Lino Block Printing on Fabric
I dabbled in linoblock printing through out the years, but recently I really wanted to learn to print my own textiles so I could make my own shirts, bags, napkins, whatever!
If you have any experience printing on paper, its basically the same but fabric can be a little tempermental. Depending on if it's 100% cotton, a poly cotton blend, thick duck cotton or straight poly/manmade materials, I've found different pre-saturating the fabric with water can make or break a print But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's start with the basics.
So what you'll need is as follows:
*Ink plate/bench hook-a metal hooked plate you use to spread and mix your ink on.
*Fabric ink-I use Speedball Lino block Fabric Ink which is oil based, but cleans up with soap and water. Comes in a variety of basic colors. I’ve seen some people have success with Speedball silk screening ink, but I will update when I try it.
*Soft rubber brayer (roller)-for mixing ink and applying to your block
*A Baren-a circular printing tool for hand pressing your image onto your fabric
* A prepared lino block
Inking your block
Open your ink and spread a thin line going across the top half of your bench plate (make sure the bench plate is securely hooked on the edge of your table to keep it from moving around.) Use less then you think you’ll need-its always better to under ink, than to over ink because you can always add more ink. Take your roller and start working the ink-start at the top of the plate and roll it down repeatedly, checking to see if the whole roller is getting covered. The ink should become tacky on the plate, and that means you're ready to ink your block. I find it best to roll in one direction to ensure complete coverage on the block. Start at the bottom and roll your way to the top. Lift and tilt your block in the light and make sure you have even and total coverage. The ink will make the surface shiny so if you see any dull spots, re-roll that area. Since this is the first print on the block, I find it best to do a quick test print first. Its like a cast iron pan, the first print "seasons" the block and makes subsequent prints much more clear. Place the block on some scrap paper, flip it over and just quickly press you baren over the surface of the paper. Re-ink the block. You may have to add a little more ink to the plate, but don't load the block with ink. If you apply the ink too thickly, it will ruin any detail work on your carved block. I also spray the ink on the benchplate with one misting from a water bottle, and roll it into the ink. You don't want it too wet, otherwise it won't become too soupy and wont print rigth. Ideally the ink will have a tacky consistency, like thinly spread peanut butter.
For this example I used a poly cotton blend white scarf with my Momento Mori Block in black ink. Speedball doesn't recommend printing on 100% man-made materials, but I've had good results on the mix blends. For full 100% cotton I find lightly dampening the fabric and running your hands over the fabric to get a complete saturation picks up the ink more clearly. I eyeball my patterns because I like the handmade quality a less organized pattern presents. You can also use a t-square ruler and pencil to plan out your design to start if you're new to pattern printing. Place the block face side down on your fabric. I place a piece of newsprint paper right up against the block to prepare for flipping the block over. The paper protects your fabric from any stray ink marks from the other prints in the pattern. Nothing sucks more than to spend an hour or more of your day printing something just to ruin it in the last few steps. After placing the block take your baren and push down on the block. I start in the lower right corner and go up, working my way across the surface of the block to make sure I have hit every section. I use primarily linoblocks mounted on particle board, so the back had a smooth surface and is easy to print. I’ve recently tried using the Speedball easy cut blocks, which are not mounted. While the back of these are smooth, the material sticks to the baren and will shift the print. In this cases, I place a scrap bit of paper on the back to keep it in place while printing.
Flipping it over
This is where things can go south easily, if there's any shift between the fabric and the block it will smudge the print and there's not much you can do about it. If you're working on a big piece of fabric, gather up the excess towards the edge of the block. Lift the edge closest to you slowly. I like to slide my hand under the block to keep the fabric tight against the surface. The ink will also stick to the fabric, making the flip a little easier. Lay the block down so its facing up and straighten out the fabric. Take your baren and really put some pressure on it by leaning your weight on your printing arm. Start in one corner and work your away across the block in section to make sure you cover the entire surface. If the fabric is thin enough you'll be able to see an impression of print coming through.
Pulling the Print
Gather up the the fabric and flip the block back over. Slowly pull the fabric back and it will just peel right off the block. The ink will be tacky for about 24-48 hours depending on the drying conditions. It should be dry to the touch. I let it dry for about 3 days then wash whatever I've printed on in the washing machine on a gentle cycle. This will get rid of any lingering oil smell from the ink.
*Wash and iron out your fabric before you print just in case there's any shrinkage. The smoother your surface is the cleaner your print will be.
*For 100% cotton, the block will print more clearly and easily if you lightly dampen the fabric first. I use a sponge to evenly saturate, sometimes misting can leave a droplet pattern in the ink.
* Test print every time you switch colors or start a new block. You need to build up ink layers to get a really nice print.
* Extender ink does stretch out your ink and increase fluidity but will decrease opacity so that’s something to keep in mind when working with it. I don't really use it much anymore. Instead I just spritz my ink plate once and roll it into the ink really really well. If it seems too wet, let it dry up a bit till it's tacky again.