Leaf Prints: Wearable Garden Memories

By  |  4 Comments

This Labor Day weekend marks the official end of summer for many of us. Although many summer gardens are still producing, most have peaked and are beginning to look pretty tired. That means “labor days” for me in the garden, as most of the old summer crops will be culled to make way for new plantings of fall and winter vegetables, and cover crops sown to rejuvenate the soil.

But I also plan on some play this Labor Day, and this craft is a perfect way to blend my garden work with some family fun. I’ve spent the summer preserving the garden harvest in cans, the freezer, and our dehydrator, but this is garden preservation I can wear!

Leaf prints are made by simply transferring natural pigments from leaves into fabric (think of them as aesthetically-pleasing grass stains). All you need is a hammer, wax paper, and a plain cotton T-shirt, plus some type of mordant (like alum or campfire ashes) to make the stain permanent.

 

How to Make Leaf Prints

1) Place a large piece of wax paper inside a plain cotton T-shirt (this will keep leaf pigments from bleeding through to the back of the shirt). Place the shirt on a wooden table top or other smooth surface that can take some hammering.

IMG_3613

 

2) Arrange leaves as desired on the shirt front. Place another sheet of wax paper on top of the leaves. If you wish, leaves may be taped into position with masking tape so that they don’t move around. Taping leaves isn’t necessary for most adults and older children, but I found it was essential for my two young daughters (who needed to use both hands to use the hammer).

My toddler needed to use two hands for hammering leaf prints. Masking tape will help hold the leaves to the shirt (trust me, you don't want your fingers holding leaves down for a toddler).

My toddler needed to use two hands for hammering leaf prints. Masking tape will help hold the leaves to the shirt (trust me, you don’t want your fingers holding leaves down for a toddler).

 

3) Starting at one edge of a leaf, hammer the leaf with enough force to break the leaf’s waxy cuticle and press the leaf pigment into the fabric. Make sure that the hammer’s head is parallel with the table surface and doesn’t hit at an angle, or you could hammer a hole in your shirt (obviously I’ve seen this happen to mention it).

4) Peel the wax paper and leaf from the shirt surface. Place the shirt into one of the following mordant mixtures (so that it can be washed without removing those beautiful prints). Allow the shirt to soak in the solution for 20 minutes.

  • Alum mixture: 1 Tbsp/quart water (e.g., mix 4 Tbsp alum with a gallon of water). Alum can be found in the canning/pickling section of your grocery store.
  • Ash mixture: Add about a cup of ashes to a gallon of water.

5) Rinse the mordant mixture from the shirt in either another bucket of water, or under the tap. Allow the shirts to dry before washing for best color retention (though the difference is slight if you want to skip this step).

6) Launder as usual with detergent, but avoid using bleach or other stain removers.

Little Bo Peep's leaf print of her favorite garden veggies: carrots (left and top right), tomatoes (center), and beans (bottom right)

Little Bo Peep’s leaf print of her favorite garden veggies: carrots (left and top right), tomatoes (center), and beans (bottom right)

 

Leaf Print FAQ

How long can I expect my leaf prints to last?

I did this craft with campers during my stint as a seasonal park naturalist, and frequently saw guests returning the following season proudly wearing their shirts. And my favorite leaf print shirt that I’ve made eventually wore down, but I wore it for about four years before giving it up to the rag pile.

What types of leaves work best?

Just about any leaf will work, but especially tender leaves without a thick, waxy cuticle. Leaves with very thick stems (such as chard or beet) tend to crush and bleed as large spots rather than maintaining the original shape of the leaf.

Will different colors of leaves be preserved?

Not really. I haven’t experimented enough with mordants to know if it is possible to fix the different pigments in their original colors. Most leaf colors, although transferring to the shirt as red or yellow, will turn brown or green after the mordant soak.

 

Leaf print colors before soaking in mordant mixture (note red in two leaves from different beet cultivars).

Leaf print colors before soaking in mordant mixture (note red in two leaves from different beet cultivars).

Same shirt as previous, but after soaking in mordant and laundering with detergent.

Same shirt as previous, but after soaking in mordant and laundering with detergent.

 

 

 

4 Comments

  1. Darlene Richardson

    August 30, 2013 at 12:41 pm

    Absolutely priceless!

  2. Suzie

    December 18, 2013 at 8:00 pm

    Hey, is it OK if I share this on Pinterest?

    • Ma Hubbard

      December 19, 2013 at 10:04 am

      I love shares! Please do! Thank you!

  3. Suzie

    December 18, 2013 at 8:06 pm

    Well, I see the Pinterest icon, so i’m going to guess yes. 🙂