Block Printing Tutorial

Now that I have got the hang of iMovie I am fired with zeal to post some more tutorials.

Block printing is quite a simple process and you can either carve your own block, or if you want to get started with a minimum of fuss you can buy one. There are a lot of wooden blocks from India online. and Etsy has some carved from wood and rubber as well.

I used to carve my blocks from Ezy Carve rubber sheets, but these days I find it easier to use adhesive foam. With adhesive foam, your printing shapes can be cut out with scissors or a craft knife, which is much faster. However, there is a trick to using adhesive foam successfully, you need to build up several layers. I will blog about this some time soon. For a beginner I would recommend buying a block, either wood or rubber, to make things as easy as possible.

The video will have given you an overview over the process, but there are bound to be some questions.

What ink to use? Screen printing ink is fine, you don’t need anything special for block printing.

What on earth is a brayer? A rubber roller that transfers a nice, even layer of ink onto your block. This is available from craft and art material shops.

What sort of fabric can you use? Anything really, screen printing ink is not fussy. Use an old sheet or tea towel to practise. You can even print on poly. For a trial run you could print on paper and use this as gift wrap, or use your practice fabric as a furoshiki (fabric wrap which replaces a plastic bag).

Why am I sometimes using a hammer in the video and sometimes not? There needs to be pressure to produce a nice block print. When I do my test prints, I try to suss out what will work the best. With an Ezy Carve block a hammer works best, with a foam sheet on top of the Perspex to protect it. With adhesive foam, firm pressure by hand seems to be enough.

Why do I wash out my block when I am halfway through printing my garment? Ink accumulates in the narrow crevices of the block as you print. After a while this makes the prints messy. You can use cotton buds to clean out the surplus ink, or you can wash the block from time to time. I find it works well to wash out all the surplus ink between printing the front and the back of the garment. Make sure the block is dry before continuing.

How do I know where to place the block to get a nice even pattern? If you have a close look you can see that I line up the bottom corners of the printing block backing with certain points on the print below.

I also keep a certain distance between the previous print and the next one.

You can also draw a grid with chalk to help you place your prints.

If using a wooden block, a backing is not necessary and because the block follows the outline of the motif, you can see exactly where you are placing it. The same goes for a small Ezy Carve block. But as soon as the motif gets bigger, and I like big motifs, an Ezy Carve block becomes difficult to handle and a backing becomes desirable. With adhesive foam there is no choice, you need something to stick the foam to, so a backing is essential.

For this particular block I used a black piece of perspex as a backing, which is not such a good idea. Normally I use transparent, so I can see exactly where my block is being placed. However, as many people will no doubt use an opaque backing of some kind, I thought I would try this.

Using opaque backing for a block is limiting but doable. I can use the corners and edges of the backing as reference points, but if I wanted, for example, to do a random jumbled pattern, such as the one below, I would not be able to tell if my distribution of motifs is nice and balanced.

You need to see the shape of your motif as you place it, like the wooden block in the pic above. If you use a rectangular backing sheet that doesn’t hug the shape of the motif, it needs to be transparent so you can see where the actual printing shape is. I buy off-cuts from a perspex place for very little and get Mr Rivergum to cut these up for me into the size I need. He uses a router or a saw.

Materials list:

  • Printing block, wood or rubber or adhesive foam with backing
  • Fabric or you could try paper to start with
  • Brayer (buy from craft or art materials store)
  • Old spoon, metal or plastic. This can be washed and re-used.
  • Screen printing ink, I used Permaset. Water based ink is easiest and most environmentally friendly. I used about a tablespoon of ink for this project. Block printing is very economical with ink!
  • Plastic or paper plate to roll your brayer to load it with ink. This can be washed and re- used.
  • Newspaper to protect your printing surface. This can be re-used many times.
  • If you don’t have a dryer, you can use an iron to heat set the ink. Follow the instructions on the label.

