How to Make Leaf-Print Towels and Napkins

Use nature's amazing color palette to create beautiful dyes from plants.

Natural dyeing is an adventure in alchemy that takes you from gathering garden plants to crafting finished projects. Botanical dyes work on natural materials—paper, wood, and fibers galore, including cotton, linen, wool, silk, and hemp fabrics, yarns, and trims.

DIY Kitchen Linens

What You Need:

  • 4 cotton dish towels
  • 6 linen napkins
  • Washing soda
  • pH-neutral soap
  • Alum
  • Cream of tartar
  • Large stockpot or canner
  • 4 sheets poster board
  • Leaves
  • Hammer

Step 1: Prepare Fibers

Wrap yarn, cord, twine, lace, or other trims into loose skeins. Prewash and rinse fabric and other fibers by hand to remove any residue. To wash, cover the material with water; for each gallon of water, add 1 teaspoon of pH-neutral soap and 1 tablespoon of washing soda (also known as laundry detergent booster; widely available at grocery stores). Rinse.

Step 2: Soak Fibers

Simmer and soak fibers in a mordant (fixative) solution to enhance the color's brightness, evenness, and light- and washfastness. Here's how: In a large pot, dissolve 1/4 cup of alum (aluminum sulfate from a garden center) plus 1 tablespoon of cream of tartar in 4 gallons of water per 1 pound of fibers. Add fibers to pot. Heat to simmer for 1 hour and then let cool; rinse.

Step 3: Prepare Work Surface

 We prepared a clean, firm work surface (a concrete patio) by laying down four sheets of white poster board. The garden provided colorful leaves, including caladium, begonia, heuchera, parsley, and violet. Experimenting with leaves and flowers of different plants creates unique transfers of their pigments.

Step 4: Hammer Press

We spread out a dish towel on the work surface, placed a leaf on the right-hand side of the fabric, and folded over the left half to sandwich the leaf between the layers of fabric. We used the hammer to tap firmly all over the leaf gradually making twin impressions on both layers of cloth. 

Once the leaf images were complete, we unfolded the cloth and peeled off the spent leaf. We repeated the process, adding random impressions using different leaves to create pleasing effects, leaf by leaf. We used only green leaves to make impressions on the napkins.

Pretty DIY Botanical Projects

Editor's Tip: Use an iron set on low to press the images and minimize their fading. Dry cleaning preserves the images best. If the fabrics must be washed, first enhance the images using fabric paint.

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