Hammering Out Your Creativity

One of the many reasons to love fall in West Virginia is the expansion of FestivALL to include FestivFALL. It happens every year mid-October (Oct. 10-17, 2020). Although this year most of the activities will happen virtually, there are plenty of opportunities to see, do, shop and enjoy. I was lucky enough to participate in a video for the traditional Make & Take presentation.

The Kanawha County Master Gardeners, part of the West Virginia University Extension Program, have hosted a children’s activity booth at the art fair for many years. This year, with the help of several friends, we made it happen on screen as a recording to share through FestivALLCharleston.com. We upped our game and presented a tutorial showing leaf stamping onto fabric.

Everyone knows plants will stain. Think about your shoes after mowing the grass, your hands and sleeves after working with tomato vines — and those are just everyday examples. Artists have used plant dyes to create masterpiece works of art since the cavemen drew on rock walls.

Well, I did not create a masterpiece, but I want to share with you the simple steps involved in creating your own designs and keepsakes.

Step one. Gather your supplies. Use this as a reason to get outside on a gorgeous fall day. Take a walk through your yard, a park or a favorite trail. Look for leaves with interesting shapes and varying sizes. Trees, ferns, annuals, gather as many as your basket will hold. Toss in a little color, maybe a marigold, chrysanthemum bud or pansy.

You will need a white cloth. Be creative: an apron, dishtowel, pillowcase or even a mask. Clean, 100% cotton will work the best. Other supplies you will need include wax paper, brown paper such as a grocery store bag and a rubber mallet or fist-size rock.

Step two. Layer your materials. Start with brown paper on the bottom to protect your surface (my advice, don’t work on a precious piece of furniture. Choose a workbench, or maybe even a cutting board underneath the paper). Next, on top of the brown paper lay a single layer of the cotton fabric you have chosen. If you are working with a T-shirt, slip more brown paper between the layers.

Step three. Let your creativity run wild. Use your leaves and flowers to create a design on the fabric. Maybe at the nape of the neck of your shirt, the pockets of the apron or the edges of a pillowcase. Me, I kept it simple and used the edges of muslin dishtowels. As you work, if you are planning to cover a large area, I suggest taking small spaces one at a time to create, then adding to your overall design, as they are finished.

Step four. This is the fun part and involves the rubber mallet. Cover your leaf design with waxed paper and begin to hammer the leaves. As you apply pressure, the moisture and color from the leaves will release onto the fabric. No need to be gentle here, give the leaves a good whack and continue this until you see the color beginning to transfer. How will you know? Through the waxed or parchment paper you will see the leaves looking darker and wet. Don’t quit hammering just yet, keep going. The process is easy but really needs time and pressure to release intense colors.

Step five. Gently lift the wax paper. How does it look? Maybe you need to apply more pressure to the leaves, adding more color or maybe you want to add a new shape into your design. Now is the time to finesse your creation. Try adding a few berries, or other shapes into the design. If you are happy, turn the iron on, and while it heats, spend a few minutes cleaning up your workspace. Applying heat to the finished transferred design will preserve it and allow you to wash the cloth when necessary without washing away your hard work.

That is it. Five easy steps that include walking in nature and pounding out your frustrations to create art. Be patient with yourself and experiment with different cotton fabrics and plant materials. Remember, it is all creative fun and there is no bad art.

Thanks to the FestivALL team for finding new ways to make our city become a work of art throughout the year, even in this crazy year of 2020. Be sure to check out their Facebook page and look for this video and more at FestivALLCharleston.com.