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.
- 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? 🙂