DIY: Botanical Stamps


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Rubber stamps can capture the variety of leaf shapes in a garden, then let you stamp them anywhere you want. It’s fun. It’s easy. Use a favorite herb to create a simple design, have it made into a rubber stamp, then let your imagination loose on ways to use it: stationery, cards, memos, even herb pots or next year’s gardening gloves. Not only will you have a personalized design, you’ll preserve a memory of this year’s garden.

The difficulty may come in choosing among the variety of leaf shapes. Select bold leaves with definite shapes and prominent veins; avoid frilly or tiny ones. For our projects, we chose herbs with easily recognizable shapes: rosemary, rue, and sage. Many others would also be suitable. Try tarragon, chives, rose petals, or anything else that strikes your fancy. Leaves that don’t lie flat can be pressed for a short time between the pages of a phone book.

Reproducing the image is simply a matter of photocopying the actual herb leaf or sprig. A photocopied image will give you a fairly accurate idea of how the herb will look on a rubber stamp. It is also what the rubber-stamp maker uses to cut the pattern for the stamp.

Take a sampling of leaves from your garden to a photocopy machine to try out. Arrange an herb leaf on the photo­copier glass and cover it carefully with a sheet of white paper. Copying more than one sprig or leaf at a time will save on photocopying costs and give you lots of images to choose from, but place the sprigs or leaves carefully to ensure that they don’t drift as you cover them with the paper. As you copy, apply light pressure to the paper to prevent shadows. Copy the surface of the leaves on which the veins contrast best. To highlight the veins, try adjusting the contrast feature on the copier to different settings and see which gives the best effect. Any gray areas on the photocopy will turn out a mottled black on the rubber stamp, so darken gray areas with a black felt-tip pen for a more definitive imprint.

Take your best copies to an office supplier, printshop, or rubber-stamp store to be made into rubber stamps, which can often be done within a day. (Check the Yellow Pages under “rubber stamps” to find one near you.) We had some of ours made without handles so that we could glue six different rubber leaf designs onto a wooden cube we purchased at a hobby store.

A word of caution about materials: Rubber-stamping can get expensive surprisingly fast. A simple design can be made into a rubber stamp for about $6 to $9 each, depending on size, but ­papers, ink pads, fabric paints, and other supplies come in so many types, styles, and colors that you may find that you want them all. Practice the techniques on scrap paper or grocery bags, an old T-shirt or garden gloves, and that clay pot which has been sitting in your shed for the past two growing seasons. After you have experimented a bit to find which projects are most appealing, you’ll be able to decide which ones you want to invest your time and money in to make for yourself or for gifts.

Create Pretty Paper

For stationery, standard paper and envelopes work fine, and handmade paper adds a special touch. Be creative in choosing the paper: grocery bags can be transformed into funky stationery or greeting cards, and plain tissue paper or brown wrapping paper stamped with your leaf design can be attractive gift wrapping.

Inked stamp pads come in a variety of colors, including metallics and multi­colored rainbows. Brush markers, with which you brush ink onto the surface of the rubber stamp, are also available at craft stores.

Embossing powder can add texture to your stationery by producing a raised, shiny image. After you have stamped the herb image on your stationery with a well-inked stamp, dust the ink image with embossing powder. To remove excess powder, tap the stamped paper over another sheet, then return the excess powder to the jar. Hold the powdered image over a heat source, such as an electric range or hot plate, gently moving the paper over the heat until the powder melts.

Experiment with ways to use the rubber stamps. One stamped image of an herb such as rosemary at the bottom right edge of a piece of stationery has a simple subtlety, or you can stamp a line of leaves down the left margin of the sheet or put a bouquet of herb leaves at the center top. Or use your herb stamp at the bottom next to your signature. Stamp an envelope to match, as simply or elaborately as you like.

Use Other Materials

Nearly any surface can be rubber-stamped, provided that you use the ­appropriate ink or paint. The garden gloves and clay pots shown in the photo above are stamped with fabric paints, available in craft and hobby stores. The images appear softer than those made with stamp pads.

Brush the fabric paint onto your rubber stamp with a foam brush. Practice first on a similar surface (for example, a scrap of fabric or shard of clay pot) until you get a feel for how much paint you need.

When you’re working on canvas gardening gloves, slip a piece of cardboard into them before stamping to stiffen the surface. Lay out a T-shirt on a smooth, hard surface, using cardboard or some other barrier between the front and back to prevent ink from bleeding through, and hold the shirt firmly in place while you stamp. After the paint has dried thoroughly (it takes about ten minutes), iron the stamped fabric on the wrong side for one minute with the iron set on hot (cotton or linen). The paint does not fade in the sun.