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4 Low-Water Printing Techniques You Can Try At Home

printing techniques you can try at home

Do you have any unwanted garments that could do with a re-vamp? Why not try some of these easy low-water textile-printing techniques to give your old clothes another life?
These are 4 simple techniques that you can use at home to make patterns on fabric using items found around the house.

Please note: natural dyes harnessed from organic matter may not be as wash-fast as synthetic dyes and they do not have affinity with synthetic fibres, so make sure your fabrics are made of natural fibre.

Rust Printing

This technique yields beautifully striking rust hues and the ferrous sulphate (iron) in the rust reacts with natural dyes to produce a wider range of colours. Not only is this process low water, it is also extremely low-energy. All you need for this simple technique is:

  • Old rusty objects such as nails, screws or bolts
  • Natural fabric such as cotton or linen
  • Various acidic liquids such as orange juice, white vinegar or coffee
  • An old spray bottle (optional)
  • Natural dyestuff such as onion skin, turmeric or avocado skin (optional)

All you need to do is wet your fabric/t-shirt/cushion cover with warm water and lay it flat on a protected surface such as an old tray or a table covered with newspaper. They place your rusty items into a formation on the fabric and spray them with the assortment of acidic liquids. If you wish, you could place some pigment-rich leaves or vegetable skins underneath the rust to add another dimension to your print. Leave the fabric and rust for at least two days, – longer if you desire a stronger colour – carefully remove the rust from the fabric and rinse. Your rusty objects have multiple uses so can keep the rust for another print.

Bundle Dyeing

This method works in a similar way to rust dyeing and produces a wide variety of prints – from watercolour-style abstracts to more illustrative leaf silhouettes. There are many different ways you can try this technique and there is no right or wrong way. The basic premise is in the name – all you need to do is bundle dyestuff into a piece of fabric, simmer your bundle in water for at least 1 hour and leave it to cure (for at least 5 days but the most effective prints are created when the bundle is left for a couple of weeks). All you need is:

  • Natural fabric such as cotton or linen
  • Natural dyestuff – such as eucalyptus leaves, red cabbage, onion skin or turmeric root
  • String or something to fasten and secure the bundle
  • Access to a heat source
  • Rusted metal (optional, but adding rust will create more colours and improve colourfastness)


Basic resist prints can be created with any old wax you may have lying around the house. Old candles, beeswax or candelilla waxes are great for experimenting with batik. Batik dyeing often takes a while to master because the melted wax can be difficult to control, but practice makes perfect so do not be disheartened if your initial attempts do not work out. All you need is:

  • Natural fabric such as cotton or linen
  • Wax – either old candles or candelilla or beeswax
  • A form of dye that is less than 30 degree in temperature so it doesn’t melt the wax off your fabric.

First you need to melt your wax. The safest way to do this is in a bain marie. Break your wax up into small chunks and place them into a heatproof dish inside a pan containing hot water, stirring the wax regularly to ensure it melts evenly.

Lay your fabric out flat and using a Tjanting (the proper Indonesian batik tool) or a small teaspoon carefully draw your design using the hot wax. Leave the wax to cool until it is completely dry and carefully submerge into a cool dye bath. The cooler the dye is, the less chance there is of your wax melting off and ruining your design. Most natural dyes work best at high temperatures, so you should either use a very concentrated natural dye or use a cold synthetic dye to get a good effect. Allow your fabric to dry and remove the wax from the fabric to reveal your resist. You can either do this by carefully ironing out the wax between tea towels and sheets of greaseproof paper, or boil it out in a pan of hot water.

Shibori (tie-dye)

Shibori works by manipulating fabric with folds, clamps or stitches to create patterns in fabric. Like all the techniques here, shibori is a low-water and low-energy process. It also requires very little equipment – all you need is:

  • Natural fabric such as cotton or linen
  • A relatively strong natural dye (indigo is ideal but good effects can also be achieved highly concentrated dark-coloured natural dyes or a synthetic dye)
  • Things to shibori with – pegs, clamps, string, a needle and thread etc

This technique is perhaps even freer than batik – the only aim is to create areas of the fabric that will not be touched by the dye in the dye bath. Exmaples of what you could do are: stitch lines into your fabric and pull them tight prior to dyeing, fold fabric in a concertina way and clamp areas with pegs prior to dyeing or folding fabric and tying tightly with string prior to dyeing.