Tuesday, April 21, 2009

How-to: Hammered flower and leaf prints

Get out the hammer, it's how-to Tuesday and we have some botanical prints to make!


I learned this technique, which makes an image using the natural dyes in plants, from my college roommate Sarah. It's great for making cards or simple botanical prints. 


Actually, you'll need a little more than just a hammer. Here's a supply list: 
  • flowers or leaves to print
  • watercolor or other rough, acid-free paper
  • selection of hammers (including ball-peen or cross-peen, if possible)
  • hard work surface (cutting board, slab of wood, etc.)
  • paper towels
  • scissors
  • pen
  • tweezers or toothpicks
  • acrylic finishing spray (optional)
Start by going on a walk or visiting your garden to find leaves and flowers to work with. You're looking for things with bright colors that aren't too juicy or too dry. It'll take a little trial and error to find good plants, so start with a variety and play around. 

Then set up your work surface.  You want a smooth, hard surface that you can hammer on and not worry about denting or getting messy. I used a plastic cutting board covered with a paper bag. 


Next, trim any chunky or squishy bits off of the plants and arrange them on your watercolor paper. 


Cover the plant with 2-3 layers of paper towels. You can also cover it with another piece of paper, but the paper towels work better because they absorb excess plant goo.


On the paper towels, sketch the borders of the area you'll need to hammer. Unless, of course, you want to vent some frustration and plant to hammer the whole thing.


Start by making small, even taps using the flat side of one of the hammers. This will set the flowers or leaves in place. Then go carefully over the entire area with a ball- or cross-peen hammer. Start by going in rows up and down (see the arrows in the previous picture), then do another pass from side to side.  You'll need to hit every single bit of the plant, so be patient. It can take a while.


Peel back the paper towel to check your progress. If the pattern on the towel is filled in, then you're probably done. If not, replace the paper towel and start again. 


These leaves look pretty well smashed.


Now peel away the leaf to reveal the print. 


Note that different kinds of hammers can give different results -- I used a ball-peen hammer for part of this, and it left some round spots that I think are a little too smooshed and gray. The more natural-looking, red parts of this print came from cross-peen hammer action.


Here's a sampling of the plants I tried this with today. The Japanese maple and periwinkle worked especially well. Some of the others would have worked with additional hammering. 

You'll probably have to try several plants to find one that works for you. The quality of the print will depend not only on your hammering technique and the paper you use, but also on characteristics of the plant, such as its color, hydration level, the stiffness of its fibers, and whether or not it has an outer layer of wax.


Once your print is to your liking, you can spray it with UV-protective acrylic spray to help keep the colors bright. Be sure to do this in a well-ventilated area. 


Ahh, the beauty of brute force! 

Enjoy this project -- it'll work with a lot more than just the Japanese maple leaves I've shown here. Please feel free to link to photos of your prints in the comments area. 

Oh, and a final note on safety: please take care to avoid smashing your fingers with the hammer or making prints from toxic plants. Otherwise this is a pretty kid-friendly project. 

[Update 4/27/2009: You can now find this tutorial on Instructables, where you can view it step-by-step or download the PDF.]

*****
Other tutorials to check out: 

134 comments:

  1. so beautiful, have to try at next craft night i go to. thanks!

    -Opinionated Ant

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  2. Just found your place and I'm definitly putting you on my favourit-list =)Love the hammered (!) flowers =) Thank you!

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  3. My best friend's birthday is coming up and I always do something cool with his card - this is perfect! Thanks for the idea!

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  4. Beautiful work, thanks for the tut!

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  5. Wow, these are awesome! I can't wait to give this a try! Oh, and I'll be linking to this. Thanks so much for sharing!

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  6. Hi everyone! Thanks for the kind comments. Have fun smashing…or perhaps I should say, have some smashing good fun!

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  7. You can do this on muslin fabric as well. I've made quilt blocks from flower prints before and they really are beautiful.

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    1. Can you machine wash this? Do you finsh it with a spray? I have a muslin top I would love to do this to.

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  8. Really cool idea! Thanks for showing us how! I'll be trying this soon. It's nice to have something that's fun to do that is cheap. :)

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  9. Joan, you've mentioned making quilt blocks from flower prints on muslin fabric. Is it washable? how do you fix the print?

