Which Carving Block is Best for Textiles?

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Hello! My block printing obsession continues…and in the process I have been trying to figure out which carving block I prefer. I have some very definite opinions, so I figured that I would share them and perhaps save y’all some time and money. 🙂

Block printing goes WAY back and it was originally done with wood. I carved and printed with wood blocks in college and it’s a tedious and painstaking process. Fortunately there are a multitude of options today that are much simpler and easier. So far, I have tried six materials. They each have their pros and cons but ultimately one product edged out the others.

Highly Recommended:

Soft-Kut Printing Blocks – These are my favorite blocks and here’s why. First, they cut like butter. Second, they’re thick enough to be carved on both sides. Third, I’m able to get fine details and good prints on fabric. Last, but not least, they are very reasonably priced.

The fact that they carve so easily is actually both a pro and a con in that you have to be very careful not to over shoot your lines. It’s quite easy to use a bit too much force and skid outside of your lines. This can be overcome with practice and a gentle touch. I have also found that holding my carving tool in a more horizontal plane in relation to the block gives me a bit more control. $1.70 for a 4 x 6″ block. Here are a few examples:

Conclusion: The combo of easy carving and value for your dollar makes this carving block a winner!

Recommended with Reservations:

Speedball Speedy Carve Blocks – For many folks this is their “go to” carving block. For me this block is just a bit too firm. Although the firm texture helps me to feel a bit more in control while carving, it’s also possible to over compensate and push too hard. Again, this is something that improves with practice. It’s easy to obtain fine details with this product, however, I have noticed that my prints aren’t quite as solid or “filled in” when I use these blocks on textiles. So, perhaps this material is better suited for use with paper? These babies are also on the pricey side which is another con in my book. $5.33 for a 4 x 6″ block.

Pink Pearl Eraser – I know that this is a bit off the beaten path…but these are wonderful to carve! They’re sturdy and they cut beautifully. They are a “just right” combination of soft and firm and they print crisply on fabric. I truly wish that they made these in larger sheets because I would be the first one in line! The biggest and really the only con is that the size of these “blocks” limits their usefulness.  63 cents for one eraser.

Speedball Speedy-Cut Carving Blocks – These blocks carve easily but the material is a bit crumbly. They print clearly on textiles. This product is on the more affordable side, so all in all it’s a decent option. $2.68 for a 4 x 5.5″ block.

Richeson Clear Carve Linoleum – The product information on these says that they carve like butter. Really??? Okay, maybe if your butter is frozen solid, but even then! While these are definitely easier to carve than traditional linoleum blocks, they are by no means easy. I really like that they are clear which allows for easy design transfer and block placement. However, the clear surface also makes it very difficult to see your carved lines and this product seems to grab onto the carving tools making smooth, even lines difficult to obtain. The print quality for these blocks isn’t great on fabric. That being said, I was able to get an interesting effect that I ended up liking a lot. $3.29 for a 4 x 6″ block.

Conclusion:  If I had my druthers, I would pick the pink pearl eraser, but since this isn’t a practical option for most block printing needs, the Speedy Carve Blocks get the silver medal.

Not Recommended:

Battleship Linoleum – Just don’t bother. It’s super hard to cut and the print quality on textiles is terrible. I dove in head first and carved the image below three days ago. It was a total waste of my time and my hand is still sore. 😦 $1.49 for a 4 x 6″ block.

So there’s my two cents on the matter of carving blocks for textiles! I hope that you found it helpful!

 

 

Block Printed Pillow

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Hi there lovely readers. After I forayed into block printing with my Eraser Stamp Pillow, I have to say that I became a little obsessed. This time I’m using an actual carving block and I’ve taken it up a few notches in terms of the pattern. I was inspired to try this technique when I saw Julie Balzer’s amazing hand carved stamps on Pinterest. The patterns look really complex, but when you break them down they’re totally doable! So hang in there with me on this one and you’ll see that the possibilities are endless!

Materials:

Tutorial

Step 1: Alright so we’re going to do a little math. In order to determine the size of the block that you’re going to carve you will need to measure your fabric and divide that number by an even number. In this case, my 14 x 14 inch pillow actually measures 13.5 x 13.5 inches. When I divide this by 4, I get 3.375 or 3 3/8 inches. I then cut a square out of my carving block using an exacto knife. It’s very helpful to use a metal ruler when cutting this material. Additionally, you will get a much cleaner cut if you cut in an up and down motion as opposed to dragging your knife across the block (which can result in snags and/or a jagged edge).

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Step 2: Now you need to mark off a grid on your carving block. This will make your design process much simpler and easier.

