The Nature of the Lake

I sit here in Montana reveling in the joys of the annual expedition to the family cabin at the lake. The nature of these visits is always centered around family – visiting, laughing, watching the smallest children grow, working on projects together. The little cabin that grandpa built is on the edge of Bull Lake in western Montana, surrounded by nature. The waves lap on the shore and the wind blows through the cedars and alders. We pick a ripe thimbleberry from the foot of the forest canopy near the boathouse.  This year, the project was to get a little nature onto some fabric for some of our typical summer projects.

The first piece was painted with Procion MX dye, and leaves were laid on top, and then the whole thing was laid in the sun to dry.  What happens is that the uncovered areas dry first, and then the moisture under the leaves wicks towards the dry areas, carrying the dye particles with it.  This leaves the background areas darker than the areas where the leaf was.  After the fabric was dry, we painted soda ash solution on top to fix the dye, and gave the fabric a rinse and wash after the soda ash had some time to work.  Some of the more delicate patterns were lost, but the larger leaf prints were still good and strong.  We did do another piece that had been soaked in soda ash before the painting and resists, but the soda ash fixed the dye the minute it hit the fabric, and the leaf prints didn’t show.

Solomon's Seal print on the cotton fabric.

Next, we painted a length of wet fabric with watered-down Jacquard Textile Paint and a little watered-down Lumiere.  We put the leaves on top and set it all in the sun again.  We had to counteract the wind with a length of deer fence to hold it all down, but the leaves printed beautifully.  After the fabric was dry and heat-set with an iron, we ran it through a weak bath of rust brown Procion MX in an effort to put color into the white spaces and mute the bright fabric paint a little.  It’s simply gorgeous.

Lady fern resist on fabric painted with fabric paint, and then dyed.

Next in line was an experience to build muscles.  We treated some fabric with a mordant of alum, and when it was dry, we taped leaves to the fabric with masking tape, and pounded the leaf from the back of the fabric using a hammer.  When you see the leaf juices come through the fabric, it’s time to peel the tape (and leaf) away.  It is amazing the amount of detail that comes out, and the fabrics washed beautifully, though you never know when the fugitive nature of natural dyes will take over.  I have heard some people say they’ve had their prints last for years without changing, but I suspect these might brown or fade over time.  If you would like to learn more about this technique, take a look at The Art and Craft of Pounding Flowers by Laura C. Martin.  You might also like Nature Printing by Laura Donnelly Bethmann.

Lady fern pounded into alum-mordanted fabric.

To finish out the day, we sat with trays of Pentel Dye Sticks and did some rubbings and stencils onto fabric we’d dyed with a weak solution of Procion MX.

A sword fern leaflet. I took a rubbing off the veins and then stenciled around the edges using dye crayons.

Tomorrow….printing with leaves and textile paint, and pounding leaves onto dyed fabric.  My goodness, we have had fun!

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