Monday, November 8, 2010

The Age of Experiment: Block Printing!

"Love of Beauty is Taste. The creation of beauty is Art."

Ralph Waldo Emerson

(and on that note, no art was made in this blog post! At least not yet!)

That's right, we did block printing on fabric this week in class. Sigh.

If you've been following this blog at all you know I can block print on fabric asleep and standing one one leg. I'm sure in the past year I have block printed at least 250 scarves. At least! So I wasn't very excited about this class, -and less excited when our instructor said she'd give us roughly cut blocks to work with. This meant even though I could come up with designs, I wouldn't be sure if they would fit on the block till I saw the block. So I did something I never do: I winged it.

It felt weird to come to class unprepared, without a design, especially for block printing. What if whatever I pulled off really sucked? This was supposed to be the one thing I would be good at.

Beets in the little pots, turmeric in the yellow pot, and red onion skins in the big pot.

Okay that is not entirely true. I was a little prepared. Remember the week before when we did tie-dye? Well, we were supposed to block print on our dyeing projects, for which I internally protested with a giant "Hell to the NO!" Block printing on tye dye? Images of marijuana leaves and peace signs, beer can pyramids and Canadian flag curtains came to mind.

So I did what any keener would do. I went to the fabric store, bought some 100% unbleached cotton, went to Maiwa handprints and bought some Potassium Aluminum Sulphate (which makes the dye stick to the fibre), went to Value Village and bought a big stock pot (went cheap and got the aluminum one when I probably should have sprung for the non-reactive stainless steel), went to the grocery store bought more red onion skins (They laughed at me trying to pay for onion skins and gave them to me for free. Why? Because the lady said I looked like a good girl. I said "only sometimes", And she said,"Even better!" (Oh who am I kidding?! I'm sadly, excruciatingly good all the time. Boo!)) Next think you know, I had three separate pots of beets, turmeric and red onion skins on the go.

(Truth be told, I wasn't so happy with the turn out of the colours. Wool is a protein fibre and so the structure or the fibre lends itself to being dyed. Cotton is a plant fibre and so it doesn't take the dye too well. The beets, for instance, barely affected the cotton at all- I ended up with a slightly pinkish colour. These have all been re-dyed now but I'll save that for a later blog)
My spontaneous design. I didn't like the flower in the middle in the end, so I changed it to something that looked more like a bulls eye/evil eye.

Anyway, back to block printing and class. I got my little bits of speedy cut, and pulled out my razor sharp exacto (I was afraid the class ones would be too dull, that's how much of a freak I can be about block printing!) and got to work. My idea was to try three concentric designs that I could fit together or not. Since I've never done this in block printing, I thought I would try to play with the idea of stamping a design to see what I could do with it.

I cut my design apart and made three separate stamps. The yellow stuff is really old speedy cut.
It's usually not this yellow.

Carving. Two things- I have paid my dues in block printing and have cut myself several times. Sometimes badly, requiring stitches, but years ago and I rarely cut myself now. As I busily worked on my design a few of my classmates (Mostly the boys, I must say!) hurriedly rushed past my chair holding a bleeding finger, asking if there were any bandaids around. To you guys I say, Welcome to block printing and completing your first right of passage! My instructor told them marks would be taken off for any blood spilled. Have I ever mentioned how much I love my instructor? She rocks.

The stamps after they've been cut and printed once with blue ink. See? No more flower.

But I admit, for me, watching them was brutally painful. My sister can attest to this, because she is a pretty good at carving blocks, but she is much slower than I am. It's painful for me to watch her, and I have offered to carve blocks for her in the past. So you can imagine my pain watching these guys try to carve blocks dull wood working tools, the rubber getting ripped out instead of cut. I wanted to offer to whip their blocks into shape but I am worried I am already getting the reputation of a 'know-it-some' in class so I tried to keep to myself. But at one point I couldn't handle it anymore and begged them to switch to sharper exactos. Which they did, and it seemed to help. Whew!
Woo Woo! Block-printing on tie-dye for shits and giggles. I told my instructor this one looked like the Eye of Sauron. She agreed. I also couldn't get past the fact that these kind of looked like boobies and nipples to me! Not a successful design experiment in my opinion! (You can't see anything else, now, can you?!!?)

So here is what I came up with. But my teacher seemed concerned I was going to ruin my carefully dyed little squares of cotton with my design right away. So I practiced on one piece of tie-dye I admit, I had tried to abandon as not mine, it was that ugly (picture above). This is hard for me; I like pretty things. So to make ugly things in the name of experiment is a little bit of a leap for me. But as you will see tonight, I made lots of ugly things, so now I can get back to pretty.
My instructor and I both agreed the block printing on the turmeric looked much more African tribal. She suggested the gold leaf and in the sprit of experiment I tried it. Wasn't a look I was crazy about though.

The beginning of my next project- which, is way more involved that I ever imagined and has already gone though massive changes. More on this one another time!

The new stamp- a little more henna and a lot less boobie!

Anyway, this week we are on to photo transfers- something I've never done, So I've got to get back to scouring my computer for images that might look good on a tile or a piece of fabric.

Till next time!


  1. If your class mats didn't hate you before, they will when they see your mad carving skills. You were Michaelangelo in a past life.

  2. Lol, Give it a try, Lily! It's not that hard! ; )