Poetry in Cloth: Print with Leaves & Paint

Learn to print with leaves in this easy-to-follow tutorial.

Autumn in New England is announced by a spectacular natural display: the changing colors of maple, oak, poplar, and beech trees. If you’ve never experienced a Sunday drive in Vermont with the late afternoon sunlight glistening on red, gold, and green leaves, you have something to look forward to. Poet Robert Frost lived in northern Vermont and shared his reverence for autumn in many of his poems, including one of my favorites:

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day,
Nothing gold can stay.

—Robert Frost

Many fiber artists have worked hard to recreate nature’s glory. From the enormous award-winning landscape quilts of Ann Loveless (as featured on “Quilting Arts TV”) to the beautiful unfurling hostas of Elaine Quehl, there is much to be appreciated when art is inspired by nature and captured in cloth.

Poetry in Cloth

The October/November 2018 issue of Quilting Arts includes another artist’s interpretation of nature. Lynda Heines creates beautiful fabrics using surface design techniques—her own kind of “poetry in cloth.” Lynda’s method of printing on fabric with fresh leaves creates unique leaf prints with amazing detail. Read on as she shares a short tutorial on how to print with leaves on fabric.

Learn to print with leaves to create fabric art like this!

I love the seasons

I have always loved living where there are four distinct seasons. Of them, fall is my favorite. I’m attracted to the cool temperatures and the clear blue sky, but most of all I love the changing leaves. Raking and jumping in piles of fallen leaves was a popular childhood pastime. As I grew older, I traded in that activity for walking in the woods with my shoebox collecting the colorful leaves.

Unfortunately, the season and that box of leaves don’t last long, and I miss having those leaves around all year. Now I can preserve the beauty of the season by creating my own printed and stitched leaves.


• Fresh leaves in a variety of shapes
• White cotton fabric
• Textile paint
• Plastic covering for the table
• Palette
• Round craft sponges
• Newsprint or computer paper
• Brayer
• Fusible interfacing (I used Pellon® SF101 Shape-Flex®)


1. Gather leaves to print. Look for leaves that have a strong vein structure and are pliable. Look for simple outlines. A sturdy leaf can be used for numerous printings. Keep the leaves moist by sandwiching them between damp paper towels.

2. Add paint to the palette and mix your desired colors. Leaves come in a large range of hues, especially in the fall. I use primary paint colors—red, blue, and yellow. I can make all the colors I need for my leaf prints from these colors. Dip the sponge in the paint and then pounce it on the palette to remove most of the color. Less paint on the sponge is best for this technique.

3. Apply paint to the leaf, vein side up, with a pouncing motion. For this leaf I added green and topped it with a little red before printing.

Apply paint to the leaf

Apply paint to the leaf

4. Gently place the leaf, paint side down, on the fabric by holding the stem and the opposite end. It doesn’t matter how the prints are arranged on the fabric—just make sure to leave room between the leaves for cutting.

5. Cover the leaf with a piece of newsprint or computer paper, and smooth the leaf down with your fingers. Roll the brayer over the leaf to transfer the print to the fabric.

Roll the brayer over the leaf to transfer the print to the fabric

Roll the brayer over the leaf to transfer the print to the fabric

Remove the paper slowly. Before lifting the leaf I like to smooth down the edges to make sure the color transfers to the fabric.

6. Gently pull the leaf up by the stem.

Gently pull the leaf up by the stem

Gently pull the leaf up by the stem

Before removing the leaf from the fabric, look for areas that didn’t print. If you find any, carefully place the leaf back down and press the area with your fingers. Remove the leaf and continue printing. When done, set the fabric aside to dry.

Tip: For the next printing, don’t clean the paint from the leaf. Additional layers of paint will mix on the leaf, creating more interesting and varied prints. Continue to add paint, playing with the colors.
—Lynda Heines

After the printing is done, Lynda adds machine stitched veins and details, then cuts out each leaf, leaving a small border.

Add machine stitched veins and details

Add machine stitched veins and details

Can you imagine the design possibilities when you print with leaves?

Stitch a pile of leaves together to create a table runner or add them to a wall hanging. Small leaves can embellish a scarf or fascinator. You can even create your own fall wonderland!

Creative and artistic techniques and inspiration is a big part of every issue of Quilting Arts, and the October/November 2018 issue doesn’t disappoint. Don’t miss an issue: subscribe today. But in the meantime, find a few leaves and start printing!


Feature image is by HornickRivlin.com
Process images are courtesy of the artist

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