Sunday, November 22, 2015

Printing on Fabric with Clear Stamps and Acrylic Blocks

Hello everybody - the new Yardwork Clear Decor Stamps are on the way! Seriously, they are all packaged up and on route to Yardwork headquarters! I'm busy getting the photography all together, using the stamp samples that I had, so that they can be listed in my shop as quickly as possible. But I just want to take a little break because I think it is a good time for me to  provide a few more printing tips to those who are new to printing on fabric with clear stamps.

I'm selling these gift-friendly fabric printing starter sets and you might be wondering if this is something you, your friend, or family member might be interested in. What is all this stuff?? Well, I'll try to give you a little preview of what's in the box!

Most important, of course, are the stamps (you can choose which and how many stamp sets you would like) and the blocks. Basically, you can't successfully print with a clear stamp if you don't have an acrylic block to mount your stamp on. And while you CAN just randomly scatter a stamp motif across a swatch of fabric, you might also enjoy creating evenly spaced, repeating patterns. For that purpose, you will really appreciate the grid lines on the 3 acrylic blocks included in each starter set. Notice in the photo above how I have placed my stamp motif, face down, on the gridded line of my cutting board. If you don't have a cutting board (I strongly suggest you get one!), you can also create your own on your computer or with a ruler, pencil (or pen),  and paper.

Next, you will want to carefully lower your block so that it's gridded lines match up with the lines under your stamp. I like to put the block's lines facing the stamp rather than at me, but experiment and find your own preference. The lines stay visible even if your whole stamp and block get covered with paint, so you can see where you are going!

Now, there are a few ways to begin mapping out a repeating pattern. The very easiest requires no fabric measuring, marking or lots of math (making us all very happy!).  This works if you don't have a specific size of fabric swatch or project you need to cover. Simply start on one corner of your fabric, lining the stamp motif up with the bottom and side edge, and then place the repeating motif right next to, and then above, the first one. Keep on doing that until everything is covered.

Using this technique, you can really just rely on the stamp itself as a placement guide, but the lines on the block are an added aid for keeping things straight. Usually, spaces are created in between motifs to fill in with smaller motifs, possibly using another color. 

Like this!

But, what if you want a little more space in between repeating motifs and you want those spaces to be even? Well, then you are going to have to do a little math and measuring. You will need to either create your own grid or use a cutting mat with a grid. If your fabric is thin enough, as in photo above, you will be able to see the grid through the fabric and it will be easy to line your block up with that grid. 

Then you can print your motif, repeating evenly across the surface of your fabric. I believe this was a 1.25" grid and I repeated the blue flowers every 2.5"

And then I went in with my red flowers, printing in between the blue ones, also every 2.5".

Once you get that much of the design mapped out, you can start relying on your stamp and block lines, along with surrounding motifs, as the guides.


Of course we can't always see through our fabric, which is really annoying! In such a case, you have a few options. There are several fabric marking pens and pencils on the market and, along with your ruler and cutting mat (or some sort of measuring device around the edges of your fabric), you can very clearly mark your fabric this way. Problem with this method is that the fabric paint requires heat setting after printing  before washing) but the pen marks will not wash out if they have been heat set. That is a REAL problem, as you can imagine! However, there are ways around this. If you put little indications of marks just enough to line your block up, but not anywhere near where the motif will be printed, you can usually spray those marks with some water and (hopefully) watch them disappear before ironing. Test this method on your fabric, as all fabrics react differently to the pens/pencils. 

However, my preferred and highly recommended method is to use a hera marker. I have blogged in the past about the lovely hera marker. As you can see in the photo above, the hera marker can be used to create visible creases in your fabric, allowing you to precisely place your stamp. These creases do not iron out but you can either spray them with water or throw the whole swatch in the wash and they will almost always disappear. I have had one or two fabrics that wanted to maintain the crease - so, do a test. Of course, heat set (with an iron or your dryer...or even your oven!) your printed design before you spray or wash!

Here you see flower motifs carefully placed at the intersections of the grid lines made using a hera marker. See? Not so hard. Of course, by now you might have guessed that this is not a "free-spirited" craft! It requires some pretty intense focus - say, the same sort of focus as needlepoint, embroidery, quilting, beading, weaving, etc. I know there are plenty of you out there with that sort of focus! It can be engaging and calming if you open yourself up to it. Similar to meditation!

