My Material Life

Sweet Potato Fabric Printing

I had a very enjoyable lunch yesterday with three good friends I used to work with.  What you see here is a project I started the night before and completed yesterday morning to hide the state of my 1980s era Danish teak dining table top.  I used a sweet potato from Trader Joe’s to print the design down the center of my table mat.  Most of the lunch (and two bunches of flowers) also came from Trader Joe’s, but I’ll tell you about what we ate later.  Let me tell you about the mat first.

I’ve always been fond of Marimekko, and I’ve wanted to make a Marimekko tablecloth for some time, but I never found a fabric I loved enough to justify the cost.  Then I saw one of their fabric designs hanging in a Crate and Barrel store with varying-colored lines of irregular-shaped circles and it gave me an idea to satisfy my Marimekko taste on an IKEA budget …

I could use a potato to print just a few lines of circles down the center of a piece of fabric and use that for a tablecloth, or in this case, a mat that I made from two pieces of off-white Kona cotton that is almost as wide as the table with about a 6″ overhang on either side of the length of the table.

It was a Lotta Jansdotter tip to use a sweet potato instead of a potato because of it’s lower water content. That’s brilliant because sweet potatoes also vary in circumference more than potatoes, giving you more size options for your irregular-shaped circles.  To make your stamp, simply make a nice clean cut through your potato and your stamp is ready to go.  I used paints I had on hand:  a Liquitex for the yellow and some kind of glazes for the greens (that accounts for their being somewhat transparent, almost like watercolors).  I cut my fabric and then used a dressmaker’s chalk pencil to draw a line down the center of the length of one fabric piece.  I also made a perpendicular short line at the center and I used these guidelines to position my first print – with four lines of circles, I positioned my first circle (a yellow) right next to and under the guidelines forming a cross in the center of my fabric.  I lined up the first column of prints using the previous print and the long center guideline.  From there, I positioned the prints right under and next to the previous prints, always starting in the center.  Before printing, put a piece of cardboard under your fabric (the paint will seep through and you want a nice rigid surface to stamp on). Make some tests on some scrap fabric as well, so you get the hang of how much paint and pressure you need.  You can use a paint brush for touch-ups after printing.  I applied fresh paint on the potato with a foam paintbrush for each print and was up till midnight doing this.  The next morning I heat set the paint on the fabric with a hot iron and a dry press cloth for about 30 seconds before moving on to a new paint area.  Then I stitched the painted and plain pieces of fabric I’d cut, right sides together with a 1/2″ seam allowance, leaving several inches to allow me to turn the mat right side out after I’d clipped the corners and pressed my stitching.  After pressing again, I finished the mat with a line of topstitching running about 3/8″ from the edge all the way around the mat.

The problem with that method of construction is that you usually end up with “extra” fabric on one side – the two pieces don’t lie entirely flat together.  Perhaps pinning the pieces wrong sides together and using some kind of binding around the edge would help with this, but bindings present their own challenges.  I’m going to have to figure this out.  Maybe if I had just taken more time to begin with …

But I needed to get lunch too and the ladies were due at 11:30, so I had to get cracking.  I’d picked up some frozen mini-croissants (the kind you need to let rise the night before) and the new multi-grain croissants (no need to let these rise!) from Trader Joe’s and those were baked, but as I had no time to make my own chicken salad I decided to go back to TJ’s and try their Wine Country Chicken Salad with pecans and cranberries and then make a stop at Novakovich Orchards for peaches – somehow I made it in time!  For lunch we had chicken salad sandwiches on croissants, fresh local peaches with cherries, and coffee granita (recipe here; I substituted organic whole milk for the soy milk) with Trader Joe’s Bistro Biscuits (delicious little cookies from Belgium – excellent with coffee) for dessert.  For drinks it was iced tea and organic lemonade. My friends really liked that chicken salad (me too!)  We had such a nice time catching up around the table; I don’t think they minded at all that all I really made was the granita (and the table mat of course).  Oh, I almost forgot to show you the Marimekko fabric with the circles!  Here it is.  Do you think the original could have been from a potato print as well?


  1. So glad you put this on you blog. I meant to ask you about the tablecloth because I liked it so much but we got so busy talking. It was a wonderful lunch Colleen and I thank you so much for putting it all together. It took a lot of effort especially decorating the tablecloth. I did love the TJ lunch and will be sure and get some of that chicken salad the next time I’m there.

    • Thanks kid; it wasn’t any trouble at all. Wished I’d sent the rest of the salad with you! I bought a tub of tuna salad too and I was just eating some of that on crackers. I know what I’ll be eating tomorrow… Let us know when would be a good day to meet at FDM.

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