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Step 3: Design time! If you look carefully at the finished product above you will see that each square comes together to form an overall pattern. Essentially, each corner of your carving block is one quarter of a design. This will make more sense as we move along, I promise! Here’s my design. Feel free to copy mine, make small alterations, or completely change it and see what your get!

Hopefully you can see how helpful the grid lines are when sketching out your pattern. This pattern is somewhat complex, but you could most certainly simplify things! You could also draw your design on a piece of paper using a pencil and then transfer the design to your block. One of the awesome things about this material is that it accepts transfers easily. You simply need to lay your drawing (graphite side down) onto your block and rub firmly. Apparently, this also works with images from an inkjet printer. So cool.

Step 4: Carving time! The first step is to carve along all of your lines using your smallest carving tool. This will create a little “moat” so that when you come back in with your larger carving tool you will be much less likely to travel outside the lines. If you are new to carving this material, I highly recommend practicing on a scrap piece before you commit to a larger project. It can take some time to get the hang of it…for me, holding the carving tool in a more horizontal plane to the carving block prevents me from going too deep or gouging the material which gives me cleaner lines. I have also noticed that it is really important to carve away from all of the corners. This may require carving a line in two sections, but that’s okay. If you carve towards your corners, it’s very easy to move past the line and end up with a wanky corner. It doesn’t have to be perfect though, so if you mess up here or there, no worries!

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Step 5: Now you need to commit to where you do and don’t want to carve your block. You will need to think about the final design and how much positive and negative space you desire. Obviously any areas that you carve will be white (or the color of your fabric) and any uncarved areas will be the color of your ink. I used one of the larger v-shaped tools for this so that I could remove the material more quickly.

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Step 6: Next, you need to do a test print. I used a standard ink pad on white paper for this. Your test print will allow you to see areas that need to be cleaned up or carved more deeply. And you can also get an idea for how your overall design will look.

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Step 7: Once you’re satisfied with your design you will need to prepare your fabric for printing. First iron your fabric to remove any wrinkles. Next fold it in half in both directions and press a seam after each fold. This will give you the center of your fabric as well as vertical and horizontal lines to act as guides while you’re printing.

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Step 8: Place something under your fabric so that it doesn’t bleed through! I always use a piece of clear vinyl, but aluminum foil would work in a pinch.

Step 9: Find your center and start stamping. I’m using an ink pad that is specifically for use with fabric.

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Hmmmm, well I was hoping that it would print darker and I’m noticing that my math must have been a bit off  because my stamp isn’t reaching the edge. There are two potential problems with the color…either my ink pad is running low or the texture of my fabric is interfering with the ink transfer (this cotton pillow case has a grainier feel than some that I’ve used in the past). Despite my concerns, I pressed on.

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And then I screwed up. First on the lower right corner and then again in the next block up. What the bleep!!! I can understand once, but twice?! Sooooooo annoying! I would love to say that I get Martha Stewart perfect results every time, but I don’t. That’s not real life and it’s certainly not my real life.

I like the design so I’m going to try again on another pillow case. This time I will be using a 16 x 16 inch pillow case (because that’s all I have at the moment) so it will be interesting to see how my design lays out. I’m also going to try using some screen printing ink that I happened to have on hand. According to the product information, it can be used for block printing.

In traditional block printing, ink is placed on a piece of glass or plexi and a brayer is used to spread the ink into a thin, even coat and then it’s rolled onto a block. Unfortunately, as I attempted to roll out my ink I noticed that my brayer (which I haven’t picked up in a very long time) was not rolling properly. Time for plan B, I recalled reading somewhere that make-up sponges work well for applying ink to blocks and since I had a bag of those in the back of one of my cupboards, I went for that option.

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Step 9.1?: After ironing and placing a piece of vinyl in my pillow case, I inked up my stamp and got to work. This ink is definitely printing darker, but it’s also a bit “blobbier.” Make certain to press firmly and evenly onto all of your stamp – paying careful attention to your corners. You can lift a corner and peek at your print before removing it to be sure you didn’t miss anything.

Since my pattern went off the edge I found it useful to put a piece of paper or paper towel under the edge in order to keep things tidy (pic 2 above).

Step 10: Once I was done I noticed a few areas that didn’t print as dark as I wanted, so I re-inked that portion of my stamp and I carefully stamped on top. This worked surprisingly well! When you’re satisfied with your print, let it dry overnight and iron for 15-30 seconds to make your ink permanent and your fabric washable.

Here it is! What do you think?

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Eraser Stamp Pillow

 

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Alright people! This is a really cool project that truly doesn’t require ANY artistic ability! It’s a bit of a departure in that I won’t be doing any hand dyeing, but I figure that stamping on fabric is close enough. I have been enamored with printmaking since I took a class as an undergrad, so there may be more printmaking heading your way!