Ok, but what about the paint? How do we get the paint on the fabric? To me, the only good way to do this is with the stencil sponge included in my stamp sets. You can buy these in various sizes at most craft stores and I suggest you buy lots and lots of them if you decide to get serious about fabric printing. But the one in the starter kit that I sell will definitely get you, well, started! Same with the paint. Just six 1oz. jars of various coordinating colors, just one step beyond your basic primary colors. They are fabulous paints with just the right texture/consistency and they get absorbed into the fibers rather than sit right on top looking like plastic. I'm not keeping any secrets, they come from Pro-Chemical and Dye in Fall River, Massachusetts. So, if you want to dive right in and buy lots of larger jars from them, be my guest. But if you want to try fabric printing with less financial  investment, my starter sets are the way to go.

Back to how we get the paint on. Take just a small amount of paint with your sponge, possibly just from the bit that falls into the lid of the jar, and "pounce" it onto some sort of flat surface, like a plate. Although you will probably want to designate a special dish for this purpose, the paint washes off of non-porous surfaces well with water, so don't worry about ruining anything. Pounce several times, with the sponge stick straight up and down, until you get a nice even spot of paint on your plate and on your sponge.

Then, very lightly pounce your sponge (once again, straight up and down) onto your clear stamp which is already mounted on your acrylic block. Get your paint coverage by pouncing rather than by pressing. This keeps the paint right on the surface, which is the printable image. Yes, as printing goes along, some paint will get all along the sides and that is fine up to a certain point. Once the stamp and block get overly loaded, simply wash it off, dry it, and keep going. The cleaner the block and stamp, the cleaner the printing and the easier it is to see your fabric and grid. 

There are lots of ways to quickly wash your stamp when you are right in the middle of printing. A damp (not overly wet and drippy) sponge swiped right across the surface usually does the trick. There are also things called stamp scrubbers that seem expensive but are really quite invaluable. Plus, they last a long time.

Here is mine which, as you can see, is very stained from years of use. Don't let the stains fool you! It still keeps things clean while sitting in it's own convenient tray. But here's the good news, the scrubber fabric is the same thing as what you find in a paint trimming tool or even the refill pads and both those options will save you the money. Any of these suggestions will save you from having to run to the sink over and over and will help to keep the work flow flowing. It is important to keep a dry towel (as lint free as possible) by your side, or in your lap, to dry your stamp before applying paint again. I use a simple flour sack towel, which works perfectly.  

The next step is where things can go terribly wrong! One of the easiest ways to totally ruin your work is to drop your block, with a stamp completely loaded with fabric paint, on to your fabric. For this reason, I can not emphasize enough the importance of focusing on this step! MAKE SURE you have a good grip on your block as you carefully lower it down to your fabric. Honestly, I say a chant to myself at this point: "I'm holding my block, I'm holding my block, I'm holding my block". Sounds ridiculous I know, but it is so very easy to become over confident or distracted and the block just slips right out of your hands. 

The paint stays wet long enough for you to carefully hover above your fabric until you are sure you have the correct placement. Don't wait TOO long, but you do have time, so use it carefully! Then, lower it down and just gently press in the center. On larger motifs, I will also press (gently!) all around the edges of the image. You don't want to press on the edges of the block, which would make it rock side to side. And you don't want to press too hard because that can distort the image, plus it really isn't necessary. Some fabrics will absorb the paint almost without any pressure. You can basically just let the block sit there for a couple of seconds.  Experiment with each new fabric that you choose to use in order to find the right amount of pressure. 

As you can see, I added leaves to the pattern. Yes, I did change the spacing from what you saw before, up above. My own lesson learned, I should have planned it on paper first!

I hope I have helped rather than scare you away! It really can be rewarding creating your own patterns and turning even simple muslin into something decorative and unique. You can use your very  own printed swatches in small sewing projects or cut them up for patches and patchwork. Charm squares are wonderfully manageable printing surfaces that can add a very personal touch to a handmade quilt. Add a little embroidery for even more charm!

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