You may remember the first version of this block print, done a couple of months ago.

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And another version of this motif, different colour and style.

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I have been champing at the bit to do more block printing, but found it quite hard to find suitable motifs. Some of this is because block printing doesn’t deposit the same thick layer of ink onto the fabric as screen printing, there is only as much ink as will adhere to the surface of the block, so the prints are just a little faint. I feel that this limits what sort of motifs can be used. I tried a new motif which looked fine when I tried it out on on paper, until I had a closer look. If it was printed with a thick, even colour application such as a screen print it would have been ok, perhaps a bit heavy, but that could be fixed by placing the blocks further apart. Unfortunately it was too patchy to look good and would have been worse on fabric. Enlarge the second image below and you will see what I mean.

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I think large print surfaces are unsuitable for block prints, because the ink application is uneven. Motifs that balance printed and unprinted areas are better. Next comes the way the single motifs are arranged. Random, different orientations, in rows horizontally or vertically, offset? It helps to use paper as a trial run, but that doesn’t help with the colours. I suppose I am fussy. I print on good quality, expensive linen and I don’t want to mess it up.

For anyone who gets bored easily, have a look at my Pinterest board, there is plenty of variety there to choose from and I will move on eventually too. But I am not finished with my leaf pattern yet. Now that I know that it works for me I am happy to keep going with it for the moment. There are variations to be explored. When I printed the rectangular cowl piece for the top I discovered how nice the leaves would look as place mats.

I always thought the leaf motif would look good in black on natural linen, and it does. I used an Ikea curtain piece, rescued from the ‘As Is’ bin, which is an economical way to get my hands on linen while I learn how to print. It is thinner than I would like, I prefer the beefier kind, because it doesn’t wrinkle as easily. But I am only brave enough to print on the good stuff, not the best. I have some heavy natural linen in my stash, which I will tackle when I have a bit more experience. And courage.

I used the Tessuti fave top pattern, again, because is a simple shape and, to be blunt, batwing tops don’t need to be washed as often to stay fresh as tops that are more fitted in the armscyes. This is a consideration with any top you don’t want to have to wash too often, and I’m not sure how the printing ink will stand up to frequent washing. I am trying to find another pattern to use for my tops, I truly am, but the fave has so many good points that it is hard to beat.

However, I thought a cowl might be in order, and cuffs, as a point of difference to the white top I already have. I find that a loose cowl needs to be a minimum of 80cm wide, and can be as much as 90-95. More and it will slip off my shoulders, especially in a knit. This time I made the cowl 80cm wide and 40cm long (to be doubled over and stitched down, and then folded down when worn).

collar

I think it is a good idea to cut out the pattern pieces before printing, because it saves quite a bit of work not to mention opportunities for ‘oopsies’. One fumble-fingered drop of the print block onto the fabric, and the project is ruined. Printing on the cut out garment also allows more control of where the motifs go.

So I sewed up the shoulder/upper sleeve seams, ironed the seam, opened out the garment and laid it down flat. You can print with it double and use newspaper to stop the prints from leaking through, but it is better to have a single layer to work with. Less opportunity for wrinkles in the fabric you can’t see until it is too late.

Last time, if you recall, I used a polystyrene print block carved with a soldering iron. This produces a textured print, because the polystyrene has a textured surface. This time I wanted to try a rubber block bought at a craft shop, which has a perfectly smooth texture, like lino. But it is a lot softer and easier to carve, and not prone to crumble and fall apart during a long print run like the polystyrene.

This block was inked with a foam roller, which is ok, except that the foam soaks up a lot of the ink. I might try a rubber roller down the track, which will save ink, although it is unlikely to improve the print quality. What might give me better coverage is to use the foam roller directly onto the fabric over a stencil. I am toying with using a thin layer of polystyrene as a stencil, such as is used for take-away containers or disposable plates.

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This is because the PS is thin, and I could cut this out easily with the soldering iron. Cutting with a knife is ok with straight lines, but more difficult when you need to achieve nice smooth curves. I have not found any suitable plates yet but I am looking. The nice thing about a stencil with raised edges is that you can’t easily roll off it with your inked roller. Definitely worth consideration.

But back to this project. My printing was much better this time, a lot less messy. Not so many blobs of ink where they weren’t meant to be. This is because I took care to cut the block as close to the motif as possible. Any surplus around the edges is asking for smudges. I also inked the block and printed it on paper, and then re-carved any areas that were printing when they weren’t supposed to. But even so, not every print is perfect. If you don’t press evenly you get some of the leaves to look fainter than others.

print detail

Even so, I am happy with the end result, and am trying to see imperfections as a plus. At least until I can get rid of them.

natural linen block print

block print natural

And another thought: combining the block printing with some Alabama Chanin stitching may just be an interesting idea.

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