Friday, 26 May 2017

Leaf Hammer Prints Overdyed with Iron and Meadowsweet

Last year, I tried hammer printing leaves onto mordanted silk and then dyeing the fabric with iron solution added to a plant dye bath. The pretty green prints on white silk turned into much more drab, dark shapes on a tea coloured background. However, these did not wash off the fabric. Fetching them out of the drawer twelve months later, while leaf prints I simply hammered onto calico had faded to pale brown, I found the iron dyed hammer leaf prints on silk hadn't changed at all.

Hammer leaf prints are the project for May in the Plant Dye Calendar. Seeing as the trees are now well covered in leaves, I collected a few different kinds, picked some more from garden plants and set a board on a low wall on the patio, to give myself a steady surface to work on. It was a warm day and hammering on the kitchen table makes it shudder and reverberate, which can make prints come out with blurred double edges. First I experimented on a test piece of off cut curtain fabric, to find out which leaves went squashy and shapeless under the hammer and which kinds were too dry to leave much of a mark.
My companion, Elinor Gotland, pushed her shades up to her forehead and sat up on her sun lounger.
"Are you nearly done with that hammering?"
"I haven't even started on the main project yet. I am going to use the offcuts to embellish BG's new curtains with leaf printed borders."
"I'm not being funny, Beaut, but curtains will get full sun. Crap choice for your fast fading hammer leaf prints. Dye a nice, quiet ecobundle and let an exhausted ewe have her siesta in peace." She let her shades slide back down and settled back saying pointedly "Some of us have been doing our bit for democracy."
To be fair, Elinor has thrown herself into the current election frenzy. Less knocking on doors and canvassing than sitting up until all hours watching TV, so far as I can tell.

Unwilling to listen to another analysis of the political situation, I ignored her complaints, though hammering leaves quickly became wearisome to me too. Two strips of  the linen/cotton blend curtain fabric which had been mordanted with aluminium acetate were thumped until leaf juices squished up to the surface of the old cotton sheet I laid over them. Once I took away the cotton and peeled off the flattened leaves, the curtain strips did look pretty. Though I knew the colours would be lost, it kept me going to discover red acer leaves printed pink and I was pleased with the wiggly pattern from a sprig of fennel.

Usually, I would soak fabric well before dyeing it. Afraid this might lift off the prints, I plunged my two leaf printed strips straight into a dye bath I had made by simmering a bunch of dried meadowsweet plant tops, with a splosh of dissolved iron added in and a teaspoon of soda ash to alkalinise the bath and bring up the meadowsweet's colour. The pot was simmered for an hour or so and left to cool overnight.

When I pulled out the fabric next morning, I could barely make out the leaf prints. Once the strips were hung up, as the sun shone through the drying fabric, it showed all the prints were still there, though ferns and birch leaves, which had been less juicy, were not as clear to see as hardy geraniums and fennel. That afternoon I rinsed the strips very gently and found I could clear the worst of the iron residue without removing the prints.
"Strong and stable? I thought not."
Elinor launched into the kitchen, all guns blazing, while the front door slammed shut.
"Bit soon to say, really." I was taken aback. The curtain prints are just an experiment, which my friend BG is happy to take part in. Such venom seemed an over-reaction to putting up with one afternoon of hammering. Elinor had her hooves on her hips and an alarmingly truculent air.
"Well, if his party leader had the courage to take part in a TV debate, we'd learn soon enough about her strength and stability. I told that stupid man what he could do with his leaflets, but he ran away out the gate. It seems we shall have to recycle these ourselves."
As she chucked a handful of flyers into the fire basket, I realised Elinor had just buttonholed one of the local activists who had foolishly tried posting a few election policy papers through our letterbox. 

Happily for me, she was off to a meeting in Cardiff that night, on fire to address Welsh Labour's deficiencies in health and education. Fluffing her fleece in front of the mirror, she simpered at her reflection, murmuring to herself with relish,
"Carwyn has this coming. No-one can heckle like a stand-up comic. Bye, Beaut, don't wait up!" 
The meadowsweet dye dried out to a pale olive green with the leaf prints visible in a deeper shade. Once the fabric was ironed and pinned out, I had a restful time watching the BBC coverage of Chelsea Flower Show while hemming curtains and sewing on their new embellishments. 


  1. even if the leaves fade in time - the curtains still look nice to me! maybe they could be outlined in embroidery stitches once they've faded a bit? and I don't know why people always complain about fading of natural dyes - my shop bought curtains have faded nearly as much over the years - and the colours don't stay as nice and mellow as the natural ones, they just turn plain ugly:(

    1. Quite agree, but I need to plant dye some embroidery silk. I tried matching the coloured threads I have bought in the past to the plant dyed cloth with just that in mind, only the commercially dyed colours didn't enhance so much as diminish my dye job.

  2. inspired when I've time to play gonna give it a bash too 😆