You probably know all about the carved-potato trick or, of course, your own thumb. Or maybe there’s a little girl in your life who presses her princess stamps all the way down your left arm. Such has been your understanding of making prints. But have you considered that odd button? A scrap of string? The berry basket in the recycling bin? These everyday objects -- and many, many more -- can be used to make graphic and 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.
What's it going to be? You can't always tell by looking at an object how it is going to print. Yes, some are pretty obvious, such as the dice. But others are complete surprises. Before printing on a sheet of fabric, play around a bit on paper: Practice patterns on paper, but if you plan to print on fabric, also test how the paint looks on a swatch.
These linen towels only look as though they were silk-screened; their designs were really made by manipulating the following household items.
1. Overlapping triangular toy blocks.
2. Triangular toy blocks.
3. The bottom of a mini tart tin, the rim of a drinking glass, and a button attached to a wooden block.
4. Rubber band wrapped around wooden block.
5. Bottoms of hexagonal and circular jars and buttons glued to wooden blocks.
6. Rope glued to a wooden plank.
7. Straw star.
8. Bottom of a plastic berry basket.
9. House numbers screwed to a scrap of wood.
10. Toy-animal block.
11. Potato masher.
12. Buttons glued to a scrap of wood.
13. Woven wooden-bead trivet.
14. Tart tin and button.
15. Bottle stopper.
Consider the shape of the thing and how you want it to repeat. This masher is a great tool to try.
The masher can be used end-to-end for a linear striped effect, alternated horizontally and vertically, or overlapped for a boxy graphic that is then repeated.
Cotton My Bag totes, from $1 each, muji.us.
Uno linen napkins, in Natural and Carbon, $6 each, cb2.com.
Decide whether you want to print close together or far apart. The same object -- like a bottle stopper -- can result in two very different looks.
The loose pattern follows a grid, and the tighter pattern, inset, places the starbursts in a staggered order.
Anchor canvas espadrilles (similar to shown), $20, urbanoutfitters.com.
Combine different objects for a more complex pattern, like buttons, the rim of a glass, and a mini tart tin.
Experiment with samples to see which order works best (we started with the glass and positioned the tin inside).
Layering semitransparent paint creates a whole new color in the overlapping area (almost like gingham). Use the dimensions of the block to determine the grid.
And don’t worry about inconsistencies -- they're part of the charm.
Recycled paper notebooks, from $1.50 each, muji.us.
Matte flat cards, $5.50 for 25; matte envelopes, $6.25 for 25; paperpresentation.com.
Kids' baby-rib cap-sleeve tee, in Baby Blue, $10.50, store.americanapparel.net.
Tips and Tricks
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.