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Leather and watercolor paper-beginning an ecoprinting journey

The Silk Thread

Leather and Paper Ecoprinting-Understanding the basics


Hi all! As an all around silk artist who works not just in plants but in dyes (natural and synthetic), block printing and hand painting, in this newsletter I’m back to Ecoprinting and touching on two areas I’ve been asked about-Leather and Paper!

Leather. Who doesn’t love the touch, the smell and feel of leather? It is everywhere as hand bags, garments, horse tack, books, shoes, upholstery and so many more uses!  We all know that the history and use of leather obviously goes back to the cave dwellers. At some point in those very early days, someone figured out how to use the hides from the animals that fed them. So Leather would have been used for the first of everything for survival-clothes, tents, shoes. Today, without the survival factor, leather has gone from a necessity to more of a luxury. Leather upholstery, clothing, shoes and hats are just the tip of the product mountain. Add horse tack from harnesses to saddles and even leather walls in offices and you can see it is here to stay.

Natural leather                                                                       Dyed leathers

When thinking about working with leather in ecoprinting, it is important to first clear your mind of any previous techniques! If you realize a few things, your journey will be easier :-). Leather is not fabric. (You need to re-think what you know!)  Leather is a big industry.-there is a LOT to learn but just like any other skill, it becomes easier! Like the silk and wool industries, there are dozens and dozens of types of leather. Basically hides are measured and graded by different weights, different textures and go through a series of splitting, shaving, dyeing, embossing, etc to produce the characteristics of the different leathers we see in every day use. I thought I knew a lot about leathers having been in the horse world for many years. I discovered I only knew a lot about one type of leather! So to further condense, hides come from all kinds of animals but the majority of leather is from cows, sheep, pigs and goats. Each hide goes through the same type of leather grades: Top grain, Full grain, Split Leather and Bonded Leather.  I cannot emphasize enough that successful ecoprinting on leather means educating yourself and experimenting on all of these grades! I personally, so far, like to use thin cow and goat leather. In ecoprinting, leather is handled differently than silk or wool. I have ruined a few hides along the way figuring that out! A few hints: Leather stretches, previously dyed leathers will bleed and a constant heat and pressure must be maintained to get the best prints and by golly, leather is not inexpensive! I am still experimenting with various weights, types of hides and ways to create from the hides!

Examples of Ecoprinted leather

Leather is also gauged by ounces ranging from 1-10 or so per square foot. That is not the “weight”, it is the thickness of the leather. It is easier for a layman to understand that a standard sewing machine will usually not make it through a 4 oz (1/16″) piece of leather very easily! To understand the complex world of leather, a good site designed for beginners is the Tandy Leather Company.

PAPER Like leather, most papers must be handled differently than silk or wool. Those are protein fibers. The best papers to work in ecoprinting are watercolor papers which are made from cellulose fibers with cotton being the predominant .It is naturally PH neutral which adds to longevity :-). If the paper is not marked 100% cotton, it will have wood pulp that can yellow over age. My husband and I have years of experience in watercolor painting so we had ample paper to choose from when I experimented :-).

A collage of ecoprinted paper

For many beginners, buying a watercolor sketch pad is an economical way to go.Be careful of the fiber content however.  As in leather, you will see weights and like leather, the art supply industry is big business, and confusing! Next comes the Hot Pressed vs the Cold pressed. With a nod to “The Artist’s Network” for a nicely condensed chart! It IS related to painting but you can adjust that to ecoprint in a number of areas!  As far as the terms hot press, cold press and rough, artists learn that in regards to absorbancy, hot pressed is like comparing a baby’s cotton diaper in hot press to a cotton dishcloth in cold press. Rough, for me, is like burlap lol.

Hot Pressed watercolor paper (very compressed fibers)

  1. Very little pigment penetrates beyond sitting on the surface.

  2. Hot pressed is not adequate for general watercolor painting.

  3. It’s suitable for fine detail, such as pen and ink.

  4. This type of paper works well with gouache.

  5. Wet-on-wet application with diffusion will not work.

  6. Glazing will lift the underlayer.

Cold Pressed Watercolor Paper (semi- compressed fibers)

  1. Some pigment penetrates deeper into the fibers.

  2. A painting on this type of paper ends up with a nice velvety look.

  3. Diffused wet-into-wet application can be achieved on cold pressed, but there’s a risk of losing the forms from excessive pigment bleeding. The artist working with this paper must be quite skilled at controlling the degree of fugitive paint.