I have been waxing lyrically for several posts now how soda ash and dye transform linen from a high maintenance ironing nightmare into something much less wrinkle prone. I am happy to say that block printing linen also makes it better behaved. It does not make linen soft and drapey like soda ash, but the ink somehow stabilises the fabric and make it less inclined to wrinkle. Or possibly the motifs distract the eye? Not sure which one, but either way it’s a win.

One last thing to be aware of: you will have lots of little ‘oopsies’ when you start your journey. By this I mean getting ink somewhere it is not wanted, or a block slipping out of your hand and dropping on your fabric. Or a bit of water causing a bleed. Or… or… or…

Don’t get discouraged. I generally find that the ‘mistake’ or ‘accident’ bothers me far less once a garment is completed. It seems to become subsumed into the whole and the imperfections of something hand made are part of its charm.

If the oopsie still annoys you, you can touch up an incomplete print with a brush and I have even mixed up ink to match the background colour of the fabric to cover an unintended ink blob.

A good example of something that went wrong with this particular project was on the back of this top.

Can you see where a print was placed in the wrong spot? I was distracted by the videoing and placed one of the prints too high. Quite a bit too high. But you know what, when you see the whole it doesn’t really matter.

I bet nobody but me will ever notice, and you won’t tell, will you? 🙂

Dumpster Diving

Describing my forays into the ‘As Is’ bin at Ikea as dumpster diving is probably a bit over the top, but it still makes me feel rather virtuous to recycle used textiles. The ‘As Is’ textiles at Ikea are items that have been used in displays or have some minor flaws, and they are still perfect for sewing and quite heavily reduced in price. I use a lot of bed sheets for garment sewing because these days fabric stores are few and far between where I live and this is a good alternative for plain fabric I can use for my fabric printing and painting. Aldi also has very reasonably priced high thread count sheets, even linen or hemp at times. They are new of course, but because of Aldi’s huge buying power they are much cheaper than you could buy the fabric otherwise.

Long story short, my latest dive into the bin yielded the navy Nattjasmin doona cover which became my Christmas outfit, a white Nattjasmin sheet which is perfect for future dye painting projects, and I also came across a pink cotton jersey cot sheet.

Now, I have been staying away from pink for years, not really feeling inspired at all by the colour. But the bright pink somehow suited the mid summer holiday feel of the day and the sheet cost next to nothing, so I caved. And just occasionally, ignoring your better judgement will actually result in a pleasant surprise. It is probably not the most spectacular top I ever made, but the white block print suits the pink nicely and I will enjoy wearing this bright and happy looking summer top.

I used the Athina pattern again, this time with short sleeves. I wasn’t sure if a knit would suit the Athina, but it seems to. Because I like to use up whatever fabric I have, I made the Athina a little longer than before, between the shorter and longer version of the pattern. Looking at the photos that was a mistake, as the hem now hits at the widest part of my hips, which is unwise. I will take that up a bit when I happen to think of it at a convenient time.

The print was done with white supercover Permaset screen printing ink and I re-used a printing block I carved from Ezy Carve rubber some years ago.

I have previously used this block here

and here

and here:

When I have finished carving a block I glue it to a piece of Perspex for easier handling and when printing I use a hammer to make sure the block is pressed firmly onto the fabric for each print. A piece of foam between Perspex and hammer stops the Perspex from shattering. I eyeball where I place the individual motifs (the Perspex backing makes it easier to see), which isn’t always perfect but works ok and hopefully creates an artisan feel rather than industrial. That’s what I tell myself anyway, but you could also use chalk to mark out a grid.

The sewing details are on PatterReview.

Printing notes:

  • Cotton jersey, not pre-washed
  • Permaset screen printing ink, white, supercover
  • Cured 30 mins in dryer

Dye Painting Tutorial with Video

Now that I have recovered somewhat from end of year exhaustion, I’m on a roll with my blogging. I even summoned the energy to do a video showing the dye painting process, because lots of people seem to like the results but are afraid of the process.

