3. Optional: make your own custom ink color
You can absolutely use screen printing ink straight out of the jar. But say you want something spicier.
Grab a popsicle stick and mix a little bit of a couple colors together into a small lidded container. I really love those Gladware snack containers. They hold enough for a block printing project, and they’re so airtight! How airtight are they? I’ve mixed up custom colors of ink and used it MONTHS later and it was perfectly fine.
But that’s it. Literally just stir the colors together. It doesn’t take a lot of ink, but mix more than you think you need, especially if you’re working on a big project. Next, grab your brayer and plexiglas and we’re going to roll out the ink.
4. Roll out your ink on plexiglas
You don’t have to use plexiglas here. An old picture frame is a nice alternative. The ink has to be rolled out onto some kind of flat smooth surface. Why? Rolled out ink will make sure that you get an even coating of ink on your stamp.
Use your popsicle stick and put a blob of ink on the plexiglas. Grab your brayer and roll the ink into a nice smooth layer.
The goal is to put a even layer of ink all across the surface of the brayer. Next comes the fun part: inking the block.
Let the ink dry for about a minute. It should feel and sound a little tacky as you roll it across the plexiglas.
5. Inking your block
Now that your block printing ink is on your brayer, it’s time to put it where it needs to be–on the block!
Grab your block printing stamp and roll the brayer across the surface of the design.
There’s a little bit of a learning curve here. You’ll be asking how much ink to add. All I can say is you’ll have to just try it. You’ll quickly see how much is too much and how much is too little with the ink.
It’s not a bad idea to do a couple test prints on paper just to develop a feel for the ink. Finally, grab your fabric and it’s time to print!
6. Block print on fabric
Set your fabric of choice on top of your work surface. I’m using muslin here. Other good choices: linen, napkins, tablecloths, finished garments, tote bags. You can also just print enough fabric for a particular fabric. I did that for some contrast on this raglan t-shirt and also this Patternreview Lillian Dress.
Press down your inked block onto your fabric of choice. Press the block straight down into the fabric thoroughly over the whole surface of the stamp.
You can use a baren which is a little tool with a handle attached to a flat surface that’ll help do just this. It’s a personal preference, and I prefer using my hands.
The padded surface will help the stamp not slide around and smear your design, so don’t worry about really putting some pressure into it. When you’re feeling like you put some muscle into it, carefully peel off your block.
If you’re using a pattern repeat jig, make sure to follow the block printing video. Otherwise, just eyeball or use a ruler to figure out where you want the next impression to go.
Re-ink the block again and print in the next spot. Press down on the block, re-ink, and lather, rinse, repeat until you get as much printed as you like.
Let all the printed fabric air dry for a couple hours. The last thing we need to do is heat set the fabric. But while you’re waiting for paint to dry, you need to clean your block.
7. Cleaning your block and tools
You don’t want the ink to dry on your block because it’ll ruin it for any future prints. Grab a very soft paintbrush or other soft cleaning brush. Clean the brush under running water, using the brush to get the ink out of the carved details. Use some mild soap if you need it.
Dry off the block with a paper towel and sit it out to air dry.
Darker colors tend to stain the surface, but as long as you get the ink off, you can go on printing with this block for as long as you like.
Clean off your brayer and plexiglas in the same way, and put the lid on any extra ink you have leftover. Let’s finish up with heat setting your fabric!
8. How to heat set your block printed fabric
I tend to be really thorough with heat setting. You’ve worked really hard to make your own fabric, so why would you let your hard work get washed away?
First step: dry your fabric on the hottest setting in your dryer for about 20 minutes. This is not totally necessary, but it’s an extra step that makes me feel secure. Skip it if you’re not worried!
Next, grab your iron. And on that point, if you have a secondary iron for what I call N.F.C. (nefarious crafting purposes) you might want to use that one. The ink is “probably” not going to deposit itself on the surface, but why risk your best Rowenta?
Whatever your iron, crank it to the highest heat available. Grab a piece of muslin or flannel and lay in over your block printed fabric. Move the iron back and forth over the surface of the muslin (with block printed fabric underneath) for 2 minutes/section. How big is a section? Think of it like polishing a table. Whatever your arm would naturally move across that table at one time is how much fabric you should cover in that two minutes.
That or how big your press cloth is, LOL.
I literally set a timer on my ironing board. When the 2 minutes is up, move to a new section. You’ll notice that the block printing ink will feel quite hot to the touch. That’s what you want.
Continue this process until you’ve covered all the fabric. For the best results, wait 2 weeks before you wash it. That extra time will give the ink time to cure which will make for a good long-lasting print.
Taking care of your handprinted fabrics.
Confession: I’m really lazy with laundry, so if my handprinted fabrics survive my general laundry abuse, yours absolutely will. I’ll tell you now, I’ve only had 1 print that didn’t do well (it was on a poly/cotton blend)
Don’t be like me: wash your handprinted fabrics gently on cold if you can. It’s okay to dry them however you want to.
If you do find that the ink comes off in the wash over time(this WILL happen if you use a slippy surface synthetic fabric or don’t heat set it well), simply go through the printing process on the trouble spots again and be sure to be thorough with heat-setting.
Go forth and block print!
That’s all there is to making your own block print fabric. Now that I’ve walked you through setting up your block print station, mixing ink, rolling it out, inking the block and printing, I hope you’ll give making DIY fabric a try!
Block printing your own fabric is fun fun fun and once you get into it, you’ll see it’s an easy way to add something extra to a project. Better yet, if you have kids, this is 100% a craft they can be a part of. My kids always want to print something when I pull out my supplies!
Elizabeth Farr is the writer behind the Elizabeth Made This blog where she shares helpful sewing tips, step by step sewing tutorials and videos to help you explore your creativity through sewing. She has written sewing Eguides and patterns, been a featured teacher at Rebecca Page’s Sewing Summit and Jennifer Maker’s Holiday Maker Fest and her work has appeared in Seamwork and Altered Couture magazines. She also created a line of refashioned garments for SEWN Denver. When her sewing machine isn’t humming, she’s playing and teaching violin, and hanging around a good strategic board game with her husband and 4 kids.
4 thoughts on “How to block print fabric: make your own fabric”
Wow! Very nice Elizabeth! This is wayyyy above my skill level! LOL! I’m still attempting to get comfortable with using dye! Beautiful work and how we get to see what you create with that beautiful fabric!
Thanks Myra. Dye is definitely a deep subject, but I think you don’t give yourself enough credit! And I know with carving tools and block in hand, I could get you to surprise yourself. But another day, LOL!
So fun! Thank you for explaining the process. You’ve given me courage to go for it!
Awesome! I hope you enjoy the process! Block printing is such a fun way to tackle making custom fabric..