A beginner’s guide to block printing… at home or in the studio

Logwood dye printed on silk with a traditional Rajasthani booti motif wooden block

I said at the end of my post about the process of Ajrakh block printing that I would write a post on a more accessible process of block printing that you can follow in your own home, on a smaller scale and  when you don’t need endless hours of sun or litres of water.

I’m sorry it has taken so long, but here is my guide to simple fabric block printing using wooden blocks and silk or cotton, using both natural dyes and chemical fabric paints.

Materials needed:

  • A few bowls or trays
  • Sponges (washing up sponges or ones used for car washing will do)
  • Table for printing
  • Carpet underlay or foam
  • Felt
  • Fabric – for natural dyes, use natural fabrics such as cotton, silk. For synthetic dyes you can use any fabrics. Wool is not an ideal fabric for printing on as it does not produce a crisp outline
  • Textile paints or natural dyes mixed with thickener
1. You will need a table to to pin your fabric to for printing. I used a simple wooden table which I then stapled a piece of carpet underlay, a piece of baize felt (any felt will probably do), and a piece of calico cotton over the top.  Make sure each layer is tightly stretched over the table. This construction allows for an even, firm printing surface that you can tightly pin your fabric to.
2. Pin your piece of fabric onto the covered table making sure the fabric is ironed and pinned flat.
3. Squeeze out a blob of fabric paint or dye into a tray and dab the sponge into it ensuring the dye covers the sponge. You could also paint the dye over the sponge with a brush to ensure it is completely covered and soaks into the sponge.

Sponge covered with dye in bowl

4. Press the block firmly into the sponge as many times as needed to ensure the colour covers the block completely.
5. Press the block firmly onto the fabric with even pressure. Hold for a few seconds and carefully remove.

Madder dye printed on alum-mordanted silk with a traditional Indian peacock motif block

6. Continue to print in a variety of colours, compositions and repeats letting your creativity run away with you.
7. Fixing the print will depend on the manufacturer. A common method is to iron on the reverse. For natural dyes, iron on the reverse, and then rinse in alternating temperatures of water with detergent.
8. Clean the blocks by rinsing them in warm water and scrubbing with a bristle brush or toothbrush.
Here are few of my variations:

Fabric paint printed onto logwood – dyed and alum – mordanted silk

Fabric paint printed onto madder – dyed and alum – mordanted fabric

Fabric paint printed onto a onion skin – dyed and tin – mordanted cotton

See my blog post on a natural dye workshop to learn more about natural dyes.

My next How-To Guide will be on mixing natural dyes and then using them to resist-dye and block-print onto fabrics.