It really isn’t rocket science. It can be messy, which will be off-putting for some, but that can be controlled. The nice thing about dye painting is that the hand of the fabric stays soft, not plasticky like with screen printing inks. The garments also don’t run in the wash, and the colours don’t fade. With linen especially the dyes and supporting chemicals work wonders in preventing wrinkles. What’s not to like?

The best way to get started with dye painting is to do the sort of abstract watercolour I am showing here, where you just slap on the paint any which way and let the colours run and mingle. It’s super easy, but be warned that it is rabbit hole that will lead to a whole new world of creativity once you jump into it.

Video 2:40

Here are all the details:

Fabric choice: only natural fibres will work with fibre-reactive dyes. Start with viscose or cotton, or linen if you are brave.

Dyes: fibre reactive dyes are sooo much better than the stuff in the supermarket. They are more expensive, but 50g will do many garments. The dyes don’t run or fade, as already mentioned. Two brands I know are Procion MX (sold by Dharma Trading in the US), or the Drimarene K available to me here in Australia ( sold by Batik Oetoro). You will get instructions of how to mix up your dyes and what other chemicals you need where you buy the dyes.

Paula Burch has a fabulous website that tells you everything you would ever want to know about dyeing.

How I did this project:

  • I used linen. Fabric must be painted single layer. I sewed up the shoulder seams before painting.
  • I mixed up about 1/3 to 1/2 a teaspoon of dye powder in half a plastic cup of plain water for all colours but black
  • For the black accents, I used sodium alginate gel (2 teaspoons of sodium alginate powder in 250ml of water, blended in blender) instead of water with the dye powder. Sodium alginate is a safe food additive, so you can use your blender without fear of poisoning yourself and your family. I poured the gel into a container, added the dye powder and mixed.
  • Dye thickened with sodium alginate does run and bleed, but not as much as dye dissolved in plain water. (If you ever want to paint with dye that doesn’t bleed, you need to paint with well thickened dye on dry fabric. In order to fix the dye, this fabric must have been pre-treated with soda ash, then dried.)
  • The soda ash solution is around half a cup of soda ash ( or three times as much washing soda) in 4L of water. Spray on after painting. The wetter the fabric becomes, the more the dye colours will mingle.
  • Leave the fabric for 8 hours or overnight to cure. It needs to stay damp. The longer you leave the fabric to cure, the more intense the colours.
  • When washing out the dye, you can use Synthrapol or other low pH detergent, but with this type of painting it is not really necessary. Synthrapol prevents the dye that is being washed out from over-dyeing undyed areas or muddying the colours. With a painterly watercolour project it is unlikely this will be a problem.
  • Dry the fabric and sew up. Colours will be paler once the fabric has dried, but it will not get paler from washing after this.
  • I have noticed that if you hang up your painted linen garment dripping wet after washing and pull out any wrinkles, it will dry beautifully smooth, with only a little texture. You won’t need to iron it unless you want to. I usually iron a new garment as part of the finishing process, after that it could be left to fend for itself.

Materials List:

  • Fabric to use is cotton, viscose or linen. Must be natural fibres, but NOT wool. For a practice run you could use an old cotton sheet, but it needs to be a light colour as dyes cannot make a dark colour lighter.
  • Some sort of plastic as a base. I use a sheet of corflute from a hardware store.
  • Fibre- reactive dye powder dissolved in water
  • Soda ash (swimming pool supply shops) dissolved in water
  • Sodium alginate gel if using, can be bought online as a powder to be blended with water in a blender
  • Brushes, can be old and ratty
  • Plastic cups and spoon
  • Rubber or plastic gloves
  • Spray bottle for soda ash solution
  • Synthrapol or low pH detergent if using

Rescue Job

I can’t always fix it when I don’t like how one of my projects has turned out, but it is always worth a try. While just slapping on dye and getting it to mingle almost inevitably produces a beautiful result, when you get more ambitious and actually want to paint shapes, even abstract ones, more skill is required.

