Leaf Prints from Rusty Nails – new creativity from Normandy, France.
These leaf prints are really detailed and fairly easy to do, but you do have to wait a week for the rusty nails to react with the vinegar.
I actually read about this in a childrens magazine in a waiting room with my son and it must have been three or four weeks between reading and trying. So I was really pleased when it worked so well as it meant not only my French stood the test but my too.
I am not sure everyone has a bucket of rusty nails outside their back door, but we do! This is because here in Normandy we use a wood burner as a main form of heating. We mainly burn wood from which has been recovered from fallen down properties and off cuts from my husbands work and we end up with a lot of nails as a by-product. Up until now these have been collected up over winter then taken for recycling at the local scrap plant in Isigny le Buat.
So when I read the article and it needed rusty nails I was intrigued.
First take your handful of nails and place them in a jar or bowl, I used a 500g Chocolate spread jar, I always save these as they are plastic they are perfect for all kind of projects with the children without the risk of breaking.
I half-filled the jar with various nails, the odd hinge and a piece of chain, it is amazing what comes attached to old pieces of Normandy farmhouses. Then we filled to the top with white vinegar for the various chemicals do their thing. I am no scientist so I will not even try to explain the process.
What I can tell you is over the week we noticed bubbles coming from the rusty objects and the vinegar changing colour. With the top going, well rust coloured really then a clear layer followed by some sediment around the nails etc. As I cannot just leaves things only I did give it a good shake every day or so but I don’t think you need to!
Next I need to find some natural fabric, according to the article it had to be natural fabric that has NOT been treated. So headed to the attic where I keep the big box of fabric and had a good route through, but I couldn’t find anything that was 100% cotton, silk or wool that had not been dyed. Ermm next of to that bag of scrap fabric, this bag is the small bits that would not make anything of substance. Here I did find an old white linen shirt that has already been chopped up for some project or other.
As this was the only thing I could find I decided to risk even though I know it would have been treated to get to white. I managed to cut about ten squares from the leftovers, so enough for all my little treasures to have ago.
Now the kids and I headed out to the garden to collect some leaves, Oak and Chestnut were recommended but we are a little earlier in the year to get a good sized chestnut leaf. The leaves we ended up with were lemon balm, raspberry, oak and hazelnut which are all in abundance in our garden, but equally you could easily find them along the many country lanes in Manche.
The next stage is to either place the fabric over the leaf or as we did sandwich it between two layers and then press the fabric and leaf to release the juice from the leaf onto the fabric. You should be able to see a faint outline of the veins etc. Then once you have pressed you need to apply the rusty nails solutions and your print should become much stronger and permanent.
For this we first tried rolling pins but while I got an ok print on the first try the children struggled to get enough pressure to make it work. When their first attempts failed the boys got bored and drifted off. Then I had my eureka moment, the pasta machine which lay unused in the corner of a cupboard.
This was when we achieved the first really impressive print and the boys suddenly wanted to join in again. Unfortunately after another two goes each we ran out of fabric. And it was time to clear up.
To make sure your prints set well rinse them in cold water and fresh vinegar before hanging to dry.
By a twist of irony I am sitting in the same waiting room in Avranches while I type this, so I thought I would double check the procedure and they actually recommended putting the fabric on a hard surface such as a patio then use a wooden mallet to break down the leaf, which explains why we struggled with the rolling pin and if you are using bigger leaves this would be the way to go. I think I will stick to the pasta machine for smaller prints.
Some ideas of what to do with your prints, you could sew the print onto plain t shirts or simply create a wall display using old frames. The next thing I am going to try is decorate some white cotton napkins. They are a little tried now and I think some leaf print will give them a new lease of life.
A quick recap:
A handful of rusty nails or other objects
About half a litre of white vinegar
Natural fabric preferable untreated
A wooden or camping mallet or pasta machine
Put the nails and vinegar in a jar for one week, chose your leaves and then place between two pieces of fabric. Then either pass through the pasta machine or hit with the mallet until the veins are just visible on the fabric.
Use either a sponge to apply the nails liquid or place the fabric in the liquid.
Rinse in a vinegar and water solution.
As a little post script, if you happen to forget to put old clothes on yourself or your children and end up with a rust stain, here a removal tip.
Cover the stain in fresh or bottled lemon juice and then sprinkle with salt and leave for 30 mins or a couple of hours. Rinse and repeat until it has gone.
I look forward to see you results – make a picture and send it with your details to : email@example.com – the best one wins a small price …
Blogpost by Helen Wells, agent for the Avranche area, Normandy, France.