Creating a Block Print Lily + 5 Tips & Tricks

Printing your own fabric is incredibly easy with wooden blocks. Here are a few lessons learned.
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I’ve been hankering to try block printing fabric for years. If I’d known how simple it would be (at least at it’s most basic), I wouldn’t have waited this long.

I was inspired by two things: First, Melissa Dettloff’s article in the June issue of Seamwork about a super simplified form of block printing that uses pencil erasers to create polka dot fabric.

Second was the beautiful Amber dress from Objects Without Meaning. The linen fabric, the neutral palette, the simple organic print, the bombshell summery silhouette – everything about that dress appeals to me.

So using Melissa’s instructions, some lovely wood stamps I bought from TATAindianwoodstamps on etsy, the Lily dress pattern (enter LILYMONTH at checkout for 15% off though 7/31/15), and a dark blue linen, here’s what I came up with.

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The Process

If you read Melissa’s article, you’ll have just about all the information you need to try this out yourself. The only major difference is the stamps.

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I bought a few stamps to experiment with. Two were small motifs, and the other two were borders, which I used along the neckline band and pocket flaps.

Here are a few more stamps from the same Etsy shop that I love:

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starburst block, tiger block, intricate flower block, three flower stems block

As the Seamwork article suggests, I found an opaque white water-based ink. I think white on a dark ground is a bit tricky (so of course that’s what I started with). The motifs aren’t totally opaque, but I dig the hand-blocked and imperfect look of it.

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To print, I used a foam roller brush to apply an even coat of ink onto the stamp. I dumped some ink onto a plastic surface and rolled the brush to apply the ink.

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Then I tried out a few test prints on scraps of linen.

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5 Lessons Learned

I picked up a few lessons from this project that I’ll pass along if you want to try it.

  1. Use a plain, tight-woven fabric. The linen I chose has a tight twill weave, like a light denim almost. In the future, I’d look for a plain weave. The diagonal ribs of the twill are visible through the print, and I think a totally smooth, plain woven linen might have looked a little better. The weave is fine, so it’s not a big deal, but it could be on another fabric.
  2. Create a lot of test prints. Test printing was vital because the first few passes of ink are never quite as saturated as later ones. Also, doing a bunch of tests helped me get in the groove of inking, stamping, re-inking. It also showed me how much ink was too much, and what was too little.
  3. Keep extra fabric. If you screw up, you’ll be happy to have a little extra around to recut.
  4. Plan your seams. I didn’t want all the princess seams breaking up the print, so I chose to sew the bodice front, skirt front, bodice back, and skirt back panels together before printing. It’s a little riskier to sew before you print, but I liked the continuity of the design this way.
  5. Wear an apron! This project is MESSY. Thankfully, the water-based ink is super easy to clean up, but I was wearing black (like a genius) and would have felt a lot better with some protection.

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Have you ever tried block printing? I’d love to hear what you’d make!

Sarai Mitnick   —   Founder

Sarai started Colette back in 2009. She believes the primary role of a business should be to help people. She loves good books, sewing with wool, her charming cats, working in her garden, and eating salsa.

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Comments 29

Kay

This is inspirational,. I had read the article in Seamwork but still felt hesitant, now I am going to go for it. I think I will do the printing outside in my picnic table so I can hose down any mess! Please clarify: did you print the fabric before cutting it or print the cut pieces. (Although the feathers look great on your boobs a different design could become embarrassing.)

Sarai colettehq.com

Haha, true! I cut the fabric, and sewed together the front bodice, back bodice, front skirt, and back skirt before printing. Lily has a lot of seams, so I didn’t want the print to be too chopped up. However, I also made sure I had enough leftover fabric for a redo if necessary.

Melissa etsy.com

This is lovely! You are so right, the lighter ink on dark fabric can be so tricky, but these look wonderful!

Sarai colettehq.com

Yeah, there are definitely imperfect bits, but I don’t mind. I’m interested to try it with lighter colors next time!

Tasia sewaholic.net

Beautiful! The print along the borders and trims makes it really special, that’s how you can tell it was done by hand and not from pre-printed fabric.

Sarai colettehq.com

Thanks Tasia! I was a little worried about printing a border because the neckline piece is slightly curved whereas the block is straight, but it worked out fine. :)

crab&bee crabandbee.com

I especially love the trims! Gorgeous project. White ink on dark is no mean feat but this looks incredible.