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  10. Yes, going to do this! Great craft, great idea, and perfect for after work crafting (hehehehe). Oh, and I'd like to second Maylo's question.

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  11. Absolutely fabulous!

    I live in an apt bldg though so I might have to do the hammering at a park or something so as not to tick off the neighbors. :)

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  12. fabulous tutorial with gorgeous results! thank so much!

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  13. This is such a great tutorial. And what an awesome way to celebrate Earth Day! I will definitely be trying this at home.

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  14. What a wonderful way to relieve stress and create something beautiful at the same time! I’m so glad I came across this, and just in time for mother’s day. Thank you!

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  15. This a great project. I'm still new to gardening but this project gives me even more reason to pursue it.

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  16. very cool. `love the finished product! it is frame able art, for sure. or like someone said a lovely card. thank you for sharing this.

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  17. Wow! This is so beautiful. I will definitely be trying this to make some note cards.

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  18. I've done this onto unbleached muslim with ferns from florist. It turns out beautifully. I'm sure you can seal the chloroform into the fabric with some kind of sealer, but it will also fade to a nice patina verdigris color if not.

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    1. Chlorophyll, I believe, not chloroform! For the paper products I've used polyurethane spray, but some plant pigments will fade in direct sunlight no matter what you do. As for cloth, the best fixative may be ironing as hot as the fabric will withstand (test first!)

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  19. fantastic idea!
    I'm off to collect some leaves.
    thank you for the tutorial

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  20. Nope, it's Japanese maple :)

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  21. Wendy, this is awesome! found you thru Craftzine - so glad I did! gotta make me some of these...

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  22. Looks like I know what I'll be trying out this weekend!

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  23. OMG! This is so freaking cool ;)

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  24. what a nice place to stumble on. i'm definitely going to do this. Dandelions ahould be fun?

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  25. this is so gorgeous! now I have an excuse to dig out the ol' hammer...

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  26. Brilliant idea, would love to try this out.

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  27. this is soo cool! I love it!

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  28. I did this years ago for a bridal shower and everyone there was facinated by this. We made a bouquet of brides flowers and I framed it for her. I did not know about the spray or I would have used it. This is good for any age. Green leaves are great but ferns are cool!

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  29. Great job! Glad I found this page; we may be moving from our home in the next few months and it would be great to have some reminders of the trees and flowers in our yard!

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  30. loving it! beautiful AND aggression-letting!

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  31. I made it just now and it is beautiful

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  32. oh so pretty! I got here by stumbling and this site is great!

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  33. Genius - a project that combines craft with rage venting!

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  34. Can't wait to try this. There is a huge tree with purple flowers on it a street away. That's where the dog walks tomorrow!

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  35. you people should get a life

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    1. You should get some manners!!!! And a real life!!!

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  36. Aww, how cute. My first comment troll. Guess I must be doing something right.

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  37. WOW I like that! And Etsy too?! I have (or had?) a shop there as well, I make wood-carved animal sculptures and stone (faux) scarabs. I think I let my Etsy expire though... have not been there in so long... :-/

    -Joel

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  38. I stumbled upon this article and I'm definitely going to try this. That is, I'll try this as soon as we get some leaves and flowers here, which means I'll have to wait a couple of months.

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  39. What a clever idea, thanks for sharing!

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  40. A really marvelous idea! I think I'll use it to make a birthday card for my mother-in-law. Thank you!

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  41. what a great unique idea for greetings cards or even wedding invitations!

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  42. This technique also works well on fabric (though depending on what plant materials you use, the stain may not be permanent.) My five year old sons don't have a lot of patience & focus for most craft projects but they had a lot of fun with this technique this past winter. To see their less than pristine results: http://www.salmoncabin.com/2009/02/kids-artist-trading-cards.html

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  43. Holy awesomeness, I can't wait to try this myself!!

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  44. Great idea! Here are the mothers day cards I made using it... http://everythingannalee.blogspot.com/2009/04/nature-cards.html

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  45. Anna and Salmon Cabin -- thank you for sharing photos of your prints. They look great!

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  46. This works wonderfully on fabric as well - I've used it on clothing, napkins, bookmarks, towels,
    socks.... And different kinds of hammers are worthy of experimenting with. Rocks work! It's a great camping or nature walk activity. Go out in the woods and come back 'nature decorated'!