Materials:

Tutorial

Step 1: Get your hands on a large one of these:

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Step 2: Cut off one of the slanted ends with an exacto knife so that you have a rectangle.

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Step 3: Find the middle of your eraser (my eraser is one inch wide, so I marked it at 1/2 inch in a few places) and drew a line.

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Step 4: Okay, so I jumped the gun a bit in the pic above! Now start making angled lines along the length of your center line.

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Step 5: Use your lovely little block cutter to carve your lines. As you can see I din’t follow my lines exactly. This isn’t meant to be perfect – it is handmade after all! Besides (speaking as a partially reformed perfectionist) perfection is highly overrated.

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By the way, I have done block printing before using a variety of carving blocks. This is the first time that I have used an eraser and I have to say that I loved it! It carved really smoothly and easily.

Step 6: Ink up your stamp and do a test print. I’m using regular old stamp ink for this so that I don’t waste any of my pricey fabric ink. It is super important to do a test print because it allows you to see if you need to go back and carve a bit more here or there. Mine looks good!

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Step 7: Okay, so this is where my head started to hurt a bit. I decided to do this really cool pattern and although it isn’t hard, it definitely took me some time to wrap my brain around it. So I practiced on a few sheets of paper first. Here are my efforts.

By gosh, I think I finally got it! Wait, that doesn’t sound right?! I think it’s “by George,” right? Anyways, I got it!

Step 8: Iron your pillow case or whatever fabric you’re using. Fold it in half and then in half again and press it with your iron. This will give you the middle point as well as vertical and horizontal lines to help guide you as you stamp. Now place something under your fabric so that your stamp ink doesn’t bleed through. I’m using a piece of clear vinyl that I inserted between the two layers of my pillow case. The pic on the right shows the vinyl, it is folded in half to make it more visible to you, my dear readers. 🙂

Step 9: Find the center of your piece and begin stamping around that point. Ink your stamp well and be sure to press firmly and evenly when you place your stamp.

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This took some patience and a steady hand…I was doing great until the bottom left corner where I lost my focus and I placed a stamp in the wrong spot. So, I took a deep breath and I just kept going trying to form the same basic shape. It got a little out of control and I have to say that the perfectionist in me was freaking out a little bit. What was I saying about perfectionism being overrated?????

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In the end I think it looks cool. Who says that it has to be the same pattern the whole way through?! I think that the lesson here is that you can make a mistake (or 10) and it will still be okay. 🙂 🙂 🙂

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Step 10: Let your ink dry completely and then heat set it with your iron for 15-30 seconds (no steam). This will make your print permanent and it will allow you to wash your fabric if needed.

Well, there it is in all of it’s glory, what do you think?

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Plum and Eucalyptus Leaf Printed Scarf

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Hello dear readers! I was taking a walk the other day when I noticed some ornamental plum trees in an open space area. I recalled reading that they could be used for dye so I plucked a few leaves. The color of the leaves was really gorgeous and the leaf shape was pleasingly simple so I decided that a leaf printing technique would be fun to try on a silk chiffon scarf. My next thought was that the pretty purple would look great contrasted against the orange from eucalyptus leaves. Lucky for me, there was a eucalyptus tree just down the hill from the plum tree so I picked a few stems.

Materials:

  • Ornamental Plum Leaves
  • Eucalyptus leaves  – not all species are created equal, so please be sure that you are using leaves from a tree that will dye your fabric
  • Protein fiber such as silk or wool – I’m using an 11 x 90 inch silk chiffon scarf
  • Paper towels
  • Stick or dowel
  • Artificial sinew, twine or dental floss
  • Dye pot – please use a pot that is exclusively used for dyeing!
  • Steamer basket – again for dyeing purposes only!
  • Alum 

Tutorial

Step 1: Wet your fabric and fold it in half so that you can find the middle. Lay one half of your fabric on some paper towels and bunch up the remainder (see pic below).

FYI – I am doing this because I would like the same image on both sides of the scarf. By “sandwiching” your leaves your print will be repeated on either side of your piece.

Step 2: Lay out your leaves to create a pattern of some sort.

Step 3: Carefully place the second half of your fabric on top of the first. I’m not going to lie, this is a pain in the butt. You will probably have to go back and rearrange your leaves along the length of your fabric more than one time. I noticed that I would get one section right and then move on only to find that the prior section had shifted. Grrr! Hang in there, with a little patience and persistence you will get it done!

Here are steps 1-3:

Step 4: Place a stick or a dowel at one end of your scarf and roll tightly and smoothly making sure to include your paper towel. The paper towel will act as a barrier so that your fabric doesn’t bleed back onto itself. For a more eco friendly alternative you could use a scrap piece of fabric in place of the paper towels.

