All About Block-Printed Textiles:
Inspiration & DIY Tips

I'm in awe of block-printed textiles and fortunately, they're popping up everywhere — from the expensive masters, like John Robshaw, to the more affordable options, such as the offerings from the West Elm catalog. A few years back, I bought a plain linen duvet cover with the idea to transform it using hand block-printing techniques. Like any good student, I knew I needed a bit of inspiration, along with a few tips and tricks.

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INSPIRATION:
It never hurts to take a look at what others are doing with a technique as well as what products are on the market. You might notice certain characteristics that are attributed to only one artist or company, or start picking up on things that resonate with all of them. The goal is not to solely copy, but to give you ideas on patterns, color schemes, or even the goods to employ the techniques on. And it doesn't just have to be textile artists. Wallpaper, tiles, even something as simple as a doormat could give you the inspiration for a design that you like.
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Inspiring Textile Designers:
John Robshaw
Saffron Marigold
Les Indiennes
Raoul Textiles
Jesse Breytenbach of Henri Kuikens

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DIY, TIPS & TRICKS:
I've seen many different DIY's on textile printing with this method. Do a simple search on the blogosphere and you'll see what I mean. Read through a few of the block-printing instructions to get a feel for the process and how some instructions differ, along with what some might have left out. Then pick which one best suits you. Here are a few worth checking out, as well as a short but informative video by House & Home:

DIY Project: "Block" Printed Duvet: An inexpensive way to print using a piece of cardboard as your block.
How to Block Print Fabric by Prudent Baby: A chevron printed cushion using a linoleum block.
Hot To Make a Block Print Rug Using a Welcome Mat: Use a rubber doormat as a giant stamp.
How To Make Your Own Block Printed Napkins: A simple design using a linoleum block — you can easily use the same technique to carve a more intricate block.
DIY Block Printed Linens: Mix together store-bought rubber or wood stamps to create your block-printed textiles.
DIY Block-Print Fabric, video by House & Home: If you're more of a visual learner, check out this excellent video from the 2010 Interior Design Show.

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My tips for you:

1) It's always best to test your ideas and process out on scrap material, or something small like a napkin or hand towel. Even if you mess up, they can always be used around the house.

2) This type of printing technique is based on old, traditional methods. Perfection is not the goal! Each time you hand-stamp the fabric, it will be slightly different, and that's the point! Sometimes the "stamp" or "block" might have more ink on it than others, sometimes it might not be perfectly lined up, or sometimes it might ooze ink from the corners. All of this will just lend it more of an authentic feel. John Robshaw said it best when he speaks about hiring workers: "When I need to hire someone to help, I pick the old printers. Their hands are shaky and their eyesight is poor, so the pattern comes out slightly off. I want to feel that human touch".

3) A simple tip, but super important. When working with a fabric that is double-sided, such as a duvet or pillowcase, make sure you insert a piece of cardboard or heavy-duty paper to protect the other side from the dye seeping through.

4) Always follow the manufacturer's directions that come with your fabric paints to "set your paint" when you're all finished. This will protect your printed design so you can wash your fabric.

5) Get creative and think outside the box! Maybe you like a certain pattern in a design but not the finished product. Think about other ways you can use that pattern. Perhaps by printing with two different stencils that form one unique pattern or maybe making it more subtle and only printing a scrolling border. If you don't like the colors or feel of the fabric paints on the market, consider getting really crafty by whipping up a plant or vegetable-based dye.

(Images: 1, Les Indiennes; 2, John Robshaw; 3, Jesse Breytenbach; 4, Prudent Baby; 5, Design Sponge.)

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