I have a thing for Mandalas. I became enamored with them about 14 years ago when one of my close friends starting incorporating them into her art making. She believes that they have mystical powers. With all due respect to my dear friend, I’m not so sure about the mystical powers thing. However, I do believe that there is a meditative quality to both making and looking at them.
Mandalas are a super popular motif at the moment and for good reason. The beauty of the mandala is undeniable, but I wanted to dig a bit deeper into the origin and meaning of this symbol. According to Wikipedia:
A mandala (Sanskrit: मण्डल, lit, circle) is a spiritual and ritual symbol in Indian religions, representing the universe. In common use, “mandala” has become a generic term for any diagram, chart or geometric pattern that represents the cosmos metaphysically or symbolically; a microcosm of the universe.
In various spiritual traditions, mandalas may be employed for focusing attention of practitioners and adepts, as a spiritual guidance tool, for establishing a sacred space, and as an aid to meditation and trance induction.
Very cool, right? It looks as if my observation about the meditative quality of mandalas was on point and who knows…maybe they do have mystical powers! 🙂
- fabric or surface for printing – this is your call (in addition to fabric, the ink used in this project works on paper, wood, leather or other absorbant surfaces). I’m using a pillow cover from Ikea and two tote bags that I got here
- Soft-Kut Printing Blocks (this is my favorite block but Speedball Speedy Carve or Speedy Cut would be fine too)
- exacto knife
- carving tools
- Versacraft Ink in real black
Step 1: Cut your carving block into a square. The Soft-Kut blocks cut easily with an exacto knife. I made mine 4×4 inches.
Step 2: Make a grid on your block. I marked mine at 1/2 inch increments. This will help to insure that your design is even from side to side and that your squares will match up to create your mandala pattern. This will make more sense as we move along, but please don’t skip this step!
Step 3: This is the fun part…well one of the fun parts! It’s time to get creative and draw your design. You can be as simple or complex as you would like. I like to think of my mandalas as a series of layers that start in the center and move outward. As you can see below you are creating 1/4 of your mandala. This will enable you to create a repeating pattern. The design on the lower right corner is optional. I like that it adds another element to the pattern but feel free to eliminate it.
If you are having trouble thinking of a design I recommend going online and finding a pattern to copy (or feel free to copy mine). If you are nervous about drawing directly on your block you can make your marks in pencil so that they can be erased. Or, you can draw your design on a piece of paper and transfer it. Most carving blocks will accept a pencil lead transfer. Simply draw your design on paper being certain to make strong, dark marks. Then put your paper on top of your block face down and rub firmly to transfer the image.
Step 4: Now it’s time to carve. This material carves easily, which is great, but it means that it’s quite possible to dig too deep or overshoot your lines. To help prevent both of these problems, it’s best to hold your tool in a more horizontal plane in relation to your block (rather than like a pen or pencil, which would angle more vertically towards your surface). This takes a little getting used to and a little practice but it’s well worth the effort. You will also want to carve out from the corners and vertexes. If you carve towards these points, it’s much easier to overshoot your lines and mess up your design. Another tip is to move your block as you carve rather than moving your tool. For example, if you are making a curved line then you would turn the block to make the curve instead of turning your carving tool. If this is your first time carving a block I strongly suggest that you take a few minutes to practice on a scrap piece of material.
Step 5: Do a test print! This is super helpful! I always test my carvings by printing on a piece of paper before printing on fabric. This will enable you to see any areas that might need a bit more carving or refining…which is almost always necessary. I also lightly ink my blocks at this point to avoid wasting ink or I use another ink pad that I’m less concerned about wasting.
The test print below was made with the block that I used to print the tote bag in the back row in the introductory picture. My goal for this one was to create a less complex design that could be more easily replicated by someone else (ahem…I’m talking to YOU, okay, maybe not all of you, but some of you).
Step 6: Printing time…well almost. Please be sure to protect whatever surface you’re working on because you will very likely get ink on the surrounding area. In addition to putting a drop cloth down on my table, I like to put paper towels around the edges of my fabric so that I can simply pull them out and throw them away. This minimizes the chance of getting ink anywhere that you don’t want it. I realize that it’s not the most environmentally friendly solution but I have yet to figure out an alternative.
Before you ink up your block I strongly suggest that you find the center of whatever you’re printing on and work your way out from there. For my pillow case and my tote bags I folded them in half in both directions and pressed them with an iron to create intersecting lines that gave me my center point. Depending upon the fiber you are using, you may be able to get away with simply folding and creasing your fabric to find your center.
It’s finally time to print! I always begin by firmly pouncing my ink pad onto my block until the color is dark black. I then carefully check my block to insure that it is facing the right direction, find the center of my fabric and press my block down firmly and evenly (top left picture below). It’s important not to rock your block but to simply press down strongly. When lifting your block, you will want to lift straight up. Next, you will rotate your block around the center point to create one complete mandala (bottom left picture below).
You will then work your way outward being mindful that it’s very easy to get confused and place your block in the wrong spot (ask me how I know). 🙂 So double (or triple) check that your block is facing the correct direction before placing it on your fabric. I recently saw a tutorial where they numbered each side 1-4 to help keep track of which side goes next. I thought this was a brilliant idea and I will definitely be trying it out the next time I create a repeating pattern.
Step 7: Allow your your fabric to dry for 24 hours and then heat set it with an iron on the highest setting for 2-3 minutes. I followed this procedure for my pillow case. However, since I wanted to print the second side of my tote bag and since I’m very impatient and I didn’t want to wait 24 hours, I took a risk and I ironed side one about 20 or 30 minutes after I printed it. Just in case, I put a cloth between my tote and the iron. I was happy to discover that no ink transferred to the cloth which told me that my ink was in fact dry, yay! This allowed me to confidently proceed with side two, however, if you are worried about your ink being too wet or if you want to play it safe, then I would definitely wait until the next day to print the other side. I then allowed side two to dry for 24 hours and I heat set both sides using the procedure I described above.
Here is the completed pillow case. Unfortunately I gave it to my niece as a housewarming gift before I had a chance to photograph it with a pillow insert. 😦
Here are my tote bags. I love how they turned out!
In addition to being super stylish these babies are super useful! I love the repeating patterns and I love the negative space that the stamps create (the areas where you see the background color)!
Please feel free to comment or ask questions. 🙂