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Leafy Prints on Fabric

Martha Stewart Living, Volume 81 July/August 2000

Think of a leaf as a tree's fingerprint. Astonishingly, Earth has only ten basic leaf shapes, but that small number encompasses thousands of subtly distinctive forms. Whatever its hallmarks -- whether the quaking aspen leaf's spade-like curves or the weeping white birch's erratically pinked edges -- a leaf is a triumph of design and engineering. No living thing could exist without green leaves to capture and convert the sun's energy: Their complex networks of nutrient-bearing veins are the instrument by which oxygen is released into the atmosphere. Frankly, any hard-working leaf has earned the right to be elevated from object to emblem, to find a place of honor on a favored slipcover or tablecloth. Using little more than fabric paint and a printing brayer, you can reproduce these arboreal trademarks on a variety of textiles, copyright free. Begin by having a good look at the downed leaves in your backyard or along a favored path through the woods. (Don't pluck leaves from trees that aren't your own; you'll find plenty on the ground after a rainstorm or windy afternoon in forests and parks.) The best prints are achieved by using leaves that are green and pliant, especially leathery leaves, like the magnolia's. Use untreated fabrics, such as linen and cotton; they are naturally absorbent and take paint well. The printing process itself is easy, but the results are often sophisticated. You can reinvent the canopy of an oak tree on a large canvas such as a tablecloth, or you can isolate one perfect shape to embellish a book cover. A magnolia leaf, for instance, conjures any number of mythic associations for people from the American South; you might want to use one to decorate a store-bought journal for your friend in Charleston for her birthday. But be prepared to hunt down a perfect maple leaf when word of your artistry reaches your friend from Vermont.

Leafy Sunroom Pillows
Leafy Designs


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