Boiled Books!

Boiled Books are also known as eco printing in some parts.

It’s a somewhat magical but basic process of combining plant material ie: flowers, vegetables, leaves, shrubbery etc with a mordant (fixer), pressed in between sheets of paper, weighted down and cooked in hot water!


This first attempt is quite light but you can see the fibres of the bamboo leaves on the left, the right side is a mix of leaves and ferns.  I had added white vinegar to help react with the plants as well as some small pieces of rusty iron. This was cooked for about an hour and the paper was heavy weight hammered card, the sort used for wedding cards etc. The hammering disappeared after boiling!


Further research ie You Tube, revealed the powerful effect of adding onion skins, (so one large pot of French onion soup later) and here you can see the reds and yellows from the saved skins. The colour is deeper with greater contrast. This time I used heavy weight watercolour paper ie: 300 gsm, it held up well to the boiling, boiled for 1.5 hours this time. Oh and I added a tablespoon of Cayenne pepper for the hell of it, some people use turmeric and other natural dyes.


Third and latest attempt, same process but this time I used Alum as a mordant, coating the paper before setting the plant material onto it. The paper this time was a medium weight watercolour paper about 230gsm, it didn’t cope as well with the cooking, though I did also cook this for 2 hours which is too long I think. The paper was much more fragile and ripped when handling. An hour to 1.5 should be enough. I also let everything cool down in the pot before draining it off and rinsing the papers, this can be left for several hours or overnight. As usual I had added some white vinegar and a few rusty bits. The colour on the edges of the paper and particularly the bottom image, comes from red cabbage. You can see the detail of the string I used to tie this bundle as this was the bottom sheet in the pot so had the most pressure.

Note: the smell of boiling plant matter with added vinegar is not the most pleasant, especially if you add red cabbage! Please do be careful about adding anything that might be toxic, boiling that as well isn’t good..

Some pics to show 1. coating the paper with Alum, (this isn’t essential, I had really good results without it as well). 2. stacking the papers and plant materials and tying up with string. 3. In the pot weighted down with stones from the garden, this helps remove air bubbles as well as keep the paper submerged, do check the water levels every half hour to make sure its still covered.

Useful resource – Smudge Design has a good overview of the process as well as some links to You Tube videos

Outputs – accordion books, pamphlet books, journals etc..