Learning Eco-dying With Sara Setzer at the LBI Foundation

May 02, 2018
Photo by: Pat Johnson Fabric artist Sara Setzer teaches a class in dyeing with natural materials at the LBI Foundation.

A silken scarf printed with the scattered images of orange and purple leaves is a perfect complement to a fall wardrobe. An eco-printed scarf is a high-end accessory that may be priced beyond what a struggling artist can afford – but why not learn to make them?

On Sunday, April 29, a number of craft artists attended Manahawkin fiber artist Sara Setzer’s workshop at the Long Beach Island Foundation of the Arts and Sciences to learn the secrets of eco-printing and to take home their own masterpieces.

Setzer is known for her felt work, specifically nuno and wet felting, but on Sunday she was sharing her knowledge of eco-printing. Eco-printing is a form of dyeing where leaves are used to make prints on fabric. Not all leaves will eco-print, she told the group; there is a lot of trial and error to find which leaves will work best. “It’s not an exact science – not every plant will work,” she said.

Setzer had already done some experimenting and provided dried and pressed oak, maple, gum, cherry and raspberry leaves and leaves from ornamental smoke bushes to choose from. Fresh eucalyptus branches would provide round prints; and onionskins were a sure bet to produce orange–colored imprints. Adding iron to the leaf bath enhanced the natural tannins in the leaves.

The first thing we did was spray our silk scarf with distilled vinegar and pick out the leaves we wanted to print. Setzer had picked bushels of leaves in the fall, when the tannins are more prevalent, and then pressed them between sheets of paper. We then covered the leaves with hot water to hydrate them, and a capful of “iron water” was added to our water to enhance the natural tannins of the leaves. Then it was time to decorate our scarves with leaf patterns.

Some of us spread plastic wrap across the middle to keep the dye from coloring these background areas.  Then we bundled the scarves around dowels and tied them with string and Setzer put them in a bath of boiling water, or boiling water with onionskins to create deep orange-browns. We also were given raw silk (noil) to eco-print. These bundles also went into the boiling pots. Then we went to lunch as Setzer kept an eye on the boiling pots.

On our return, it was time to open the bundles and see what we had made.

There were shrieks of surprise and joy as each unique scarf was uncovered.

Setzer gives frequent workshops at the Foundation and has her own web shop, Sara Setzer Feltworks on Facebook. See her also at local art fairs.

— Pat Johnson


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