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​Block Printing Fun on Fabric and Leather

Block printing has come a long way since those school days in art class where students were given carving tools and a block of linoleum, warned to keep hands out of the way and laboriously carved a simple design! New materials make carving easy, fast and with less possibility of injury while carving.

Block printing is one of the oldest forms of printmaking and has been around since...well, forever! It is similar to the very popular card making industry of "Stamping" in that we imprint the inked "block" to the substrate rather than run the block and the substrate through a press.

India is known for its large scale fabric block printing (see above) and I encourage anyone interested in knowing more in depth history of this art form to do a search for all the exciting information out there! For our purposes here, I am sharing my simpler techniques and experiences and working on smaller pieces such as silk, cotton and leather.

I love to get into the "zone." You cannot hurry the block carving. I sit in the shade on my studio deck, coffee and design in hand and simply start with a carving of a design. I confess that in my photos you will see a lot of horses! I have a large horse clientele and they love the prints. I also find myself being inspired to carve my horses more than anything else. And remember, no matter what you choose to carve, it will be unique-not a mass produced rubber stamp!

Morning is best!

Above is my basic "set up". The soft cut blocks are from Blick Art and there are plenty of option out there. The "chisels" (also called linoleum cutters) are from Speedball and the basic one comes with several interchangeable tips. The soft cut piece sits on a wood base my husband made so I could work on the carving at shows as well! Using a pencil, I simply draw my design on the block. Remember, it will print in reverse so any letters need to be carved backwards!

Carved blocks print in reverse!

Use a piece of paper to check out your design. Whatever is left after carving lines and groves is what will print. You are removing excess block material and may have to print several runs before you get it to where you want it! I have attached most of my pieces to wood but find that is not always necessary depending on your design. But it does prolong the life span of the rubber block if it has a lot of use as more delicate designs can break.

Paper is pretty easy to block print on as virtually any paint or dye (that is not too runny) will work. You are not going to wash and wear it! But fabric can require a bit more research. You want to make sure that whatever you use to imprint on fabric is specifically for use on fabric! Many applications such as textile inks from Jacquard require heat setting (yep-that's an iron) to be permanent. That really takes the fun out of it so I use my basic Speedball fabric paint. It is water based and after imprinting, it dries quickly. No heat set, just wait a few days before washing it if needed.

I apply the paint to the carved block with a sponge cut into 1" x 1" blocks. I use a Styrofoam plate, put dabs of my paint on it and dip my sponges into the colors and dab onto my block. That way I can add several colors to one block and vary the colors. No, I don't use an ink plate and a brayer-too messy for me for what I am doing! When you are ready to print, iron your lightweight fabrics such as silk, onto freezer paper (shiny side up) to keep it flat and easy to print on!

Below are variations of the horse blocks on silk and cotton

I have wood blocks (talk about lot of work to carve!) from India which I love and used on some leather. And also a pile of miscellaneous blocks given to me by a friend!

I experimented with the Indian blocks on my leather art journals and ready to add more designs on others!

I used my sunflower wood block.

Love these ginko leaves! Front and back cover.

There are many ways to be creative with your block printing! I am looking forward to over printing on top of fabrics that already have an ecoprinted (or other) design on them. It's a great way to embellish or enhance any fabric. The key is to use the correct paints or inks for the fabric you are imprinting.

Sources for your supplies include, and Your blocks can be used on so many surfaces! Fabrics, leather, paper, wood...even your walls!

I hope you share your results with me if you decide to try your hand at block printing!

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