As mentions in my previous post, my first attempts at block printing with polystyrene and a soldering iron turned out promising, and so I am encouraged to have a go at recreating my inspiration top.


As as you can see, the print on this top consists of several different versions of the leaf — too much trouble for me, because it would mean I would have to create several different printing blocks, one for each variation. Not out of the question when I am going for a masterpiece, but at this stage I am still exploring. I don’t want to spend heaps of time, only to find that I am on the wrong track.

So I decided to restrict myself to a single version of the leaf, but a smaller and more delicate one than I had used previously on my Bloom dress. My reasoning was that a top was a smaller printing surface and I was going to print on white, which I thought didn’t need as much black as the dark purple of the dress to make the desired visual impact.

I carved a polystyrene block with a more ‘gracile’ leaf, two-thirds the size of the previous one, and decided to try it out on paper before tackling fabric. I wanted to get a feel for how to arrange the individual leaf prints to achieve a pleasing overall pattern. The roll of newsprint I use to copy patterns was just the thing for a trial run.


I was very happy with the result, so onwards to the fabric. The paper is not wasted because it can be used for gift wrapping paper later.

I had picked an ivory white linen top as my guinea pig for this project, one that has a pleasing shape, but because it is white it somehow has lead a rather unloved existence in my wardrobe. When I made it, I pictured it as a plain backdrop for some of my statement necklaces, but somehow that idea hasn’t worked. White is too blah, especially since all I have to team it with are black pants and I am a bit bored with the plain white-on-top with black-on-the-bottom combination. I have made exactly the same top in a French blue linen and that one has been a favourite.

But printing on an old sheet is one thing, and on good quality linen constituting a perfectly wearable top is quite another. Did I mention that I was a coward? And that I can’t stand waste, especially not of good quality fabric? Consequently this project was rather nerve-wracking.

The first stage was to unpick the side seams so the top could lie flat for printing. I suppose you could print the top whole with newspaper inside, but newspaper comes in large rectangles and the top doesn’t. You would have to cut the paper to fit, and if you don’t get that exactly right the ink might bleed though and the project could be ruined.

Fortunately the top was made using the Tessuti Fave Top pattern, which means it only had side seams and shoulder seams. Undoing the side seams would allow it to lie down nice and flat.



After unpicking I ironed the top before I started printing, to have a nice smooth surface. The paper print had worked really well, but the linen has a rougher surface and I wanted the print to be as clear as possible. Wrinkles in the linen are not a good start. You also need to note that using a polystyrene block does not result in the same solid print as a screen print. The ink application is nowhere near as thick, and the print is textured from the textured surface of the PS. If you need a print with even, opaque paint application, you need to use a stencil or screen.

As with the last project I assembled the following:

Polystyrene printing block, carved with a soldering iron
Foam roller
Plastic plate or ice cream lid to ink up the roller
Permaset screen printing ink (I find Permaset is more colour fast than some other inks I have tried)
paper towels to wipe up any stray ink

If you need information on how to carve your polystyrene block, please see my previous post on fabric printing.

With any printing project, you need to focus. REALLY focus. One little accident or careless misstep can ruin the project. It took me a little over an hour to print this top, and I sweated over possible disasters the whole time. No fumbling with the PS bock and dropping it onto the fabric, no getting ink on my fingers and from there on the fabric, no putting the block in the wrong position because of a lapse of concentration. There is no chance of correction, once the ink hits the fabric it is there for good. You have got to be on your toes.

Happily there were no major disasters, only lots of little irregularities, and the result is a very wearable top. There are a few small smudges and blobs I wish weren’t there, but nothing to spoil the overall look too much..


In the process I did learn a couple of things though that will help me to improve in future.

First with the number of individual prints this top required, inevitably ink will accumulate in the grooves between the print lines. If this happens, the surplus ink has to be wiped off with a paper towel, or it will make the prints messy.

It is not easy to get each row of prints straight, without sloping upwards or downwards as you go along. I used a piece of string, measuring from the hem up to make sure it was straight, as a visual guide.

Even spacing is also difficult. I used my fingers to measure the space between each leaf (three fingers wide on the back, more like two in the front, but that is another story).

If you print from the hem upwards, you will likely run into trouble at the shoulders, because unless you are very lucky there won’t be enough room for a whole motif. You can’t just continue across the shoulder seam, because you don’t want the motif upside down on the other side, do you? I decided the area around my face was more important than the area at the hem, which resulted in too much empty space there. I left it, but if it bothers me I can print part of my leaf around the hem later.

With the paper, I printed the entire piece with half a teaspoon of ink. You need a lot more ink with fabric or the prints will look washed out. Put more ink on your roller at least for each row, and ink the block for each print.

You need to press quite firmly when printing, not just in the middle of your block but everywhere.

The more raised your printing surfaces on your block are away from your non-printing surfaces, the neater your print will be. This is all about getting ink where it is supposed to be, and stopping it from getting where it is not supposed to be.

If you need to move your fabric to print the other side of the top, dry the ink first with a hairdryer. Other wise there could be a risk of a wet print touching the fabric and leaving a mark. If you have a surface big enough to print the whole garment in one go, you don’t need to worry.

And here are some pics pf the finished print:




This is what the finished top looks like:



side 1