I am always looking for new ways to utilize natural materials around me. In my second year growing my own indigo from seeds, I set out on a quest to make good use of my green thumb. DIY flower pounding projects detailing intricate designs on canvas, linen and paper have been all over my Instagram and TikTok for you pages and as I’ve been planning on how to make my garden flourish, I’ve decided to do a flower and leaf pounding diy of my own.
As I set out on my project, I realized it was really quite easy, you just needed a few things to get started.
- fresh leaf indigo
- clean garment made of natural fibers
- hammer or mallet
- brown paper bag
- fabric scrap to use as a pressing cloth OR clear packing tape.
Start with a clean garment made with natural fibers. Indigo is cool because you don’t need to treat the fabric with a mordant, or a dye setter, beforehand, as indigo bonds with the fabric in a physical bond rather than a chemical bond. If you’re able to find (or you are already growing!) indigo plants, trim off some leaves for this project. The best way to harvest more than a few leaves at once is to trim the stalk, leaving the roots and a little bit of foliage. The indigo plant will regrow within a few weeks and be able to be harvested again.
TIP: Don’t trim too many leaves at once. You only need a few for this project and excessive trimming can tire your arms out halfway through the pounding process. It took a me a few days of breaks before I was able to pick up the project again and all the rest of the leaves I had picked were wilted and couldn’t be used again.
Flowers are also a great alternative to indigo leaves and can create some beautiful designs!
For this project, you’ll also need a hammer or mallet. A friend who was in Japan right as I was preparing to do this project, learned indigo leaf pounding from a master there and he insisted on the need of a wooden mallet to do the pounding. I bought one since I didn’t have another mallet, but I’ve seen plenty of others use a regular hammer or a rubber mallet and get similar results.
Next grab your fabric. You’ll need a flat surface, a brown paper bag, and a scrap to act as a pressing cloth. Alternatively to the pressing cloth, you could use clear packing tape and tape each leaf where you want it.
TIP: I set myself up on the floor on top of a cutting mat, just to try and keep the hammering sound more localized and not alert my neighbors. I placed my paper bag in between the front and back of the shirt I was pounding to provide a barrier between the layers for printing.
Now, lay out your first indigo leaf!
Cover your leaf with a pressing cloth or a clear packing tape, then hammer away! If you’re using a pressing cloth, you’ll be able to see the color impart itself onto the cloth as you pound. Keep pounding around the whole shape of the leaf. When you’re confident that the leaf has been well pounded, peel back the tape or pressing cloth and brush off any remaining leaf fragments with your hand. Repeat this process until you’re satisfied with the pattern you’ve created!
The indigo prints will oxidize and turn a deeper color, and the prints should be colorfast! Washing on cold and line drying is always a good idea, but these prints shouldn’t wash out easily.
I actually did a variation of this project with a toddler I know on some tea towels, and they’ve been holding up great! We also pounded a cosmos flower to create intricate designs.
Experiment with what’s in your garden to see what works! Use this DIY project to have fun renewing your garments and towels. But, as a last pro tip, you might want to mordant your fabric first if it’s not indigo. Good luck and have fun with this one!