With this top I wanted to have dyed areas with blending colours and a hard black edge where they met areas of fabric left undyed. It might not look too bad at first glance, and indeed Mr Rivergum, dear man, told me so, but I would not have enjoyed wearing this top how it turned out.

If you have a closer look, you can see that the hard black edges next to the undyed beige linen are badly done, there are lots of little bleeds everywhere, and the red and blue dyes do not blend together nicely. The overall effect is clumsy and badly done. It would have annoyed me every time I took it off the hanger, with the result that I would not have worn it much, if at all. I hate the feeing that I am wearing something where it is obvious that ‘I have made it myself’.

So what went wrong?

Analysing this so you can learn from it is much better than wadding up the offending item and getting all discouraged. I realised that the black dye I had used for the hard edges had not been thickened sufficiently with sodium alginate, was therefore too runny and did not produce a reliable hard edge without bleeding.

The blue and red dyes on the other hand were meant to blend freely and I should not have thickened those dyes at all.

Hard edges combined with freely blending colours will be an important basic technique for all sorts of future projects, so it is worth capturing the realisation of what not to do and tattooing it onto my brain, so to speak. Writing a post about it may help others and makes sure I don’t forget.

Still, some good linen had gone into this top and I was loathe to waste it, even if it did teach me something important. So what to do?

The only thing you can realistically do in this situation is to overpaint. I could have tried again with thicker black dye to rescue my hard edges, and then redo the blue and red areas with runnier dye.

But influenced by my success with the Aurora Australis top I decided to simply take a big brush and overpaint the whole lot with blue and red, in effect soaking the whole top in dye and letting the colours blend without any thickener at all.

Not perfect, but I like the top a whole lot better now and will definitely be happy to wear it. 🙂

Another discovery I made with this project is that the top is almost completely wearable after washing without any ironing, only the cuffs look a bit rumpled. My washing machine played up, not spinning at all, so this was soaking wet when I hung it on the line. Like dripping. I smoothed out the wrinkles and it dried like that, really almost perfectly smooth. Fantastic, I will do that with all my linen from now on!

Dyeing Notes:

  • 100% linen, beige, pre-washed ( I don’t always do this because I am a bad girl)
  • Tessuti Athina pattern, shortened to high hip length
  • Dyed originally with dye thickened with sodium alginate (2 teaspoons of powder with 250ml of water), blended. This is too thin if later mixed with soda ash solution. I think I will double the strength in future (4 teaspoons to 250ml of water). Is is easy to thin down, but not to thicken up.
  • Added soda ash solution to dye and sodium alginate mix.
  • Dyes used are Drimarene K, Blue 2RL, Rubinole and Black Navy Base.
  • Dissatisfied with result. Opened side seams to lay flat for second dye process.
  • Over-dyed with Blue2RL and Rubinole, dissolved in plain water, using large brush.
  • Sprayed generously with soda ash solution in spray bottle to fix.
  • This generates a lot of liquid, may drip on floor. Best avoid dyeing tile grout etc.
  • Wash, dry and sew up side seams again.

Aurora Australis

This tunic reminds me of pictures I have seen of the Southern Lights. It is a lovely watercolour effect mixture of three different blues. Seems I only use blue, blue and more blue right now, but if it was good enough for Picasso, who am I to quibble?

As I have really enjoyed wearing the last long sleeve Athina tunic I painted, I wanted another version, even if it is getting a little warm for long sleeves right now. So while I am having a few days off over Christmas I thought I would make good use of the time and be ready for when the cooler weather comes again.

The tunic I made previously has been so great to wear because the dyeing process has softened the linen to the point where it creases very little. I still iron it after washing, although if you are more careful avoiding creases from spinning in the machine and dry in a dryer you may be able to get away without it. I have hung up painted linen on the line dripping wet, smoothed out any wrinkles and it dried almost perfectly. But I also like the surface texture ironing produces, so I will stick to that at least when putting the finishing touches on a brand new piece. After that first ironing there is very little creasing, and you can wear your linen tunic several times and it will still look good at the end of the day. I have even crawled into bed in one of mine to have an emergency nap and it took that in its stride.

