Have you ever heard of flower pounding? Until recently, it wasn’t on my radar at all! The technique is similar to pressing flowers, but instead of flattening and preserving the blooms, you place them face down onto fabric, cover with a towel, and use a mallet to pound them flat. When you remove the flowers, the fabric is imprinted with the colorful pigments!
It was a lot of fun picking flowers of different shapes and colors to experiment with, and then arranging them on the fabric. I definitely recommend testing flowers before arranging them for your final product — some flowers that looked like they would leave beautiful colors didn’t shed much pigment at all, while others released too much and the color bled and looked splotchy. After some trial and error, though, I’m really satisfied with the results and can’t wait to carry my floral tote bag around all summer! —Kathleen
-White cotton fabric (or plain white tote bag)
-Sewing machine, iron, thread, and pins
-Ink pad and paintbrush (optional)
Step 1: Pick out the flowers you want to use in your design and carefully snip off any green leaves or stems from the back. As I mentioned earlier, I strongly recommend testing each type of flower on a scrap of fabric before laying out an entire design. Some of the flowers pictured below didn’t give the best results, so I ended up using only blue delphinium and purple pansies. Look for flowers in bright colors and with a low profile at your local flower shop — thank you to Vanderfleet Flowers for the helpful recommendations! Larger flowers can work, too, but you may have to arrange the petals separately instead of using the flower as-is. Ask for flowers with strong pigment in the petals — you can also try pounding leaves and greenery if you like! I was very happy with the results from the delphinium and pansies; if you have any other recommendations, please feel free to share them in the comments below!
Step 2: Soak the fabric in hot water mixed with alum (about 3 tbsp per liter of water). Let the fabric soak until the water has cooled, and then put it in the dryer or air-dry. This will help the fabric hold the pigment better over time. Arrange the cut flowers on your white cotton, separating petals for more variety.
Step 3: Carefully tape down the flowers and petals, being sure that no tape is between the flower and the fabric.
Step 4: Put your cotton on top of a tea towel, and then lay paper towels on top. Use a mallet to pound the areas where the flowers are — lifting the paper towel every once in a while to make sure you’re covering all areas. After testing your flowers first, you’ll have a better idea of how much force to use and for how long to hammer — I found that the delphinium needed more time than the pansies. You can check along the way by carefully peeling back some of the tape and looking at the fabric underneath.
Step 5: When you’re done, the flowers should look something like this. Remove the tape and discard, along with the flattened flowers.
Step 6: Lay the fabric flat to dry — it will be a bit damp from the flower pigments. Once dry, you can cheat a little bit and use a paintbrush and a colored ink pad to add a bit more color to some paler areas. I used a tiny bit of purple and blue on the single petals on the left and right sides of the design.
Step 7: If you pounded directly onto an existing tote bag, then you’re done! If you used white cotton like I did, then it’s time to assemble the bag. Cut a rectangle around your design, and then cut a matching rectangle out of plain white cotton. Pin together and sew around the sides and bottom, leaving the top open.
Step 8: For the straps, cut two long strips of fabric about 3″ wide and however long you’d like the straps to be. Press the strips in half lengthwise, making a crease down the center. Open the strips back up and then fold and press in 1/2″ from the raw edges. Fold back in half along the crease and sew along each side, about 1/4″ from the edge.
Step 9: Turn the tote right side out, and press. Turn and press in the top 1/4″ of the tote, and then fold and press again but about 3/4″ this time. Sew in place to secure the top edge neatly. Pin down the two straps on the front and back of the tote and sew to secure.