Flowerpounding if you are in the US. Tataki Zome if you are in Japan: the art of hammering flowers and leaves into fabric.
Five years ago barely anyone was doing it. Pinterest had only a few images. Instagram was the same. There was little information available for the beginner other than to dive right in and explore. Then as sustainability and natural dyeing became more and more popular so too did this more scientifically questionable but infinitely more beautiful art. Magazine articles appeared, workshops graduated from incidental summer affairs in stately homes to small businesses located worldwide and around the time of my own first flowering came more and more experimentation. Natural dyers concerned with integrity and sustainability do not use fugitive dyes so this ancient art falls low in the hierarchy. Most botanicals do not measure up to the tried and tested dye plants that are reiterated over and again in newly published dye books that give away the basics and nothing more. Eco printing is an increasingly more sophisticated, effective and popular technique, but for me there is nothing that equals the simple alchemy that occurs when you place a flower between two pieces of fabric and hit it with a hammer until the colour and the form seeps through. Somewhere inside the intoxicating fragrance, the physical exhaustion of spending a day feeding calico with flowers and the “no-waste pile” of fragile paper thin ghosts that are thinner and more fibrous than a pressed flower is my sweetspot. The place I lived intensely for two whole long summers learning the language of this art, making it my own.
Four summers later I have a new term to satisfactorily explain the vagrant nature of the colours you can achieve “Flower Ghosts” and piled neatly in an antique bookcase in the study, metres and metres of carefully designed painstakingly laboured fabric waiting to be digitised and printed. Hours of work and instinctive design have gone into each piece you see below. Through trial and error I have come to know the flowers that colour well and the ones that don’t. I know the shapes that have structure and the ones that lose their form. I know how the blue of the forget-me-not instantaneously turns brown the moment it comes into contact with the fabric. I will never forget the first disappointment of that brown, sitting next to the pulverized blue of the minature petals. However, I will also not forget the many many more, often most unlikely, flowers and leaves that work so well they still make me gasp when I see them. Some are wild some are not. Most I now cultivate sustainably in the small dye garden I made outside my Studio in February 2019, so I could save the time spent early on in my journey rambling and foraging in the the countryside.
Time is of course the issue with this process. It can take up to a week to fill a metre square of calico with colour in this way. My arm aches like a drummers by the time the summer wanes, but it is a happy ache. Time intervenes in another way too because many flowers have a small lifespan and only a short window in which to commit them all to fabric. I spent months looking forward to the London Pride and the Smoke Bush to flower last year, only to be caught immediately in a race to transfer them all to calico. The hammering could be heard all over the village, but I knew that if I didn’t fix them whilst they bloomed they would be gone, and I would have to wait a whole year before I could use them again. It is only now after two years experience that I can approach the spring with designs in mind before the flowers emerge. Now I know how they behave, how they endure and when they come into flower, I can begin to imagine design combinations before the winter has even ended so that what I produce in the summer has more and more coherency. I find myself waiting for my favourites, poised with a hammer in my hand to commit them to cloth. It is less spontaneous but still a free process because the individual shape of each flower, stalk and leaf means that there is never a consistent replication and each print is original.