TEXTILE DIY | Block Printing

November 15, 2016

TEXTILE DIY | Block Printing

I wrote a new textile DIY over at The Province! This one’s on block printing, which is one of my favourite processes because it’s just so easy to create amazing results using one of my favourite design elements - repetition. It’s still amazing to me that a mark that you wouldn’t look twice at can become an incredible pattern when repeated. And when you add in all the different ways that a repeat can be made by turning your element - the possibilities are ENDLESS PEOPLE! YOU SHOULD TRY THIS AT HOME!! Seriously. I’m going to have a pile of samples out in the studio to show people at The Eastside Culture Crawl. If you want to come and geek out about textiles it’s the place to be - bookmark the dates Nov 17-20. Be seeing you there I hope!

TEXTILE DIY: Block printing at home

Block printed linen pillows by ANTIPOD WorkshopIt’s really exciting to see a strong interest these days in making and in textiles in particular. At ANTIPOD one of my goals has always been to show people how easy and fun it can be to make your own work at home from original art pieces to home décor. One of the techniques I really like to use is block printing both on paper and textiles. It’s super easy and you can get started at home without any fancy tools (although if you’re addicted to new gear you can also get set up very inexpensively at your local Opus.  I’ll soon be offering block-printing workshops at my East Van studio so come visit during the Culture Crawl or sign up to the newsletter to find out when they’re scheduled.

Block printing is a method of relief printing; essentially printing from a raised surface. It’s one of the oldest types of printmaking and has been around for thousands of years. There are many different techniques, but the process essentially uses a carved material (such as wood traditionally or linoleum) covered in ink to transfer an image onto paper or fabric.  

Prints can be made very simply from many different types of materials such as Styrofoam, rubber blocks (or even from every-day found objects such as leaves, string and potatoes). Images that are printed with this technique are often much bolder/more graphic than other types of printmaking. Since the blocks are carved by hand, there is often less detail and more texture to the prints.

Personally I like the “wabi sabi” nature of this type of printing and the variations in texture. There are certainly faster methods of printing and ones that offer the possibility of finer detail, but to me block printing is an opportunity to experiment with making beautiful and often quite complex looking prints using really simple materials at home. If you start with an experimental frame of mind and just play, I guarantee you’ll surprise yourself with some amazing results!

To start, you’ll need some fabric or paper, ink (choose an appropriate ink for your print surface) and a roller. A small paint roller from home depot works just fine or you can spring for a rubber brayer at your local art store. Make a lightly padded surface by laying a towel over your table and cover with a piece of canvas (a drop cloth works well).



(1) Use a wooden block + adhesive-backed foam

This is my favorite way to create blocks in no time. Just get some wooden blocks – I buy timber at Home Depot and have it cut into lengths (think about the proportions of the length and width – ideally the length is 2x the width or the blocks are square or somehow proportionate so that they’ll interlock well). Now cut out your shapes from the foam with sharp scissors and adhere to the block. If you use foam that has an adhesive backing this is really a no fuss method – just peel the paper backing off and stick onto the block. The foam has a nice smooth surface that holds the ink well and the block will last a decent length of time if you clean it up as soon as you’re finished printing. Otherwise just pull the foam off and make another!

(2) Carve a block

Carving a block for printing I suggest using EZ Kut rubber blocks to begin with – they’re soft and forgiving. Lino is great for longer lasting print blocks, but it is VERY hard and requires some commitment to carve! First draw your design on paper/tracing paper with a soft lead pencil, then flip it over and rub the back of the paper with the back of a spoon to transfer the design. This ensures that the design is backwards – particularly important if you’re using text (text always needs to be reversed!). Then go ahead and go over the transferred design in sharpie to ensure that the pencil doesn’t get rubbed off. Now cut away the areas you don’t want to print (the negative space) with your carving tool.



Block Printing | Antipod WorkshopMake sure that you have the right ink for whatever you’re printing on – either paper or textiles. For a clear image with nice clean edges, roll your brayer in the ink making sure that the roller is evenly covered with a thin layer of ink – you don’t want any blobs or it will mess up your print. Roll the ink onto the block making sure that you get 100% nice even coverage. Then pick up the block and place it onto the fabric. Give it a firm press with your hand flat applying pressure on all areas of the block. Gently pull the block up off the fabric, with one hand holding the fabric in place on the print pad. Repeat!

If you’re working with textiles you’ll need to heat set your ink – just follow the instructions that come with the product (leave to dry – I like to wait at least 24 hours and then I usually use hot iron for at least 30 secs over the whole of the print).

Linen pillow printed by workshop participant Carla TrevisiSo now you’re ready to start making cards, pillows, artwork and more. This gorgeous linen pillow was printed by Carla Trevisi after she did a block printing workshop with me at The Uncommon Café  called EAT, PRINT, DRINK!  And of course don’t forget to come visit my studio during the East Van Culture Crawl. [http://culturecrawl.ca/artists/antipod-workshop] Look forward to seeing you there!

If you’d like to know about upcoming textile workshops in Antipod’s Vancouver studio please sign up to the newsletter.


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