Block Printing/Design

More Adventures in Block Printing

February 23, 2015

Since my first attempt at block printing I’ve been itching to try printing on fabrics, so over the weekend I was busy doing just that. I wanted to make something special for my Organic Cotton Plus fabric review due this month (since fabric reviews can easily get a little stale) and decided a bit of Rit dye, and a hand printed border treatment was just the thing to jazz up my fabric. This project started off with several near disasters but I think, in the end, it will all come together to be something I’m pretty proud of. …I hope!


The process of dyeing the fabric was actually kind of funny. Long story short, I used too little dye the first time and got the wrong color, then I over compensated and used too much dye the second time and thought I’d get the wrong color, but after two rinse cycles in the wash it ended up being the exact burnt orange I was hoping for! I do actually have a good understanding of color theory, after my brief stint in art school left me with several text books on the subject, but color isn’t an exact science. There are so many variables to consider (and don’t even get me started on color theory for skin tones lol! I’m kind of embarrassed of that post…) which is why the science of color really fascinates me. Part of the reason why I love blogging is so I can admit to myself when when I “know” how something works in theory, but still got it wrong in practice. It’s a good type of thing to reflect on. Eventually I want to learn how to use natural dyes and do more fabric dying, but that’s a subject for another day.

…but I digress! I want to talk mainly about block printing this time.


So after my “tangerine then oxblood then washed out to burnt orange” fabric was dyed, I decided to move on to choosing a design for my border print. I had started sketching out some brand new ideas, but instead decided to flip back through my sketchbook and see if I had any old forgotten doodles that might work for block printing. I found a page from May 12th of last year, full of simple floral shapes, and one tiny doodle instantly caught my eye.


It’s funny how some designs look underwhelming as a drawing, but when you start carving that design out by hand and then printing it on to fabric, it becomes something special. That’s a huge part of why I’m falling more and more in love with block printing! I like when very simple, understated things can make a big impact.


There are ways to transfer an image from your computer, to a printed copy, to your block, but lately I’ve felt the need to step back from any digital design work and do as much as I can by hand. All I really needed was a ruler and some free-hand paper stencils to trace my design. Once I had everything laid out, carving the block took no time at all because the design was so simple and I could cut off the big chunks I didn’t need.


I mixed my own custom color using Speedball’s oil based block printing inks for fabric. I bought their mini combo kit, plus several other colors to work with. I ended up mixing white, green, and turquoise to get the color I wanted: Lucky Lu-Teal, haha! (Braid gets credit for coining that color.) I really love these inks because they’re oil based but still clean up easily with just soap and water, which is fantastic! I really didn’t want to use mineral spirits or other solvents for cleanup, especially with cats who enjoy getting into the bathtub where I usually rinse everything.


I used my Clover chalk tool and a ruler to measure and mark the repeat on my fabric so I’d have some kind of guide when printing the design. It will take several days for the block printing ink to cure, but once I’m able to wash the dress the chalk will come right out. (I’m specifically linking to those clover chalk tools because I love mine so much. I got one as a gift from Sew Mama Sew and will never use another chalk tool again! Perfectly straight, sharp lines every time!)


I made a few adjustments to the dress pattern I just made and I’m eager to sew it a second time. The block printed design will end up being a border print along the bottom hem of the dress, and as I hung up my skirt pieces to dry I remembered I had THE PERFECT vintage buttons to match. I can’t wait to see what it looks like all put together! I’m hoping to finish it by the end of the week but we’ll see how quickly the ink dries. The only down side of oil based inks is they take waaaaayyy longer to set than water based inks do.


Well if I was in love with block printing before, I’m only doubly in love with block printing now!! Next I want to try printing several smaller pieces of fabric with different designs and make a quilt. I think that would be so much fun!

The color combo of this WIP dress might be a little 70s but I just couldn’t get the teal/orange theme out of my head. Maybe I saw it somewhere recently and it stuck in my subconscious, or maybe I’m going stir crazy under all this New York snow and below freezing temps. I needed a project that screams SPRING!

Either way, I think it’s going to turn out pretty awesome. What do you think?