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Pigment project for kids teaches leaf appreciation

Mon., July 13, 2009

Green leaves just don’t get the attention they deserve. Usually, we ooh and aah in the fall at the emerging splashy colors of crimson and golden leaves on trees and bushes.

But there is infinite variety in the green and the gray of those leaves on trees, vegetable plants and bushes that continually grow, shade and add a natural umbrella in gardens and parks in the hottest of July days.

Pick a handful of fresh leaves and sprouting greens from your trees, shrubs and vegetable garden, and look at them with your kids through a magnifying glass.

Observe their intricate patterns and delicate design, and then print them onto fabric with a zany technique using a hammer from the toolbox and your child’s muscle and energy.

First, collect the fresh green leaves. Ferns from an indoor floral bouquet also work well. Then, decide what you would like to print, such as a plain white or cream-colored cotton fabric T-shirt, an apron, potholder or library book bag.

Cover a hard, flat surface such as a picnic table or wooden breadboard with plain paper bags. Set the fabric to be printed on top. If using a T-shirt or tote bag, place a sheet of wax paper or cardboard inside the shirt or bag.

Arrange a leaf or fern on the fabric (secure it in place with small pieces of masking tape, if you wish), and cover with a sheet of wax paper. Hammer over the wax-paper-covered leaf until its color has been absorbed into the fabric.

It’s important that you hit every part of the leaf to release the natural pigments. Remove the leaf or fern and wax paper to reveal the natural image. Colors vary in intensity, so you may wish to test several varieties on a piece of scrap fabric first.

Repeat the process with additional leaves. Try it with a few flowers too, and see how the beautiful colors from nature appear. Label each print with the name of the tree, plant or flower using a permanent marker.

Note: The natural pigments may eventually fade. Wash fabric in cold water.

Extra Idea: You also may use paper instead of fabric to create lovely stationery, gift tags or bookmarks.

Donna Erickson is the author of several books about family activities and host of a public television series. See more at

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