The painting part is very easy and absolutely suitable for a beginner making their first foray into painting with dye. The steps are detailed in the notes at the end of the post. After all the blue I have used in my garments so far I am feeling a little constrained by the narrow colour pallette Drimarene K has available (3 blues only, less with other colours), although you can mix colours of course to obtain new ones, or vary the strength for different shades. But if you have access to Procion MX you will have a much wider palette to play with, without the bother of having to mix it up yourself.

The pattern used is the Tessuti Athina, the sewing notes are on PatternReview.

Dye painting notes

  • 100% linen fabric repurposed from light yellow Ikea curtain, pre-washed
  • Fibre reactive dye (Drimarene K) dissolved in plain water
  • Start with lightest colour (turquoise in my case) with large brush (3-5cm wide)
  • Continue with next darkest colour (blue) and large brush
  • Set accents with Black Navy Base and smaller brush
  • Spray soda ash solution (half cup in 4L of water) using spray bottle generously over entire fabric to fix dye
  • Cover and leave for several hours or overnight. You may be able to get away without covering as fabric is VERY wet and won’t dry quickly (depending on temperature and weather conditions)
  • Watch for leaks of dye onto floor, as there is a lot of liquid
  • Wash out dye, dry and sew up.

Linked to MMM.

The Many Incarnations of Mandy

No, this is not a post about anything Hindu or New Age, just an end of year reflection on the pattern I have used the most now for the last three years, the Tessuti Mandy.

Knit or woven, long sleeve, no sleeve, cuffed cap sleeves, cowl or no cowl, round neck, boat neck, summer, winter and in between, block printed, stencilled, painted and dyed….. what a chameleon! It just goes to prove that simple is best.

Thank you, Tessuti!

On top of its versatility, this pattern is also very re-purpose friendly, suitable for many different fabrics and no problem if you need to piece to dodge stains or rips, or just fabric constraints.

So here it comes, a great big photo bomb of one pattern in a thousand versions. (Just remember that a pattern meant for a knit needs to be adapted for woven fabrics, in this case all that is required is to make the armscye and sleeve a little wider.)

Block printed cotton jersey
Block printed cotton jersey
Ikea home dec fabric
Block printed re-purposed linen
Worn out doona cover turned into pyjamas
Block printed re-purposed man’s business shirt
Stencilled linen
Stencilled cotton
Stencilled linen
Re- purposed Ikea cotton bedsheet dyed and stencilled
Ikea Nattjasmin sheet stencilled
Wool ponte stencilled
Boiled wool vest with crushed viscose long sleeve tee with cowl
Ikea linen curtain re-purposed
Stencilled viscose knit
Stencilled cotton sweatshirt knit
Stencilled ponte
Stencilled merino sports performance knit
Stencilled with freezer paper, brush on dye and art markers on Ikea Nattjasmin sheet
Stencilled with freezer paper and brush on dye on Ikea Nattjasmin sheet
Brush on dye on re-purposed Ikea linen curtain
Re- purposed Ikea Nattjasmin sheet
Re-purposed Ikea Nattjasmin sheet

There are quite a few I have forgotten, and also a few that are so pedestrian that I have not bothered to include them, but you get the idea: this pattern can do anything.

Possibly time now to move on, but where will I find the next pattern this good?

Best Laid Plans…

Red and green are the traditional Christmas colours, at least in the English-speaking world. I am not a great fan of red when it comes to clothes, although I did once make a red dress for Christmas.

But generally I like green for that day and it has become somewhat of a go-to option, like last year’s dress, a green silk/cotton semi-sheer voile with a grey block print.