Rebecca sewpomona.com

So beautiful. The trims on the neckline and pockets are fantastic! I haven’t actually done any printing on fabric-which is crazy since I majored in Printmaking. I’m going to have to carve myself some blocks after seeing this. Thanks for the inspiration!

Hélène

This is simply perfect. The border prints really enhanced the whole dress. Totally creative. How about laundry? Did it resist well?

Sarai colettehq.com

I haven’t washed it yet! It’s supposed to cure for a week before washing, so I’m waiting a while longer and we’ll see. Maybe I’ll update when I do.

French Toast Tasha tashamillergriffith.com

As long as you heat set it, it should go through the wash just fine! I’ve done stamping with screen printing ink on fabric before, and it’s held up through years of wear and washing. I posted my experiences with heat setting the ink here, if anyone’s interested: http://wp.me/p26mbH-aq

Sarai colettehq.com

Good to know, and the oven method you mentioned in your post is intriguing! I just ironed mine, hopefully that will work. It took a while.

French Toast Tasha tashamillergriffith.com

Ironing should work, and it’s probably the most foolproof method. It definitely takes a while, which is why I went looking for other options!

Noelle blogs.celebratesonoma.com

Love this! Great combo of print and color – even if it was a little tricky. It looks very artisan and I love that you could customize the printing to the dress pattern so the scale is just right.

justine sewcountrychick.com

Your dress is lovely. I’ve been collecting wooden Indian print blocks for a few years and love doing this. I have an article and tutorial coming out in Sew News this fall. There are some great You Tube videos showing some of the amazing work done in the Indian workshops of textile printers.

marilyn

I love the dress and the printing!
Great job!

Helen!

Wow! That’s a great dress and technique. I would imagine that a woven fabric works best. Love the borders as well. It will be interesting to see how it washes out. The cool thing is the rustic look will only become more enhanced.

Caz

Love this, it looks beautiful. Don’t really get time to try the screen printing myself but I do love lily!

claudia

Hi Sari, Oh, I love the idea of putting your own print on fabric. Not only do we get a chance to make our own clothes, but actually create our own print design too!! Thank you so much

Elizabeth elizabethmadethis.com

Beautiful work. The edges of the pockets really make it special! I totally agree about the tightness of the weave leading to blockprinting success. I recently blockprinted a dress with a jack print using a stamp that I carved. http://elizabethmadethis.com/blockprinted-catalina-dress/

Since it was a knit dress, the print was a little softer. I kept the design simple because I knew I wouldn’t be able to get as much clarity from the stamp as if I were using something practical like your linen. Still, I’m really happy with how it turned out, and I want to incorporate more blockprinting. The article in Seamwork was really inspirational, and thank you for the great tips in this post too! I will be referring to both for my next blockprinting project.

Annette

Love your dress and the creativity that went into it! Beautiful work! TFS, Annette

Melissa melissadettloff.com

Happy that the article inspired something so beautiful! :)

Nancy K

This is lovely. I bought wood print blocks in India years ago. Maybe this will finally inspire me to use them! The border print is a wonderful accent .and perfect for this dress.

Trisha

That looks wonderful!
Those wooden stamps are works of art all on their own, aren’t they?
I took block printing in college and we always made sure to work the ink until it was thin and consistent in the tray so it didn’t glop when we printed. I think a tighter, smooth weave would definitely make it easier to transfer a crisp, clear design. It was the same with paper. I love the white ink.

Renay thelongandwindingbobbin.blogspot.com

Oh thanks for sharing, it looks lovely, I like how you used two different stamps. Would love to try this… there are a million stamps in that etsy shop that are tempting! thanks for the inspiration :-)

Charlotte englishgirlathome.com

What beautiful results. I used to do lots of lino printing, but haven’t done much printing on fabric / garments. I’ve got plans for some printing on silk soon..

Kathleen

Oh, this is lovely! It reminded me why I love my Lily. I had to grab it to make sure I iron it today – and wear it tonight!

Rochelle New luckylucille.com

I got into block printing earlier this year and I’m totally in love! I’ve been carving my own blocks, but buying some pre-made ones is a really excellent idea. I hadn’t thought of that. Now I’m off to scour Etsy for cool blocks! Thanks for the inspiration. Gorgeous dress :)

MPaula

The print above the pockets is fabulous. I would try this technique just for that reason.

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