Bundle-dyeing is named after the technique itself, where you 'bundle' fabric up with dye to create a bundle dye. The origin is not completely known, however the traditional Latvian use of onion skins to color Easter eggs led Natural dye innovator India Flint to discover the 'eco-print'. Bundle dye and Eco-printing, unlike other dyes, are meant to leave imprints of flowers, petals and leaves onto the fabric. The goal is not an even color, but rather a confetti-like print of botanical bits. Bundle dye is much loved for this reason as its random effect is very forgiving and one of the easiest beginner techniques. The opening of the bundle is deeply satisfying. I have printed both with dried dye stuff, fresh dye stuff and extracts. Arguably the definition of eco-print and bundle dye are one in the same. For me bundle dye refers to botanical bits and eco print refers to the capture of the original plant shape (entire leaf print or whole flower print).
Supplies needed: mordanted fiber/item for dyeing, sink or rinse bucket, dye stuff (raw, dried, fresh or extracts), rubber bands or twine, non-reactive (stainless steel) pot, vegetable steamer (dedicated to dye), heat source (stovetop, induction cooktop, gas cooktop etc), craft paper to protect surfaces, water, wooden dowel (optional)
1. Find a large, flat space to work on. Protect the work space with recycled craft brown paper or a plastic tarp. Start with already scoured and mordanted goods. "Wet" out your fiber by allowing it to soak in water for 30 minutes prior to dyeing. After wetting out, gently wring your item so that it is not soaking wet. You want it to be damp but not dripping. Lay your item flat on your protected workspace.
2. There are many ways to place dye stuff and different ways to roll or fold your bundle. We will focus on the two most common options 1. All-over and 2. Mirrored. For an all over pattern, simply arrange the dye stuff all over the fabric. For a mirrored pattern, arrange dye stuff only on one side of the fabric/item and then fold the other side over top of the side with the dye stuff. The mirrored effect will need additional dye stuff applied to the back, otherwise the back of your item will be left undyed.
3. Slowly and carefully roll it lengthwise as tightly as possible. Once the length of the fabric is completely rolled like a log, start on one end and roll it in the opposite direction (width wise) until the entire bundle is rolled up like a snail shell. Secure bundle using 4–6 rubber bands in a crisscross pattern. Alternatively, you can choose to use a wooden dowel for a very tight roll. Just make sure that your dowel fits inside of your dye pot with the lid on, prior to dyeing.
4. Fill a stainless steel pot with about 1" of water and place the vegetable steamer inside of it. The purpose of the stainer is to keep your item elevated and out of the water, the bundle should not be submerged in the water. Making sure the water level is below the strainer, add your bundle and cover the pot with the lid. Place your stainless steel pot on a heat source. I used an induction cooktop but you can also use a gas stove, electric burner etc. Turn the burner on a medium-high setting and steam for 20-40 minutes. **CAUTION: If your pot is small, check the water level at 10 minutes. Add more water if needed. You do NOT want to burn the base of your pot. At the 20 minute mark, check the look of your bundle. Be careful when removing the lid, as the steam will be hot! Do not put your face over the pot, even though you are excited to see your piece! Lift the lid and allow the steam to escape. If the prints have come through to the back side and you can see them, your item is most likely ready- however we will need to check. Thicker fabrics and bigger items tend to need more steam time. To check that your bundle is done, remove it from the pot using tongs or pot holders and place it back on your protected workspace. Cut the twine and unroll the bundle. Inspect the prints. If the prints have not fully come through, you can re-roll and return the bundle to the steam pot, checking every 10 minutes. If the prints look like they have come through to the back side, your item is done and can now be fully opened.
5. Some dyers allow their bundles to sit for 24 hours after steaming to allow the color to fully soak in, but I find that this causes a lot of blurriness. I like to remove large flower pieces right away, to avoid blurry prints. You can give your item a good shake over your compost pile or trash can. Do not pick tiny flower pieces off, as it can cause smudges. Instead, let the smaller pieces dry on the fabric and then 'flake' them off once dry- this is much easier! Allow your item to 'cure' for a minimum of 24 hours before washing. This gives the dye time to cool on the cloth and retain as much colors possible. Proceed to finishing.
The most eco-friendly way to wash your item, is to hand wash in cold water with natural detergent (use 1-3% WOF) and line dry, in the shade. Drying in shade ensures that your item is not exposed to prolonged UV rays. Prolonged UV exposure will fade the color of your item. Some dyes are less "lightfast" than others and will quickly fade when exposed to light. You may wash your item with grey water, if your grey water is ph neutral. This saves valuable energy and water! Some dyes are less "wash fast" than others and will quickly fade when washed in heat with harsh detergents. Acidic or alkaline environments can cause a shift in color, so ph neutral soap is highly recommended. Most natural soaps are ph neutral, but check the label to be sure. Alternatively, you may machine wash (on delicate cycle) in cold water with natural detergent (use 1-3% WOF). Most fabrics can be tumble dried on low, but check the care instructions based on your fabric/garment.
Natural dyer, natural dye educator, maker and all around textile nerd.