October 26, 2013


two oak leaves

I opened a book today and out fell a leaf, one I had put  between the pages of the book to flatten it.  That was a couple of weeks ago, and I forgot about it. In the meantime the leaf had turned brown, and was now dried and crumbly. 

Do you remember collecting leaves as a child and seeing them dry up become brittle and go to pieces in your hand? But, yes, you can preserve fall leaves.

You’re probably familiar with the popular methods for preserving fall leaves. Wax paper pressing was my favorite when I was little. Or soaking in glycerin solution for several days. You can cover your leaves in découpage glue or parrafin wax, or dry them in a microwave and then coat them with acrylic craft spray.

The idea is the same with each method: to render these ephemeral leaves permanent, to make them last.

orange oak leaf

Instead of preserving real leaves, I prefer to make fabric leaves. Why? Same as above, to make nature’s fleeting beauties into something enduring, turn them into a keepsakes even.

While this isn’t a tutorial, I hope it inspires you to make some textile leaves of your own.

I’ll tell (and show) you where I get my fabrics, how I make the leaves and give you some ideas of what you can use them for. 

• Fabrics – If you are a seamstress, you certainly have a large collection of scraps and remnants. You can begin there. But what I absolutely love to do, and you will too if you love fabric, is go to one of the neighboring upholsterer or interior decorator and see if they have any scraps or old sample books they would like to get rid of. Chances are good that they will.

yellow and green oak 2

 Some shops sell the remnants at reasonable prices, some give away bags of pieces they were going to throw away. The pages from the sample catalogs are very inspiring with a small square of fabric in all the available colors! Upholstery fabrics often have varied textures, rough, flocked, open weave, velvety soft, making enchanting leaves.

• Leaves – I make my patterns from real leaves, drawing around the contours, or just free-hand drawing. I’ve included some oak leaf patterns as well as maple leaf patterns to get you started, on my freebie page. I cut them from the fabric then again from a backing fabric to add sturdiness. I usually use felt, but you can use burlap, stiff linen or cotton, or another upholstery fabric if you want both sides of your leaf to be beautiful. 

maple leaves 

With the two fabrics pinned together, I stitch around the contour in a long zig-zag stitch and then again in a short close zig-zag stitch, pins removed. Trim any unraveled fabric threads close to the edge. I free stitch the veins using a straight stitch, and then stitch again close to the first veins in a different color. But you could use a decorative stitch for the veins too.

maple leaf and string

If you’d like a stem for your leaves, slip a string, cord or narrow braid between the fabric and the backing of your leaf before beginning to stitch around the edge.  

I like to add some fauna, by sewing on a tiny moth or butterfly, as if it’s resting there. I’ve included a pattern for a butterfly on the template. Assemble it as you do the leaves, and sew on a bead, button, piece of cord or pipe cleaner for the body.  Or sculpt a body in clay or fimo.

dark orange moth

• Uses – What are you going to do with your pile of colorful fabric leaves? The most obvious use is for home decoration: decorate your holiday table, use them in a centerpiece, hang them as a garland, incorporate them into a wreath, make individual hanging ornaments. And you can use them as gift tags as well. 

Don’t forget wearable art. Sew on a clasp for a brooch. To wear them in your hair, just attach a clip, barrette, or hair comb to the back. Sew your leaves onto a scarf, cape or poncho. Add ribbon to either end of your leaf and tie it around your bun.

I’m sure you’ll come up with even more ideas!

Are you ready to begin your collection of permanent fabric leaves that will never fade, dry out, turn brown or crumble in your hand?

bright orange moth


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