Those of you who have been following my blog for a while know that I am into block printing. And with an enforced period of creative inactivity (several weekends spent getting my late inlaws house ready for sale followed by some travel) my creative urges have become quite insistent. I am craving to dive into a giant printing and dyeing fest, which no doubt will play out over the next few weeks and months. And with a new grandchild on the way, what better lace to start than bunny rugs and burp cloths, sleep sacks and onesies.
So while I actually haven’t been doing anything creative for a few weeks on the outside, on the inside I have been plotting and planning. And of course collecting suitable ideas and images for future projects on Pinterest. Here is a peek at my board for images suitable for baby gear.
If I want to use an image, I do a screenshot, then crop it and if necessary, modify it further in Photoshop or Gimp. Then I print it out and transfer it to my stamp material. I will explain how to do this later in this post if you are interested in having a go.
My new little granddaughter is expected in early November, and in Australia this is the last month of spring. By then it can be quite hot here in Sydney, or at the very least the temps will be from the mid to the high twenties. But it is an El Niño year this year, and we are expecting a very hot summer, so temps in the 30ies are more likely. Keeping the little one cool will be important.
I am quite sure that DDIL will be getting a lot of very cute clothes as gifts, and stuffed toys are also always irresistible to gift givers. Consequently grandma plans to stay clear of those and concentrate on the less cute but very much more indispensable, namely the black pants of the baby wardrobe: bunny rugs. I believe they are also called receiving or swaddling blankets, in case you are scratching your head over my Australian terminology.
Bunny rugs are used for absolutely every thing to do with a baby, from swaddling to providing a light blanket, keeping the sun off, as a burp cloth, wiping up vomit, drool and other bodily fluids, as a clean surface just about anywhere for putting baby down, including nappy changes in strange places, as an extra layer to to wrap around baby to keep warm when it gets cool and as an emergency bassinet sheet. DD was sure with her first baby that she would never use half of the 12+ or so bunny rugs at her disposal, but told me that she ended up using every one of them. I am sure DDIL will be no different.
Bunny rugs are simple squares of fabric, often made from flanelette (also called flanel elsewhere), but in summer in our hot climate voile or gauze are a much better choice. As it happens, these fabrics are also ideal for block printing. The rough surface of flanelette is much less conducive to producing a nice crips print.
And here are the results.
So how is it done?
I started off block printing using polystyrene, with the pattern carved using a soldering iron or heat tool. If you are interested, read all about it in this post. Using polystyrene is cheap and convenient and the heat tool cuts through it like butter, making it very easy to carve your pattern. But this produces a textured, slightly faint-ish print and it is hard to produce anything too detailed with a crisp edge. On top of that the polystyrene also tends to disintegrate a bit during a long print run.
So I moved on to a medium called Ezy Carve. This is like the white erasers you will be familiar with, but comes in large sheets. There are a lot of different brands available in craft shops, some of them with a pink or green colour tint, but my local shop stocks this white Ezy Carve. You cut a piece off the block with a sharp knife, large enough to accommodate the size of your image, carve your image with metal carving tools like in the picture below, then cut the surplus away around the edges with a large pair of scissors.
I print the image I want to use on a sheet of paper. You can either draw your own, or find something to suit your needs on Google images. For block printing, good images are silhouettes, unless you want something that is really intricate. I prefer simple images, and if I am, say, after a duck, I will do a google image search for ‘duck sihouette’.
Once you have found the image you want to use, either save it or if this is not possible, take a screen shot (google for instructions if you do not know how to do this, it is a great skill to have). If you need to modify your image, you can do so in Photoshop, or the free Gimp software.
Print out your image or draw it onto paper if you are going to draw your own. I transfer my images to the block medium by cutting out the paper image and tracing around this cut-out with a pen onto the carving medium. Or you could use carbon paper.
Next carve with your finest carving tool around the outer edge of your image, taking care to produce a nice clean line. Next use a larger carving blade to deepen this carved line. Uncarved surfaces will print, the areas where you have carved the medium away will not print. Take care to carve non printing areas away deeply enough so there are several mm in height difference between printing and non printing surfaces. Again take care to smoothe a nice clean edge around your print surface so you will get a crisp print.
For a detailed explanation of the printing process, please see my previous post. There are also lots of photo and video tutorials on Pinterest or Google if you need more help. I am not a very enthusiastic photographer, so I tend to be skimpy on photos illustrating my process. Lots of other people don’t have this problem, so use google to find them if you are a visual learner. And don’t forget to cure or heat set your printing in accordance with the instructions that come with your paint.
I always do a couple of test prints with a newly carved stamp, to make sure I have carved any non-printing surfaces away deeply enough, and to get an idea what the colour I am using looks like. It’s not that easy to tell when it is in the jar or on your roller. I often use a large sheet of butchers paper to work out how far apart to space my motifs or how to arrange them. You can roll up and keep this sheet for when you need some gift wrapping down the track. Or you can do your test print on a leftover scrap of the fabric you intend to use. Of course this won’t work if printing a bought item such as a t-shirt, but you can scrape a little of the paint on the inside of the hem to gauge if your fabric and paint are a winning combination, and make adjustments if necessary before you embark on a print that can’t be undone.