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  47. My 2 year old is totally obsessed with hammering things, nice to know I can use his skill for art! :) I`ll be doing some of this . . . I`m going to try it on muslin, too, that sounds really neat.

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  48. Fabulous! Can't wait to try this with my kids. :)

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  49. I live in Guam, so we have tons of beautiful tropical flowers to try this with. I don't know what I did wrong, but I got nothing as pretty as yours. :( All my flowers got squished beyond recognition, and if I didn't tap hard enough they didn't come through at all. Maybe I need a different type of hammer. *sigh* Great idea though, I guess I'll have to try again after a trip to the Home Depot.

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  50. Fabulous tutorial, great results! I'd love to feature this tutorial on my blog, if that's OK? http://kittyballisticscreations.blogspot.com/

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  51. This is Awesome and so simple. Thanks for sharing this idea with everyone. I think I'll be making some pictures and framing them for a room. Thanks again.

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  52. Kitty -- Go right ahead, please just include a link back to my site. Thanks for asking!

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  53. Great craft you got there!

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  54. Brilliant! I'll be using this idea the next time I need place cards for a dinner party.

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  55. That's fabulous. Looks highly therapeutic too!

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  56. Love this! Better than drying flowers until the colors fade!

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  57. we have tried it and it came our GREAT. thank you

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  58. hi there - does this work on a marijuna leaf??

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  59. ... and your article doesn't mention how to use the watercolors...

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  60. Anonymous -- I've never tried this on marijuana leaves, so I don't know. Also, you don't use watercolors to paint. I just suggest hammering the leaves onto watercolor paper because it has a good texture for it.

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  61. I love it. ill try to begin making my own greeting cards by using this technique!

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  62. very nice idea! thanks! did it with my 2 1/2 year old, she loved to use the hammer :) we did not use the right paper, but were still very happy with our little project-result...

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  63. I posted the result on my blog, of course with a link to your site. hope you don't mind?

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  64. Wonderful tutorial!I'm definitely trying this...

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  65. Hiskia -- No, I definitely don't mind. Glad you enjoyed the project!

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  66. Iloved your project! So beatiful, and delicate!

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  67. This is drop-dead beautiful. I'm sitting here angry because the trees aren't in leaf yet.

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  68. Saw this being done by an old woman in Brittany. She was doing it on cotton napkins.

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  69. Oh no - I tried this using acid-free card stock with a light texture and it all we got was a plant goo mess. They looked beautiful on the paper towel. Do you think it was just the paper we need to change?? We tried maple leaves, sage and sweet pea flowers.

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  70. this is such a cool idea! My daughter will love doing this with me. Thanks for sharing it.

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  71. We did this on a bit of bleached muslin and re-covered an old lampshade. Cool.

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  72. How might I keep the color peremanent if I do this on cloth?

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  73. those look like marijuana leaves.

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  74. Beautiful way to preserve nature! The colors are beautiful!

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  75. That is so petty! My girls are outside right now looking for special leaves and flowers, this is a perfect fun and economical activity to do with them. Thank you so much!

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  76. These are beautiful. Saw another blog (http://tugatnature.wordpress.com/2011/04/18/hammered-flower-leaf-prints/) about hammered flower and leaf prints and thought I would search for more information. My search led me to this blog. I was very surprised to see that it was almost word for word your blog. Thought you might like to know.

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  77. Thanks for looking out for me, Dottie! I'm trying to resolve the matter with that blogger now. Some people are shameless.

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  78. i love this and i'm totally doing it!!! we have a japanese maple in my front yard and i've always wanted to use the leaves for some artwork! YAY !!!!!

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  79. That looks awesome. Can't wait to try. Hope mine looks as good as yours does.

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  80. wow this is really awsome i found this while searching for hammers for a school assignment and thought id try it my family loves the idea thanks loads:D

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  81. Just stopping by to let you know that I have featured your project on Fun Family Crafts! You can see it here
    http://funfamilycrafts.com/hammered-flower-leaf-prints/

    If you have other kid friendly crafts, I'd love it if you would submit them :) If you would like to display a featured button on your site, you can grab one from the right side bar of your post above.

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  82. can you do this on a printing press too? or does it only work with a hammer? i am a secondary school teacher and i am studying nature with year 10 ! however 26 year 10's with hammers is a little too much to comprehend.I do have a printing press in mu room however????

