Fabric block printing is one of the easiest, most approachable textile crafts I get to teach.
Need a quick DIY to do with the kids this weekend? Try fabric block printing.
Need an easy gift for that person who has everything? Try fabric block printing.
Have a certain fabric design in mind for a sewing or home project but can't find the right thing? Try fabric block printing.
Always wanted a yard of fabric with a drawing of your face printed on it? You guessed it...
I could go on.
Another reason why my students love block printing is how you get to leave your perfectionist tendencies behind. Want to create a commercial-style print at home, by hand? Guess what—you can't. Each and every impression of your stamp is going to be different than the one before. Isn't that nice? Isn't that beautiful, in a cosmic, meaning-of-life sort of way?
Darn right it is. Now you get to let go, have fun, and just see what happens. I give you permission.
I often carve my own stamps and printing blocks, but you know what? My very favorite stamps are blocks I stole from my kids' toy box. And one of the best block-printing designs I've seen come out of my fabric block-printing workshops was created with a piece of LEGO used as a stamp.
There are dozens of objects in your home right now that would make wonderful stamps, provided they are not priceless, allergic to ink, and/or furry and not really willing to be used as a stamp.
A few of these objects include:
- A potato masher (the spare, not Mamma's favorite)
- A potato (cut in half and you have not one, but TWO stamps which carve easily with a knife)
- The tines of a fork (a spare, not the family silver)
- String wrapped around a block or empty paper towel roll or PVC pipe
- The end of a straw (makes sweet little circles)
- A cork or eraser (carves easily into small, simple designs)
- A apple cut crossways (again, one apple = two stamps)
- Discarded LEGO
- Discarded building blocks
- Discarded shapes from a shape sorter
Your imagination (and your Mamma's permission) is the only limitation.
Above, some leftover cotton rope wrapped around a wooden block, inked and stamped.
Below, in the blue, bits from the fern on my front porch pressed between a blank kitchen towel and the top of a butternut squash, inked.
See? Trash isn't trash until you are sure that it can't be used to print little designs on a piece of fabric. Bet you never realized that fabric block printing is an earth-friendly craft.
To create your own fabric block printing masterpiece, you will need:
Fabric. Choose enough to complete any sewing project you might have in mind. You will likely be happier with your results if you work with lighter colors. Opt for natural fibers. See what you can find at the thrift shop or in the back of your own closet. Steer clear of nylon, as the type of ink we will use really hates the stuff.
Fabric block-printing ink. My favorite is Speedball Fabric Block Printing Ink (not an affiliate link). This ink is my favorite because it is water soluble (read: easy clean-up), sinks into the fabric (as opposed to sitting on top of it, ew) and won't crack or peel, and requires no heat setting. I buy mine when it is available at my local craft store, or from Speedball via Amazon.
Inking plate and brayer. These are available at any craft store that carries inking supplies. Or, if you're in a pinch, you can try using a medium-sized paintbrush and kitchen sponge.
Rug backing, carpet square, or some other flat, seamless mat. Your fabric will need a sponge-like surface underneath while you are printing to ensure an even transfer of your design. I love rug backing because it is often sticking on one side and felt-like on the other, providing you with a non-slip block printing experience. My favorite rug backing comes from Pottery Barn. Low-pile carpet squares or spare carpeting from your last bedroom remodel works wonderfully, too.
A trip around the house. Gather the objects you will use as stamps and printing blocks. Make extra sure that everyone is OK with these objects potentially becoming permanently stained with printing ink. Sketch out a printing design beforehand, or at least have in mind what you would like to do before you get started, if for no other reason than to be able to tell anyone who asks that, yes, there was a plan.
OK. Let's do this.
Step 1. Before you get really good and started, wash, dry, and iron your fabric. No one needs any coatings, chemicals, or residue mucking up an otherwise lovely block-printing experience.
Smooth your fabric onto your rug backing or carpet square until it is straight and smooth.
Step 2. Squeeze three quarter-sized dollops of paint of the color of your choice onto your inking tray.
If you are mixing a color, do so in a disposable cup. Be sure to mix enough paint for your entire project. Three quarter-size dollops will last for a 24-by-24-inch piece of fabric, provided your printing design is not extremely dense. With larger projects or dense designs, it is always better to mix too much paint rather than not enough.
After your paint is mixed, load three small dollops onto your inking tray.
If you are using a brayer, begin rolling it into the very bottom edges of your paint dollops. Roll the paint downward across the ink tray. Continue rolling and spreading this small amount of ink until you begin to see small peaks, as shown above.
Keep in mind that not enough paint on your tray or brayer is always better and much easier to fix than too much paint.
If you are using a sponge and paintbrush, use the paintbrush to apply paint to your sponge as evenly as you can. Work first with a little bit of paint, then add more a small amount at a time.
Using your brayer, roll paint onto the object you are using as a stamp. Roll the paint up and down, then side to side, being sure not to add too much paint. The stamp should look like the image above when it is ready to print.
If you are using a sponge, press the object you are using as a stamp down onto the inked sponge.
Apply the inked stamp to the fabric, pressing down firmly with pressure from just overhead. Don't bounce or rock. Count to 20, then gently lift the stamp off the fabric. You might use your free hand to be sure your fabric stays on your work surface as you lift the stamp.
Next, simply rinse and repeat.
When you run low on ink, use your brayer to pull some down across the tray from the dollops at the top. If you are using a paintbrush and sponge, use your paintbrush to re-ink your sponge after every stamping.
Clean up soon after you are finished printing. Use warm water and whatever soap you have near the sink.
Allow your printed fabric to dry in a safe place for 24-48 hours. The ink is permanent when you wait a week before you toss it into the wash.
Fabric block printing is a quick, easy, affordable way to add a personal touch to your favorite spaces. Kids love to help, and block-printed pillows, napkins, and kitchen towels make sweet, one-of-a-kind gifts.
I regularly post updates on my fabric block-printing projects to my Instagram feed at @housesparrownesting, so be sure to check there if you are looking for design and project ideas.
If you are in the Tulsa or Oklahoma City area, I would love to have you in one of my fabric block-printing workshops! We build on what I have explained here, all supplies are included (including tons of paint colors, my personal stash of printing blocks, and fancy quilt-store fabric) and we cackle-laugh and generally have a hilarious time.
I also have fabric block-printing pieces for sale in my Etsy shop if this all sounds great and everything, but you like the idea of buying fabric block-printing on Etsy better than you like the idea of fabric block-printing yourself (hey, ain't no shame).
I would love to hear your ideas for household objects that would work beautifully as stamps and printing blocks (no, your spouse's face is not a household object that would work beautifully as a stamp or printing block). Leave 'em in the comments!