This year it was to be green again. I love the Ikea Nattjasmin sheets for sewing, a mix of 60% cotton and 40% lyocell. They come in some lovely colours and especially the darker colours have a lustre that appeals to me a lot. Very subtle, unlike satin which would look crass for daytime wear. The irony is that this lustre comes out in its full glory only after being ironed, and of course nobody irons sheets. Therefore most of this lovely fabric is destined to spend its life rumpled on a bed looking like a rag, unless rescued by a sewist to make something never intended by Ikea.

The pattern for the top is very simple, the Tessuti Mandy adapted for a woven, which means the armscyes and sleeves have been widened to compensate for the lack of stretch. Long sleeves are usually too hot for Christmas, but it has been so unseasonably cool here this spring that I was hedging my bets. Once I was going to have a reliable weather forecast for the 25th, which happens about 3-5 days beforehand, I was probably going to have to take the sleeves off. Or possibly not, if this weird weather was going to persist against all reason.

The skirt is a variation of my zero waste pleated skirt pattern posted in my previous blog post, where you can find the instructions. Because the fabric is lighter and drapier this time I have made the skirt fuller, 3m circumference instead of 2m, with deeper box pleats and an additional pleat over each side seam, so 8 pleats in all. I have also made a narrow yoke, 10cm wide, so the pleats begin at high hip and there is not so much fabric around the waist. This has allowed me to make an elasticised waist instead of a waistband and zipper, which is much more suitable for a day when I will be scoffing that enormous Christmas lunch!

But then… it warmed up!

Not only that, but I scored an ‘As Is’ Nattjasmin doona cover in navy, so why cut the sleeves off the green outfit, when I can make a short sleeve navy version? I was especially tempted because I have some lovely me-made necklaces that would go very nicely with blue. Plus the photos made me think that maybe I should make the top a little narrower. The width is not so much a problem with a long sleeve top that will probably be worn with jackets most of the time, but a summer version worn on its own… a bit of a modification would be a good idea.

So here we are, blue for Christmas instead of green. No printing this time, Christmas is so crazy at work that creativity is hard to come by. Plain works better for a statement necklace in any case.

Now the question is, which necklace? Onyx?

Or jasper?

Or maybe better pearls?

First world problem, >blush<.

Merry Christmas! Have a great time with your loved ones, that is the only thing that matters.

Linked to MMM.

The Zero Waste Skirt

Yes, it is possible to make a pleated skirt out of 1m of fabric. Great for remnants or if you are hankering for something $$$ per metre. That is if you don’t object to cutting on the cross grain. I do this frequently for a number of reasons and have not experienced any issues. Fabric that is a heavier weight with a firm hand, such as home dec cotton, is quite suitable, which is fortuitous as this often comes in great prints which are ideal for a statement skirt. Of course the print has to work cut sideways if you want to stick to using only 1m.

If you like your skirts a little longer, like me, you need a fabric that is 150 cm wide, for a shorter skirt 110-120 is enough.

There is no need for a pattern.

Fold your fabric in half along the mid fold line, with the selvages meeting. Position this on your cutting surface so the selvages are closest to you and the fold furthest away. This is your skirt in the raw.

Cut off a strip all along the fold line at the top. This will be double thickness and will become your waist band. I make mine 3.5cm wide, for a 3cm finished waist band (remember this strip is double thickness).

Putting the waist band aside for now, you are left with two rectangles, 1m wide and roughly 72.5 cm long ( if using 150cm wide fabric, or shorter if not).

Time to put in the pleats. Measure your waist. Mine is 80cm, that means I need each fabric rectangle to shrink from 100cm wide at the waist to 40cm wide, by means of three box pleats. 3cm will be used for a 1.5 cm seam allowance on each side, leaving 57 cm for the pleats, or roughly 15.5cm for each pleat. If you want more pleats than three, you need to divide the 57cm by the number of pleats, and if your fabric is a little more or less than 1m wide, you need to adjust the pleats accordingly.

