This is the first in what I hope will be a series of posts across the year, describing experiments with fabric that could be used for English Paper Piecing as well as other textile projects. As many of us are housebound at the moment I thought this particular experiment might be something you could enjoy doing now. It’s fast, easy and a lot of fun. Will will need some access to flowers but you don’t need to have a garden. If you have a pot of flowers outside your front door, a window box, or can buy small a bunch of flowers from a supermarket while you are food shopping, that will be good enough.
In addition to a few flowers (about 3 will do, as varied in shape and colour as you can manage), you will need:
Two 100% cotton scraps of cloth in a pale colour, about 15 cm/6 ins square or a longer piece, double that size. This is what I used but of course you can make yours as big or as small, as you wish. Any scraps will do but calico (this is called muslin in America) will absorb the flower dyes better.
A plastic craft board or hardwood artists board of some kind. You need to have a hard, flat and smooth surface to extract the maximum amount of pigment from the flowers. You can use the floor but make sure it is smooth.
An old towel to place beneath the board to soften the noise of pounding and to protect the surface of your desk or table.
A mini rolling pin, or small hammer. It can be wood, metal rubber or plastic as long as it is sturdy. Avoid one with any rough or sharp edge that might puncture your fabric.
Masking tape (optional) to stabilise the flowers and/or whole composition. I didn’t use this but the fabric does tend to move with the vibration of the pounding and I had to risk my fingers being caught by the rolling pin while trying to keep everything steady. I will probably try using masking tape if I tried this again, but, as you will see from the result, it’s not essential.
Scissors for cutting your flowers and the pieces of masking tape.
There are ways of fixing the results that make them permanent and also ways of preparing fabric beforehand, to absorb more pigment, but I have omitted these stages to keep things quick and simple. After all it is only an experiment. I had never tried this before so please don’t expect any super polished results. The idea is to learn a new technique, play around with it, and then if you want to take it further, you can find more information on Pinterest, or in craft books.
Even though you choose the colour and placement of your flowers, the way it turns out is somewhat beyond your control and that is part of the magic. So let’s begin:
- Gather your tools together.
- Choose a few flowers. Begonias, tulips and lilies are said to work well. For bulky flowers like marigolds, roses and carnations it might be best to remove petals. You can overlap the petals, or keep them separate.
- Place your towel down on your working surface.
- Place your board on top. Make sure everything is level.
- Lay one piece of your cotton fabric down on the board
- Lay your flowers down on the fabric in any pattern that pleases you. You could make a Mandala. Try starting from the centre and working outwards. You can place a whole flower down (but cut off green stems to stop their green pigment from mixing with the colour of the petals), separate the petals and pistils and add leaves if you want to. You can even cut the flowers so they open into fan shapes if you want to.
- Place your second piece of cotton on top of your flower arrangement. I used one long piece of fabric and folded it over the first one which gave me a mirror image, which you can do, too, if you prefer it. Use masking tape to keep it everything steady and in place, if you want to do that.
- Get your rolling pin or pounding tool and start pounding the flowers, around their edges and in the centre. You will see the flower juices coming through the cloth. When you don’t see any white fabric colour where the flowers are ie. all the pigment has been transferred to the fabric, you can remove the top piece of fabric and check out your design. The colour that ends up on the fabric isn’t necessarily the exact colours of the petals, so the result is a bit of a surprise.
- Remove any remnants of petals with your fingernail.
The flowers I used were red Rhododendron flowers, (the red became purple) Daffodil petals (the yellow) and Berberis buds (the orange turned out to be ochre/brown). I later added some green stems but I don’t think they were very successful. I didn’t try leaves but I wish I had added a few.
Here is my long piece of fabric. I folded the right hand side over the left, so you can see I ended up with a mirror image.
Eventually I decided I didn’t really want a mirror image, so I cut the piece in half and continued with the square on the left.
I hemmed the edges roughly with a tacking stitch to tidy them up and added an image of a bird. You don’t need to be able to draw. This is just a stencil that I filled in with a water soluble marker.
Alternatively, you can define the edges and lines of your flowers (and leaves if you use them) with a permanent fine line fabric marker (Micro Pigma pens in black or brown).
I decided to embroider my bird in stem stitch. I chose this stitch because I wanted the embroidery to stand out from the background, but a simple running stitch or back stitch would be a good choice, too. Here is the result (don’t expect anything too polished lol. It is only an experiment):
Once I had followed the lines in stem stitch I gave the bird a little spritz with water and the blue lines disappeared, leaving me with just the embroidered lines.
More embroidery, or other embellishments, can be added to the flowers. The finished pieces can then be used as appliqués or as English Paper Pieced blocks, you can add pieced borders, they can be quilted and they can be framed.
So, what do you think? Will you give Flower Pounding a try?…..