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  83. I found this on Pinterest -- such a great idea!

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  84. THIS IS AWESOME! My kids love activities that involve nature! Can't wait to do this!

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  85. What a wonderful tutorial, thank you for sharing!

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  86. Cannot wait to try this with some Senior Men in wheelchairs. Hammering out art - perfect

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  87. Is it possible to do this project on material?

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  88. Just found you through Pinterest. As someone who has been pressing flowers in a flower press for about twenty years, I am excited about this new approach to botanical cards. As soon as I can take a break from making my aprons, I would love to try this. Thanks so much for a great idea.

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    Replies
    1. Yay! Vermont!! Great place to find beautiful leaves in the fall!! Also from Vermont !! :)

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  89. this is really cool! I didn't really ever think to "hammer" the color out of foliage, but it seems to work well. I've always done pressed flowers, but I think you're on to something here! thanks for sharing, and posting pics too!

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  90. Very neat! Have you ever tried it on fabric!??

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    1. No, I haven't. If you try it please comment again and let us know if it works.

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  91. What a beautiful idea, I will be doing this and use my watercolors to
    add stems and muted backgrounds. Thank you for the demo.

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  92. Thanks for the details on it,I hope it can be used for cards as well.

    Plastic Card Holders
    Plastic Card
    Scratch Cards Printing

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  93. Thanks for the tutorial! I can't wait to try this as a way of recording our garden this year.

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  94. Great instructions! Can't wait to try it!
    Thanks!

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  95. Just beautiful! Now..to start my Christmas gifts!! Sandy

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  96. Has anyone tried this on t-shirts and sealed it with something, run it thru the washing machine??? What seals it permanently so it won't wash off?

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  97. Just letting you know that I linked to this post in a unit study I wrote about autumn leaves: http://www.zujava.com/leaf-study

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  98. Thanks for sharing - having a fun time right now with my 12 year old daughter trying to get good results. This is a great family activity for parents and young kids!

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  99. I still remember this when we did this in kidergarten. I had so much fun with my friends back then. Reminds me of the good old days when everything was still so simple.

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  100. O my... THANK YOU WENDY!!! This is so much fun! I'm off, finding me a hammer now :)
    hugs, Wendy

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  101. Such a cool project! The colored leaves here would be perfect some fall!
    Jana @ 333 Days of Hand Lettering

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  102. Hi, We did this last summer. I called it putting grass stains where you want them! lol we did it on fabric and works really well. I also used a piece of fabric where you used paper towels. I didn't see this in your tutorial but if you put the underside of the leaf down you will get the most color. to set it in the fabric I ironed it. First put down aluminum foil, extra heat reflecting back makes a quicker setting, then the fabric with the leaf in print , and then a pressing piece of fabric. iron until the fabric is very warm. the first time I washed the fabric I put vinegar in the water that will also help keep the stain in the fabric. try and use 100% solid color fabric. we also used bunches of pine needles, if you don't have any flowers in your yard go to the supermarket and buy a bunch. You will have to take most of them a part before you hammer. we also take frozen blueberries and cranberries out of the freezer for accents. If you don't sew you can use it on 100%cotton t-shirts or 100% canvas tote bags. if you use these items make sure you put something between the front and the back so it only goes where you want it!You can also use vegetables as paint stamps for a produce bag or vegetable people! the ideas keep flowing once you start with a hammer. fyi the full moon in august the tree sap is all up in the trunk and leaves. this is a great time to bring out the hammer as after the full moon the trees and plants will be reversing the process getting ready for winter. enjoy!

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  103. Thanks for this tutorial and the many helpful tips, Wendy. I'm going to try it! Just shared your link on Facebook.

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  104. Replies
    1. yes, it actually does...

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  105. Have just been 'hammering' around ;o)
    Great technique, thank you for sharing.

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  106. Just finished making these and they turned out great! Flowers work better (they contain more moisture), but leaves work fine. Perfect for leaf collections: no hassle with gluing and pasting, just hammer them in. :)

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  107. A great alternative to pressing leaves and flowers! I'll have to give this a try for some upcoming birthday cards.

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  108. Can I use this on wool? It looks very nice.

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  109. This is great. I'll be doing some with my son. Does it word with Autumn leaves or do they need to be more moist?

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