How to Make a Leaf Monoprint on Fabric

4 Nov 2011

october snow
My view on October 30, 2011.
cate pratoFall is my favorite season, so I was more than a little vexed to have it cut short when 14 inches of snow were dumped on our region October 30.

Falling leaves are one thing. Falling tree limbs are another.

So, while there was still a little life left in the foliage, I decided to preserve some leaves to enjoy another day with a dyeing technique that is also a way of monoprinting on fabric.

I used the hapa-zome method of beating color into cloth using a pin oak leaf on cotton. Hapa-zome is literally "leaf-dye" in Japanese, according to India Flint, author of Eco Colour: Botanical Dyes for Beautiful Textiles.

It's one of the easiest ways to transfer the color and pattern of plant material onto fabric. And if you're mad at someone (I'm talking to you, Mother Nature), it's a great way to vent your frustrations.

Hapa-zome Technique by India Flint


  • Leaves
  • A small hammer or mallet
  • Some cloth of fairly dense weave (not too flimsy)
  • Thin cardboard or thick paper (such as cardstock)

leaf monoprint
Pin oak leaf and monoprint on fabric.
1. Place the paper or cardstock on your work surface (such as a sturdy bench or uncarpeted floor) and place your cloth on the paper.

2. Arrange your leaves on the fabric. You could make a discrete array of leaves, overlap them slightly, or chop and scatter them over the surface of the fabric.

3. Fold over the cloth and place another piece of paper on top of the cloth and apply the hammer. It can take a little practice to get the hammer strokes just right, so experiment.

4. Remove the plant material and let the cloth dry thoroughly. Then press with a steam iron or heat press to set the color. (Despite this, the color will probably fade over time. Consider it part of the natural process.)

Ever the mother of invention (because I am impatient), I used the bottom edge of a jar to make my hapa-zome prints. This resulted in my nature printing looking like it was made by a series of lines, and I quite like it.

Eco Colour is filled with techniques for using plant materials to print and dye with in every season. Along with ideas for how to use the resulting fabrics. India suggests, for example, that you use the hapa-zome method to decorate t-shirts.

My plan is to stitch around the leaves and turn the fabric into napkins for Thanksgiving. They will serve as a reminder that the seasons are fleeting and life is unpredictable, and we should be grateful for every moment.

P.S. What's your favorite natural item to print or dye with? Share in the comments section below.

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CarolineA wrote
on 4 Nov 2011 3:17 AM

As someone who dyes fibres to spin into yarns, I have difficulty understanding why people happily use and recommend such fugitive dyes. I have even come across Indy clothes designers who use these so called natural methods. I would be horrified to buy a naturally dyed designer dress to find the gorgeous colour disappears the first time I washed it; I would be demanding a refund of the hefty amount that I paid for it! And the designer would soon find him/herself out of business.

Maple leaves, beetroot, flower petals and the like are fun to mess around with, but please do not ever confuse what you are doing with professional dyeing, because it isn't. Most natural products require toxic mordants to bring out the colours and give them any sort of permanence. You are safer sticking with the tried and true commercial dyes available to spinners, weavers and mixed media artists. Boring and reliable they may be, you are not going to have any irate customers demanding their money back once the colour vanishes! And more to the point, the authorities monitor what goes into these dyes, and they are much safer to use than pretty and possibly poisonous flowers from your back yard.

Cate Prato wrote
on 7 Nov 2011 12:07 PM

Thanks for your comment CarolineA. Sometimes I want my projects to last, and sometimes I just enjoy the process and am willing to print or "dye" knowing that my results might not be permanent. This particular method is a lot of fun.

I should point out for anyone interested in India Flint's book that she does address the concept of permanence, gives advice on mordants, and fully covers safe practices for harvesting, storing, and using natural dyestuffs.

- Cate Prato

LaureleisKLS wrote
on 19 Jun 2013 7:01 PM

LOL  CarolineA, why would we "confuse what you are doing with professional dyeing"???

And really, there can't be too many people who still believe the government's "authorities" monitor anything with the intention of making it safe for public use.  (*cough* GMOs *cough*)  Because corn is safe, right?  I'll take my pretty flowers and poisonous foliage any day.

on 26 Jul 2013 6:55 PM

On Father's Day, our collage-age daughter presented her dad with a card she made herself. The handmade nature of the card, and especially the sentiments inside, made it more precious and valuable than any purchased gift could be.

Honeyquilts wrote
on 23 Nov 2013 6:10 PM

If you add the stitching around the leaves as you plan to - then you will have the best of both worlds Cate.

You will have the natural beauty of the leaves straight from Nature plus the lasting outline to remind you of them - after they have faded from view.

This sounds like a beautiful project to me.

Guila Greer

Honeyquilts wrote
on 23 Nov 2013 7:11 PM

I just realized the date of the original post about hapa-zome monoprinting that for some reason I just saw today.

That was two years ago.

I'm curious - what happened to the color?  Did it fade away?

I hope you get this at this late date.

Guila Greer