Printing with Leaves

Printing with Leaves

bundles of hemp fabric ready for the dye pot. filled with leaves and plants. Ecodyeing.
Designing fabrics with nothing but leaves, is something magical!  I still have the same excited curiosity whenever I print any leaves! 
Some leaves I know well and have printed with them for a long time.  Still to this day they offer surprises!  The results can be influenced by so many different things. The time of year, how old the leaf it, it is fresh, or dry,  the water that was used.  This process has really driven home the importance of keeping notes as I go! 
I dye mainly on cellulose fibers. Hemp, Organic Cotton, Linen.  
There are so many different ways to botanically print fabric, really the best way is the way you will figure out as you play with different ideas & techniques.
One of my favorite things about botanical printing is how incredibly eco friendly it is.  Water use is always a concern with any type of dyeing, and dyeing with plants is no different. It can use a large amount of water.  Bundle dyeing uses very little water. Especially if you are steaming the bundles. And any water that is used can be poured into flower garden or plants once its cooled! 

Some leaves that print well


Maple!  Almost all the varieties of Maple Leaves (ACER spp.) have given beautiful prints. Fresh spring leaves, summer leaves, fall leaves and even on the ground with snow leaves.  
grape leafWild Grape Leaf (VITIS spp)  Found growing almost everywhere in Southern Ontario. Wild Grape always has interesting shapes to print!

Black Walnut leaves eco dyed onto hemp fabric Black Walnut (JUGLANS nigra)  Most of the Juglans sp trees Ive tried have given beautiful prints. Around me the most common is the Eastern Black Walnut. 

What ever leaves you gather, I suggest pressing them in between pages of a book, untill your ready to print!  It helps to be able to lay them flat on the fabric! 

You can keeps the leaves in the books for a LONG time! They will dry and hold shape and printing abilities!!

Getting Ready

There are a ton of different ways to print leaves onto fabric.  I choose to almost always work with cellulose fibers ( plant fibers)  Hemp, Organic Cotton, Linen.  The prep of the fabric is the same for any dyeing. First you must scour. Getting all the residual oils out of the fibers. 

Then I pre mordant using Alum Acetate. It is the preferred Alum for cellulose. 

After pre-mordanting , you can let the fabric dry untill you are ready to use. ( you will have to wet the fabric before leaf printing)

One of my favorite way of printing leaves, is to then soak my mordanted fabric in a iron solution. Alot of the time I am using dry leaves, and Id rather not soak them in the iron water. 

To do this I use a fairly large bucket and fill with hot tap water, adding about 1/2 tsp of iron  (Ferrous Sulfate)  to about 1 gallon of water.

I let the fabric soak for 5- 10 minutes.  Then wring it out in my washing machine spin cycle.  Once rung out, its ready to add leaves.

I am a HUGE fan of leaf shadows, so I just place leaves, fold and lay more leaves. This give gorgeous prints, as well as interesting leaf shadows through out the fabric. 

   leaves on fabric with a copper pipe to bundle around

I like bundling around a copper pipe. Copper lends itself to bringing out more greens in the finished prints! 

I use a roaster to steam my bundles. But you can use a variety of pots with racks! 

Steam for 90 minutes, and then let cool. 


Once your bundle is cool, its time to see what happened!! 

unwrapping can be super exciting!  

. leaf dyed hemp fabric

Some time leaves dont want to come off!  In that case hang up the fabric to dry, the leaves with crumble off easily once dried! 

Wash your fabric in cool water, using eco- friendly soap, and hang to dry out of direct sunlight.

 plant dyed fabric , prints of leaves all over it hanging on a line


Be sure to bundle as TIGHTLY as possible. The tighter contact the leaves have to the fabric the clearer your print will be!

-  Most leaves print best "sunny side up". ( the underneath of the leaf to the fabric)  but dont be afraid to try both ways. 

- Check your steam bath half way through to make sure you haven't steamed all your water away! If its low, add more water!

- Waiting for the bundles to cool, is more for safety. The bundles will be incredibly hot. I have found no difference in prints weather I unbundle right away, or leave them over night before unbundling.

- Enjoy the process! 

As always, feel free to reach out with any questions or comments!! I love the exchange of plant dye knowledge! 






Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.