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Leafy Designs

Martha Stewart Living, Volume 81 July/August 2000

The Patterns
Experiment with patterns and color schemes on remnants before you commit images to the fabric of your project. Try mixing leaf shapes. Test-print desired patterns first in one color, then in two. When using one color, it is appealing to overprint the same leaf shape in slightly different densities, as with the eucalyptus-leaf pattern (top right) or the bay leaves (center left); let the paint dry before printing the second layer. The areca-palm-frond pattern (top left) was separated into blades for printing; the luscious flower shape added to the pattern was achieved with a circle of small ruscus leaves. To get the effect of berries (above center), dip the bottom of a stem in a rusty color.

The Colors
Commercial fabric paints and textile screening inks come in a relatively narrow range of colors -- two or three greens and reds; brown, black, and white -- but you can mix them to subtle effect. The ruscus leaves here compose a palette of woodland colors. Only a few of these shades approximate the real colors of the leaves you find in nature; printing with an unusual color lets the shape of the leaf take precedence. If you make your own colors, be sure to mix enough paint to complete your project -- printing the large (8 feet by 5 feet 7 inches) white tablecloth on page 171 required 8 ounces of color. Fabric paints are more opaque than screening inks; use them when working on darker-colored fabrics -- when printing white or red on blue, for instance.

An undyed canvas tote bag is printed on one side with California bay leaves arranged in a deceptively simple pattern, which can be read as diamonds, circles, or stars. The subtle differences in color often the geometry of the design.

A round cotton tablecloth was printed with huge monstera leaves in something close to their natural color. A one-color, apparently random pattern is best when working with a big, dramatic shape like this leaf's.

Laura Normandin, senior crafts editor at Martha Stewart Living, decorates a white tablecloth with lemon leaves. She prints the leafless branch first, then adds the leaves back into the image. Both sides of the leaves are randomly printed for variety -- the underside will show the veins more clearly. Don't worry about maintaining botanical accuracy; the charm is in the abundance of leaves and the surprising softness of their simple shapes and printed textures, even in dramatically contrasting colors like these. Tea is served in china with a complementary woodland pattern.

Comments (1)

  • curtains 16 Jun, 2009

    I was not completely clear on the instructions. Are you suppose to paint the back of the chosen leaf then press it onto the fabric?