Julie Rivera is a longtime graphic designer and artist who makes wall and functional artworks of botanical-based images on hand-dyed fabric. Working with plants and natural dyes allows her to express her creativity and dive further into her relationship with nature. She is always conscious about the environmental impact of the materials used and the amount of water consumed during the dyeing process.

Artist Julie Rivera wears an apron with a design of her creation. Credit: Gabrielle Rivera

For the past several years she has explored the world of eco dyeing using natural dyes and botanical printing and she combines many different methods to create patterns on her fabric. Currently, she is incorporating botanical printing techniques from online classes led by Irit Dulman.

Rivera’s finished pieces are a result of her collecting local flowers, leaves and other botanicals from the farmers market, a friend’s yard or the neighborhood, then steaming each to release of an image that “prints” onto an underlying fabric. The image is formed when the inner structure of the botanicals are absorbed into the fabric.

There are many factors contributing to how a natural item releases an image. Plant material reacts differently depending on whether it is spring, summer or fall. The placement of the sun side (e.g., upside) or moon side of a leaf is distinct, along with how much tannin is in the leaf. The release varies if printed on silk, cotton or other natural material. And it even varies year to year, depending on the weather during the item’s growth cycle. 

Late Summer Garden, 2022. Botanical printed fabric. Credit: Paul Lane
Creating botanical-based images is a painstaking process. Credit: Julie Rivera

As a result of these variations, a significant portion of Rivera’s work is creating test strips and cataloging. For every botanical she considers, she must make a test strip to determine the image characteristics it will release. The test strip will be specific to a material and will be folded, so she gets a print from both sides of the botanical. Each test strip is catalogued with the plant, the location found, the material and the date created.

Rivera necessarily creates her final pieces from that botanical at that time, because the botanical will continuously dry out, causing ever-changing image characteristics as it does.  

Rivera has a home studio containing sewing equipment, a long table to lay out her work, an ironing board and a design wall created by her husband. The design wall has a rigid backing surface covered by flannel so other fabric will adhere to it.  

She maintains an inventory of fabric that she finds at resale shops or has been given to her by friends. Rivera exclusively uses natural fibers, mostly cotton or silk. She sometimes dyes the fabric in plain or elaborate designs before adding botanical prints.

Rivera completes most of the printing process outdoors. Credit: Julie Rivera

Rivera completes most of the printing process, whether for test strips or finished printed material, outdoors. Her outdoor “studio” includes a camp burner, an aluminum pot and a steaming rack. She has learned to never intermix materials and tools from the kitchen and her art to avoid contamination!

Since this part of her work is outdoors, and because she collects almost all her own botanicals, she does most of her printing from spring through fall, when it is warm enough for plants to grow and for her to work outdoors to create the dyed images on fabric.

After collecting potential botanicals, her next step is to create the test strips on fabric she previously treated to determine which botanicals will image suitably to be used in her artworks.

“I can see the resemblance…” 2022. Mixed media: botanical printed fabric, hand embroidery, applique, twine, Pitt pens. Credit: Paul Lane

To create a final work, Rivera arranges the botanicals on treated fabric. The fabric is tightly rolled into a bundle, secured with string and moved outdoors to steam for one to two hours. She is careful to not let the bundle dip into the water in the pot since it would ruin the image. 

Unrolling the steamed fabric is like opening a present. Each image is new and surprising. Rivera washes and dries each fabric, one by one. After ironing the fabric in her studio, the art print is complete. Then she creates a sellable product by using the printed piece to create wall art, accessories or installations.

Rivera is inspired by the colors and patterns in nature and loves living close to the Evanston lakefront.  Rivera currently grows her own indigo and next year she hopes to create her own dye garden.

If you would like to know more about Julie Rivera, she participates in many local art venues, including the annual Fine Art of Fiber show at the Chicago Botanic Garden, the EAC Winter Expo and the Evanston Made Popup. Also, visit her website at www.julieriveradesign.com, her Instagram @julieriveradesign, or https://shopevanstonmade.org/collections/julie-rivera.

Jean Cunningham

Jean Cunningham retired from the business world and is now enjoying the next phase, including writing about local artists to increase awareness of Evanston’s amazing art community.

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  1. So interesting to learn an artists processes–How generous of Julie to share her knowledge.. Thanks