On each fabric rectangle, put in one box pleat at the centre and one to each side of this, spaced out to your liking. You can make a plain or reverse box pleat, whichever you like better. I sew my box pleats down about 3cm from the top edge of the fabric, to stop things moving and ending up askew when I attach the waistband. If this happens your pleats will fall slightly wonky, which is not something you want. Once the waistband is in place I carefully unpick these stitches. My skirts sit better that way, but your body will be different, so you may not need to do this step.

Sew up the side seams, inserting a zipper into the left side. Attach your waistband. I interface very little these days, really only collars and collar stands. Not interfacing waistbands does not seem to cause me any problems, but YMMV.

You will need to make the waistband overlap for the button and buttonhole. I make that overlap fairly generous, as my machine only does fabulous buttonholes as long as it is not near a bulky seam. You will be left with about 10-15cm of the strip you cut for the waist band as you will not need the full 100cm width. You can use this to make loops to hang your skirt on a clothes hanger. I have read that hobby sewists waste up to 30% of their fabric. This must be an improvement!

Cut your buttonhole open and sew on a button.

If your selvages look nice there is no need to hem. Otherwise fold them up once to the inside and topstitch.

Voila, here is the skirt ready to wear. Mine took about 2 hours to make, but then this way of making a skirt is routine to me. It may take a little longer the first time you make one.

I wear my skirt with a fairly straight cut t-shirt that ideally should come to high hip length.

Or with a tee that is cut a little more body-con. If you have a waist, flaunt it. ( I like to, to make up for my big bum, thunder thighs and industrial strength knees. You can hide a lot under a skirt!)

Stencilling notes:

  • Stencilled with black Permaset screen printing ink on cotton
  • Cured in dryer on high heat for 30minutes

Always More Waves in the Sea

My last wavy shirt was painted freehand and it was quite laborious to get nice clean edges on the rough-ish surface of medium weight linen. I thought stencilling the edges would be much easier and so here we are with another wave top to put my theory into practice.

I cut the waves out of overhead projector transparencies, joining with sticky tape where necessary to get them long enough to cover the whole front or back garment piece from edge to edge. The OPT bought from office supplies are cheaper than acetate wet mixed medium stencils from art material shops. Using a stencil gives you a nice clean edge without too much trouble.

You need thickened dye to get a sharp edge, then fill in the middle with thinner dye in different blues to get nice colour graduations. I brush on additional soda ash solution to aid colour blending, taking care to stay away from the edges so the dye won’t bleed into the un-dyed areas covered by the stencil.

I used a new pattern for this project, the Tessuti Athina top. This is another free pattern and I feel a bit embarrassed to rely so heavily on freebies in my sewing, when I really should be supporting pattern makers by paying for my patterns. Unfortunately it is the simplicity of these free patterns that makes them so attractive to me, they are just the right canvas for my art work.

I saved fabric by putting a CB seam in, which allowed me to cut the back almost opposite the front, upside down, out of one width of fabric. You need 150cm wide though. To make it easy to have the painting match up seamlessly at CB I sewed up that seam beforehand.

And here is the finished top, worn with my Marcy Tilton pants. I took these photos in the morning after getting dressed, and the Australian bengaline used for the pants is still showing the creases where they were folded up in my wardrobe, but they will drop out very quickly. This is quite a relaxed and comfy look, reminiscent of my Lagenlook days. Because I treated the linen with soda ash it is lovely and soft, and even more comfy to wear. Doesn’t crease much either.

Sewing instructions for the Athina top are on PatternReview, not that there is much to say, as it is a very quick and easy sew.

Linked to MMM.

Painting Notes

  • Fabric was medium weight, 100% linen from an Ikea curtain.
  • Soaked the linen in soda ash solution (1/2 to 1 cup per 4L water), hung up to dry leaving the soda ash in the fabric. I left if for 2 weeks, which makes the linen beautifully soft and drapey.
  • Painted with Drimarene K (you could use Procion MX if easier obtainable) thickened with sodium alginate gel. Mix 1-2 teaspoons of sodium alginate powder per 250ml of water in a blender. Leave overnight for bubbles to subside.
  • Pour enough gel for painting job into a bowl, add Drimarene K powder and mix. Brush onto the fabric.
  • I used mid blue and black with navy base, which is in fact a dark blue.
  • Blend the two blue tones with more soda ash mix, taking care not to go near the painted wave edges so there is no bleeding into undyed areas.
  • Cover to keep dye wet and leave overnight to cure, then wash out and sew up.


