A quick post: indigo leaf prints

Just to prove I’m still playing with indigo, although I’ve had less time than I thought I would.

If you’ve only got a few leaves, try leaf prints.


This is Japanese indigo. The technique also works for woad leaves, although the print is fainter than this, at least from my plants; ‘true’ indigo should also work. I am astonished by how much of the leaf structure can be captured by this technique. (The skulls were printed by rubbing fresh leaves through a stencil; I have to post this, too!)

Leaf printing seems to work best on finer fabrics like this silk; I tried it on a heavier cotton/light canvas, and the juice didn’t penetrate far enough to make a good print.
Take a leaf, put it on the fabric, cover it with a piece of clear plastic/heavy cellophane (I used a piece from a packet of oat bran). Take a dessert spoon and hammer the leaf with the bowl of the spoon through the plastic; try to make sure you cover (damage?) the entire leaf area. I think this breaks the cells to release the juice. Then put a dab of washing-up liquid on the plastic to act as a lubricant (don’t get it on the cloth) and ‘polish’ the leaf through the plastic, using lots of pressure. Too much and you can see the leaf squash into mush that obscures the detail; too little and the juice isn’t pressed into the fabric. Practice. Have fun!



4 thoughts on “A quick post: indigo leaf prints

  1. sarahw Post author

    Paul, I think so. In my somewhat limited experience *if the leaves contain indigo* the green begins to darken to bluish-green within minutes, but full indigo blue may not appear for hours or even days. It’s worth remembering that the leaves do not contain indigo until well into the growing season and lose it as the weather cools. A friend reported last year that leaves on plants growing indoors in late October did not dye blue. This makes some sense if the indigo precursor present in the plants is a natural pesticide, as I’ve seen suggested. I can’t find any research into this, but as a private individual I have limited access to academic journals.


  2. Paul But

    Thank you very much. Your observation suggests that ancient people did not explore randomly but went further with those plants that offered a bluish stain.


  3. Paul But

    In my column today, I wrote (in Chinese) “… I found Sarahw on the internet. She introduced a method to make leaf prints of Japanese indigo by placing a fresh leaf on a fabric, covering it with a cellophane, and hammering it with a spoon over the cellophane. The fresh print would be green but slowly turns bluish when dried.She also dropped a wood block into an indigo vat. The wet block appeared green when withdrawn from the vat, and turned blue when dried and oxidized. The newspaper used three of your photos and acknowledged the photos at the upper left corner to Sarahw.

    You can find an image of the column at https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10205920206999255&set=a.10205776914337028.1073741915.1681633672&type=3&theater

    Thank you.



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