tannin is considered a mordant and shifter of color.  Iron is also a mordant used to “sadden” or make colors more subdued. Tannin and iron are the best of buddies and form a strong bond when in contact with each other.  With this in mind, dipping the fabric that we will lay the botaniclas on in a dilute tannin bath and making a “blanket” to lay on top of this by dipping it in a dilute iron bath, the background cloth will become various shades of grey.  The majority of our pieces had a tannin fabric covered with an iron blanket.


Some of our first experiments were with white cloth dipped in tannin with unpainted leaves laid on top and covered with an iron blanket and steamed. Using this technique, we got some interesting eco prints from the leaves themselves with no paint.

Natural Dye Leaf Prints

We continued experimenting with our dye “paints”: cochineal, lac, weld, logwood and pomegranate. After dipping our plain, lac dyed or weld dyed cloth in a tannin bath, we chose leaves to paint and lay on our fabric before covering with an an iron dipped blanket and steaming.

Leaves as Resist

The cloth we dyed in Lac turned out a bit darker that anticipated.  But it became a wonderful background fabric for some resist work with the leaves. We dipped the Lac fabric in tannin, laid dow leaves, covered with an iron blanket and steamed. You will see the leaves created a resist. We continued this process  with the Weld fabric for some more great results.  We used different things as blankets. You sill see some cheesecloth or twill weave fabric imprints on the lac or weld cloth.


Whenever we needed a break or just because we were so excited by everything we could not stand it, we did some rusting.  We rusted on indigo cloth, we rusted on plain cloth and then indigo dyed it and we rusted on cloth that we thought was a write off. We hauled up a big bucket of rusty stuff to the mountain and laid it all out in the basement. The smell of vinegar filled the entire area.

Indigo – Indigo Shibori

We brought pvc pipe and needle and thread in anticipation of doing some shibori in the indigo vat. We had poles resting on stumps outside and blue banners waving in the breeze on the clothesline.


Indigo – Over-Dye

We used the indigo vat to over-dye some of our leaf prints and eco prints, rusted pieces, lac and weld pieces.  We  exhausted the vat and dare say ourselves.

Evening Analysis

Each evening we sat around the table after dinner and one by one showed our pieces and talked about them.  Everything we did was experimental and we had the added surprises of the mixture of mordants, minerals in the water, amount of tannin in any given leaf and most likely the way we held our mouths.  Each of us was in our own little world while working and certainly did not see all of what our 6 other cohorts was up to. Every time we went to hang something on the line, it had many more pieces, where did they come from and who did them, how beautiful! It was so beneficial to debrief each day and learn what brought out that amazing color or all be puzzled why something reacted the way it did.  We learned a lot and created more questions and wonder.


The End of the Journey

Like tannin and iron, we strengthened our bond, we learned how many husbands we each had, who liked saddened colors, who liked bright colors and more while sharing spirits and gourmet food prepared by   ourselves. We came in the rain and hauled everything out in the rain, with clear blue skies in between.  On the way home we stopped to see a textile arts show and have lunch in Coombs, home of the goats on the rood (they are so cute). We got off the ferry onto our island tired, happy and with lots of material to work with for our next show in August 2017





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