  4. It works well for scraping out rocks with a credit card when painting landscapes.

  5. Cold pressed is not optimal for glazing because the new layer tends to disturb the first layer.

Rough Watercolor Paper (loosely compressed)

  1. The pigment seeps even deeper into the fibers of rough paper.

  2. The wet-into-wet application works well on this type of surface.

  3. Glazing works better because the paper grips the first layer quite well.

So the next thing you will encounter is weights.Artist run into a problem with watercolor paper curling and buckling unless it is fastened down somehow. I know my artist husband routinely takes hot press watercolor paper, soaks it, then stretches the wet paper on canvas stretcher bars to paint on. It dries tight as a drum and the painting, when completed, is cut from the frame-no bucking or edge curling!

Watercolor paper sells in 22- by 30-inch sheets, which you can cut into various sizes and that makes it ideal for ecoprinting.

  1. 90 lb. the flimsiest weight. Most computer paper is 20 lbs.

  2. 140 lb. must be stretched to avoid buckling. I use this.

  3. 300 lb. does not require stretching but is more expensive. Large pieces will still  when wet-again fine for ecoprinting.Very Absorbent

The common mordant in paper printing is alum. Leather has natural tannins and can be worked without mordants.

The key to ALL ecoprinting with leather and paper is experimentation. Nothing works if you do not try it 🙂

So what can you make with ecoprinted Leather and Paper? The easiest first projects are journals. Once you learn to handle the tools, the sky is the limit :-). Leather covered journals filled with blank or alternating with ecoprinted papers is beautiful. And of course the papers are beautiful when a small detailed or colorful print is framed and displayed as an art piece!

My ecoprinted leather pocketbook                                                           Shoes! Working on boots now!

leather art journals                                              Creating a watercolor paper journal

Watercolor paper journals

Leather art Journal                                                           A few of the tools for working with Leather

What’s Happening –WORKSHOPS

  1. August 25, 2018 ECOPRINT on SILK Workshop: This is my popular, 1 day, 10:00am-3:00pm workshop and the last one this year. A relaxed ecoprinting workshop that is perfect for everyone. Beginner to advanced. Advanced ecoprinters learn new techniques or tips that will delight them 🙂 Supplies included-You’ll leave with two 8″ x 72″ silk scarves. Complete info and online registration: 

  1. Sept 21-23, 2018- Ecoprint on Leather and Paper. For those who would like to pursue ecoprinting on leather and paper, this 3 day workshop Sept  at my North Carolina Studio will launch you into a new way to look at ecoprinting!  There will be links to the supplies you will need to purchase beforehand-the same supplies are used with both leather and the watercolor paper. You will be creating leather and watercolor art journals and will leave with 2 art journals and enough ecoprinted hide to make your own project at home   Complete details on my website! My only Leather workshop for 2018.

  1. Jan 30-Feb 2, 2019- ECOPRINTING on LEATHER and PAPER: a 4 day comprehensive workshop at AYA Fiber Studio in Stuart, Florida!  A good way to escape the winter’s chill and attend a waterfront workshop 🙂 Similar to my 3 day workshop but with the additional time to  learn and create more project techniques with leather:

What’s Happening-SHOWS Fall is crazy. It is my “show” season and as a self employed artist, it is my busiest time for selling what I create all year!

  1. August 17-19, 2018 Michigan Fiber Fest –   I will also be teaching an “Easy Dye Silk Scarves” Workshop on Sunday! Even actually begins Aug 15 but vendors arrive for 3 days. More on my Facebook Event page

  2. Sept 15-16, 2018-Centerfest Art Festival-   A long established juried art show in Durham, NC. A big outdoor weekend event with hundreds of artists! Details on my Facebook event page

  3. Sep 29-30, 2018 Shenandoah Valley Fiber Fest   Berryville, VA. An outdoor festival at the Clark Co fairgrounds. I will be teaching 2 “Easy Dye Silk Scarves” classes each morning. Hubby will my my booth 🙂 Additional details on my Facebook Event page

  4. October 11-21, 2018- Village of Yesteryear at North Carolina State Fair, Raleigh NC The annual NC State Fair-a family event and both hubby and I are craftspeople in the Village of Yesteryear. Read all about it on my Facebook event page

  5. October 26-28, 2018  -Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair Fletcher, NC . A big fun fiber event with over a 100 vendors and workshops! Yes I’ll be doing my “Easy Dye” silk scarves workshop Sunday morning. More info on my Facebook event page!

That’s enough for now-hopefully I will get up my Fall newsletter and the Nov Dec updates 🙂


Be sure and follow me on Facebook I am most up to date there! Want to join my Facebook Group? It is not so much a techniques group on ecoprinting as much as it is an inspirational group! It is what inspires us to create, not compete 🙂 You can also find more information (and shop!) of course on my website and my blog for images and articles on what I am creating and how I do it.

Learn something new today! Until next time! Theresa

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