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Block Printing How-To, Tips, and Tricks

Martha Stewart Living, July 2012

Everyday objects like buttons and string can be used to make graphic, beautiful block-printed fabrics and papers. The process is easy enough for a summer afternoon, and it requires very few supplies beyond the stuff you already have on hand.

Want to give block printing a try? Get creative ideas for tools and embellishing clothing in our block printing gallery.

Block Printing Tips and Tricks

Keep Your Eyes Peeled

Once you start looking around for objects that lend themselves to block-printing, you'll find that your home is practically Gutenberg's workshop: You will see potential everywhere -- a pair of dice, rubber bands, striped bocce balls. (Be sure to do a test run, and be aware that paint might permanently stain the object.)

Make a Printing Block

Some things, such as plastic berry baskets and woven trivets, are ready-made for printing. For others, such as buttons or lengths of twine, you'll need a hot-glue gun to secure a scrap of wood to the object, creating a base panel.

Prep and Paint

If you're printing on paper, use craft paint; if you're printing on a textile, fabric paint is best. If you want a sheerer finish without watering down the pigment, mix one part paint with three parts lightener medium (also known as colorless extender) in a jar. When you're ready to print, spread paint on a palette or a piece of cardboard; dab paint all over the object with a foam pouncer.

Press on Color

When printing on a textile, lay the cloth over an old towel or a piece of batting (depending on the object -- you may need to experiment). In addition to helping the paint press into the fabric, this cushioning keeps the block from slipping. Some paints dry in as little as five minutes; if you're creating an overlapping pattern, allow for drying time between applications. When you're finished, set paint according to package instructions to make the design permanent and machine washable.

Paint Primer

If you want to print on textiles, experiment with a variety of fabric paints. Some brands are more transparent; some are heavier -- so each gives a different effect. Mix in colorless extender to make the paint semitransparent -- if you overlap colors, you can create a new shade.

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