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!
- carving block
- exacto knife
- ball point pen
- block cutting tool
- fabric – I’m using a 14 x 14 inch cotton pillow cover
- clear vinyl or barrier of some sort
- inkpad for fabric – I’m using a VersaCraft inkpad in real black
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).
Step 2: Now you need to mark off a grid on your carving block. This will make your design process much simpler and easier.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?