Step 5: Now that you have your cute little bundle, you will need to tie it tightly to hold everything together and to insure that the fabric and the leaves are nice and cozy. I’m using artificial sinew but you could easily use twine or dental floss (It probably goes without saying, but you will need to use the white stuff, no blue colored mint dental floss).

Step 6: Add an inch or so of water to your dedicated dye pot, put your steamer basket inside, add your bundle and put a lid on your pot. Turn your heat to high and bring your water to a boil. Once your water is boiling turn your heat to low and steam for 2 hours. I typically turn my bundle about half way through. I’m not sure if this does anything, but it makes me feel better. 🙂

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Step 7: Let your bundle cool in the pot and let it sit overnight.

Step 8: Unwrap your bundle and take a look. This is always my favorite part! However, my results were less than spectacular. 😦

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Okay, so here’s where I messed up. First I assumed that the tree that I got my leaves from was the same variety as the tree that I had previously obtained leaves from (they looked very similar). After this result, I took a closer look at my leaves and stems and I could clearly see that this was not the same species of eucalyptus (there are over 900 varieties!). Here they are side by side:

The leaves and stems on the right came from a red ironbark or sideroxylon tree that sits just behind my back fence. The leaves on the left were the ones that I used for this scarf. Below is an example of the result that I got from the red ironbark tree, quelle difference!

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And another thing…I failed to consider the fact that natural dyes fall into two categories, substantive and adjective. Substantive dyes don’t require a mordant or fixative to be permanent and light fast. Examples of substantive dyes are eucalyptus, turmeric, tea and onion skins. However, most natural dyes fall into the adjective category and require a fixative of some sort. The most basic mordants are salt and vinegar but natural dyers often use fixatives such as tannin or alum which are quite low in terms of their toxicity. This information is relevant to this discussion because while the eucalyptus is a substantive dye, the plum is not and it will most certainly fade if I don’t “fix” it.

Last but not least, although this doesn’t qualify as something that I messed up, I noticed that I got a good depth of color and detail from the front sides of the plum leaves while the backsides are pale and blobby. So, I’m back to the drawing board!

*To avoid having to make any corrections and to get a beautiful result from the get go I would do the following:

First, use the correct eucalyptus leaves! This may require a little research. Red ironbarks are relatively easy to spot because of their bright red stems (yes, I know that I screwed this up, please don’t remind me!). Silver dollar eucalyptus are also a good choice and you can generally pick them up at Trader Joes (in the US).

Now as for the plum leaves, I would simply double them up so that the face of the leaf is facing the fabric on both sides. With regard to “fixing” the plum leaves, you have a few options. You can pre-mordant your fabric or you can add your mordant to your dye bath. The second option is much faster and easier so I vote for that one! Instead of steaming your fabric bundle place it in a water bath that contains one gallon of water and one tablespoon of alum (or vinegar and tea – see below). Bring it to a boil and let it simmer for one hour. Turn off your heat and let your bundle soak for about 2-24 hours. 

Alright, if you’re interested in hearing the rest of this saga, sigh, here’s how I corrected my errors. First I laid out the half of my scarf with the “good’ plum print. Then I gathered a bunch of eucalyptus leaves that had fallen into my yard from the nearby tree and I placed them along the length of my scarf. Next I carefully put the second half of the fabric on top. This was still a bit tricky but it wasn’t as hard as it was the first time that I did it.  I then put some plum leaves onto the side of the fabric that didn’t print well. My guess is that they may bleed a bit onto the “good” side…so my fingers are crossed that this doesn’t totally mess that side up. I then laid more paper towels on top, placed my stick at one end and rolled the whole thing up.

After binding my bundle with sinew, I put it in a water bath that contained one part vinegar to four parts of water (I ran out of alum, so although alum would be my preference, I’m using vinegar instead).  I also added a tea bag to help soften the color and to aid in fixing the plum (the tannin in tea is a natural fixative). I then brought it to a boil, turned down the heat and let it simmer for one hour. Finally, I turned off the heat and I let the bundle soak for about 5 hours.

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This is how it looked when I unwrapped my bundle and let it dry:

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So the good news is that the eucalyptus is much better! The not so great news is that my plan to improve the plum leaves didn’t work out very well. They actually look worse. Because I am a perfectionist (which is truly a curse) and I simply can’t leave well enough alone, I got out some Inktense sticks and a little brown fabric paint and I went to work defining those plum leaves.

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After I was (finally) satisfied with my scarf, I let it cure for 24 hours and I heat set it before giving it a wash and hanging it to dry. Another quick press with my iron and it’s done…

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I think it’s really pretty and I learned a lot, so alls well that ends well. Thanks for hanging in there with me through this one!