Craft

A Brief History of Botanical Printing

Discover the history of this naturalistic printing technique with Anabel Torres

For any textile design enthusiast or anyone who loves DIY artisan techniques, botanical printing offers a world of possibilities. With it, you can decorate items of clothing, paper, fashion accessories, wall hangings, jewelry, decorative items for your home, and much more.

Fashion designer and textile artist Anabel Torres (@anabeltorres) talks us through the origins of this artisanal technique, which can be used to dye any type of fabric with natural pigments.

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Anabel Torres
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Anabel Torres
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Anabel Torres

Botanical printing consists of using natural objects–such as plants or insects–to print onto the surface of a piece of paper or fabric.

The story of how this technique was first discovered has been lost over time. While it is almost certain that it has been used as an artisan technique for thousands of years, as a more formal practice, we can trace its history back to the Middle Ages. Back then, a growing interest in science and better organization resulted in the emergence of herbalism, reproduction catalogs, and the classification of plants.

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Anabel Torres
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Anabel Torres

The first record of botanical printing can be found in a manual authored by Discorides–a pharmacologist from Ancient Greece. This manual was very popular during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. In medieval versions, the technique was used to illustrate plants.

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Page from a medieval version of Discorides’ manual
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Page from a medieval version of Discorides’ manual

During the Renaissance, a print of a sage leaf appeared in a manuscript by Leonardo da Vinci, along with instructions for botanical printing.

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Leonardo da Vinci

Later, other people who needed to identify plants started to develop their own manuals, such as perfumers. This 16th-century example is by Zenobio Pacino from Florence:

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Zenobio Pacino

Over time, improvements were made to the technique, and color started to be introduced. In the 19th century, naturalistic printing emerged, using steel and lead, thanks to an invention by Alois Auer.

The arrival of techniques used by engraver and photographer Richard Cockle Lucas gave prints a more artistic look, which focused on color.

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Alois Auer
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Anna Atkins

Around 25 years ago, India Flint developed the eco print process. This technique allows the transferral of leaves from different plants to a variety of materials, such as paper, fabric, clay, and stone. This technique became popular among a diverse mix of craftspeople, who began to experiment with different materials and processes.

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India Flint

If you want to learn more about this technique, sign up to Anabel’s course, Botanical Printing on Fabric and Paper, and discover how to transfer textures and colors to create patterns from flowers and plants.

English version by @eloiseedgington.

You may also like:

Textile Dyeing Tutorial: Plant-based Pigments
What is Fabric Marbling?
Design and Composition Ideas to Create Living Botanical Décors

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