Block Print Mandala Pattern Tutorial

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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.[1] 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! 🙂

Materials:

  • 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)
  • ruler
  • exacto knife
  • carving tools
  • Versacraft Ink in real black

Tutorial:

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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. 😦

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Here are my tote bags. I love how they turned out!

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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)!

If you happen to be in my area, I  will be teaching a Mandala Tote Bag Class on 11-3-16 at Create Studio in Westlake Village, CA and I would love to meet you!

Please feel free to comment or ask questions. 🙂

Lotus Flower Stamp – Turning a Lemon into Lemonade!

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The block printing mania continues! In my last post I reviewed six carving blocks and I gave you my humble opinion regarding the pros and cons of each. In the course of this block carving odyssey, I tried out a linoleum block, which I hated. The carving was really difficult and the print (as you can see) was pretty bad.

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I was making this pillow case for my lovely niece Breanna who loves owls…and since I ran out of pillow cases and I couldn’t order more (because they’re on back order at Dharma Trading), I decided to try to salvage this one. My first step was to insert a piece of clear vinyl between my fabric (to prevent any bleed through). Then I set about to cover the whole thing with black ink.

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I initially tried to put the ink on with a little roller, but that didn’t work very well. I needed to roll over the same spots repeatedly and I seemed to be using a ton of ink. So, I grabbed one of my daubers (bottom left corner below) and I gave that a go. This worked much better!

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When I was finished, I set my pillow case outside to dry in the sun. Here it is, the color isn’t completely solid but I’m okay with that.

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Now it’s time to carve! After a little poking around on my niece’s Pinterest boards 🙂 I noticed that she has a thing for lotus flowers so I decided to incorporate them into my design.

But I digress…before the designing and carving bit you will need to work out the size of your carving block. In this case, since my pillow cover is 16 x 16 inches I decided to make my block 4 x 4 inches (using my favorite Soft-Kut blocks) so that I can get a nice pattern going. I first discovered the pattern making technique that I will be using when I saw Julie Balzer’s amazing pins on Pinterest. However, I soon realized that making patterns by assembling small pieces to form a whole goes WAY back to ancient times…like Mesopotamian mosaics and tile work. Not to mention quilt making which dates to ancient Egypt.

Now that you have your block cut and ready to go you will need to draw a grid – actually this isn’t mandatory but it will help you immensely when you’re drawing your design. Mind you, this is coming from someone who is all too happy to freehand something! However, soon after diving into this technique I realized that precision is super important when you’re trying to create a repeating pattern.

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Now it’s time for the fun part! I found a picture of a lotus flower that I used as a starting point…the rest I made up.

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Next, simply carve out all of your lines with your smallest carving tool. This will give you a little “moat” that will help you to stay in the lines when you begin to remove more material.

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Now you need to think about your positive and negative space or what you want to print and what you want to remain the background color. Grab a larger tool and begin carving the block to create your “negative”space (the color of your fabric).

 

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Pretty, right?! Next you will need to do a test print on paper with a regular ink pad. This is a super important step, so don’t skip it! This print will allow you to see your lines much more clearly and it will enable you to determine where you need to do a bit more carving. I always discover areas that need more carving when I do this…and I’m always excited to get an idea of how my design is coming together. 🙂

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After carving a bit more out here and there, this is my block.

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Next you will need to find the center of your fabric. I typically fold my fabric in half in both directions and I press it with an iron to get my center. However, since I already had my vinyl in place and since my fabric is black, it seemed easier to just mark off the center using a ruler and some white chalk.

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Alright so now for the printing part…I’m using Super Opaque White Ink by Versatex. I put the ink onto a piece of plexi that I picked up at Home Depot (you can use glass or any other hard, flat surface) and I rolled it out with my brayer. Please note that this ink is quite thick and the open time is short so it’s best to work quickly.

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Next, I rolled my ink onto my block with my brayer as smoothly and evenly as possible.

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I then lined up the top left corner of my block with the center of my pillow case and I carefully laid my inked block down. Be sure to press smoothly and evenly on the back side of your block. I have found that my fingers work just fine but some people use rollers or burnishers to get firmer pressure on their blocks. You can lift up a corner and take a peek at your print to make sure that your ink is transferring well. If it’s not, simply place it back down and apply more pressure.

When I got about seven blocks in, I started to notice a decline in my print quality. I think that the ink was starting to dry on the block so I cleaned it off before continuing.

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Once you have finished printing let your piece dry completely and heat set it for 1-3 minutes with an iron.

Here it is, what do you think? I like the white on black combo and I think that the design is cool but for a minute the lotus flowers looked like pot leaves…yikes! PLEASE tell me that I’m imagining things because that is NOT what I was going for!!!

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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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