There are lots of pelicans on the Central Coast of NSW where I live. This is what it looks like at our local fish shop around 3pm, when it’s time for one of the staff to come out and feed the scraps to an appreciative local crowd.

Aren’t they gorgeous?

I am still catching up with my blog posts with all the stuff I made during lockdown, and this is an attempt to turn the beauty of those pelicans into abstract shapes for fabric printing.

Not too bad, if rather pedestrian, maybe the pelicans are too small and also too static? Whatever it is, it looks a bit pathetic compared with this wonderfully dynamic painting by Ophelia Pang.

But you have to start somewhere and in any case, the stencilling technique remains much the same, whatever the shapes. One of those days I will try and bounce off Ophelia’s genius with a better version of my own.

Regarding technique, this project was unsuitable for dye as you cannot print or stencil white on a darker background, and the pink would probably have been murky too.

So it had to be screen printing ink, and it was the first time I used three colours. I quite like freezer paper for my smaller stencils because you can iron this on the fabric and it seals the edges of the stencil. It peels off afterwards without leaving a residue. The freezer paper that works is the American kind sold as Reynold’s in supermarkets in the US or generic paper marketed to quilters in craft shops, not our freezer paper here in Australia, which is entirely useless for stencils.

I copied the whole bird onto the freezer paper but only cut out the section for each colour. See the stencilling of the white bodies below.

I had to do three of the stencils for each bird, one for each colour. I also had birds in different sizes, so each one had to have three stencils. Not as bad as it sounds, they are quite quick to copy and cut out. Fortunately you can re-use the freezer paper stencils over and over, so you don’t have to cut too many. This is an advantage when working with screen printing ink, as you can apply the colour, touch dry with a hairdryer for a few seconds, then peel off the stencil and do the next bird. After that you do the next colour. With dye this MO would be very precarious to impossible, as the dye needs to stay wet. You would have to do one colour, cure, dry, then do the next. It would take days, which is too much for this impatient person.

A light board helps to trace the shapes onto the freezer paper from a print. I am not game to print directly onto freezer paper with my laser printer, as I am worried the plastic side will stick to the print roller and ruin it. As we all know a new roller will cost more than a new printer and I hate the waste.

Example of light board

Once the white shapes have been stencilled, I added the black wings.

And lastly I stencilled the pink beaks and feet. I had to touch those up a bit with a brush. I didn’t bother with the eyes. Maybe I should have? I still can, but the lack of eyes hasn’t bothered me so far.

Placing each of the white pelican bodies onto the fabric was a bit tricky, because the beaks add so much to each overall bird shape and it is hard to achieve a nice even scattering of birds. But nobody but me is going to notice, so I wont even mention it. 🙂

Two more shots after the top was worn for a day. The linen was soaked in soda ash and is quite drapey, with less wrinkling than you would expect. The first photo is the back, where I have been leaning against the back of chairs and possibly perspiring a bit too, but it is still not too bad.

The second shot is the front. A little wrinkled from the seat belt, but I would be happy to wear this again without ironing. I don’t think it will get any worse wearing a the second time. Shock revelation: I use deodorant and don’t wash loose tops every time I wear them if they are not dirty or smelly. Easier on the planet as well as on me.

Stencilling notes

  • 100% linen in light grey (Ikea curtain), soaked in soda ash and dried, left for 2 weeks before printing.
  • Permaset screen printing ink in white and black. The pink is white ink with a small amount of red acrylic paint.
  • Freezer paper stencils
  • Heat set with iron and in dryer.