Craft, Home

Not Quite Block Printed Napkins

A little background

About a year ago I got into linoleum block printing. As a result of seeing my card posts, my friend Michelle from Hummingbird On High fame asked me if I could decorate a couple of napkins for her. After investigating the technique on Etsy, and seeing the block printed napkins post on Apartment Therapy, I agreed. I have worked with fabric before, but never in this particular way.

So Michelle asked me eons ago. Of course life got in the way, as it always does. By the time that I finally tried out fabric printing with linoleum blocks, I realized that for this project it didn’t make any sense. Using stencils would achieve acceptable results with much less work and a more even finish.

I stopped by the local art shop and picked up several different types of letter stencils in several different fonts and played around to find a look I liked. So I prepared! And YET when I finally sat down and pulled it all together, I still made several mistakes. Here’s a quick recap:

How to + Don’t Make the Same Mistakes I Did

Ah, napkin number one. So lemony yellow fresh, so full of promise. It’s going to have the word “EAT” decorated in the bottom right hand corner. I threw down a cardboard mailer to catch the ink.

Mistake #1: Remember to wash and dry your fabric first before decorating!



Next I traced the outlines of the letters with pencil. I messed up, so I erased my mistakes. It became a mess that lasted until the end 🙁

Mistake #2: Do not trace and erase pencil on fabric. Use fabric chalk.

I traced over my pencil with the water-based black ink I’d purchased because I thought I was going to be filling it in with shading lines.

Mistake #3: Avoid freehanding if you can, the result is less polished.



Ugh. You can see the erased pencil. So terrible. I ended up not liking the shading lines, so I filled in the letters completely black.



For the next napkin I got it together a little better. I taped down my stencils.



And carefully filled in the outline with a very very thin coat of the ink (different effect than the first time around). Then I let it dry for about 10 minutes. Then I added another layer.



It’s all good, right? NOOOOOO.

Mistake #4: I did not put my ink protection between the napkin layers. The ink bled through. D’oh.



Next I removed the stencils and manually added the serifs to the letters. This is about what it looked like when I was done. I added another thin layer of paint to fill out the empty white spots after this picture was taken. The napkins air dried for about 24 hours. The finishing touches were a quick ironing to set the ink, hand washing in cold water, air dry (again), followed by another bout with the iron to press the napkins.



Phew! What work just to decorate some napkins! Seriously though if you want to decorate fabric you should have at it. The main tips again:

  1. Practice on a rag first
  2. Wash and dry your fabric before printing/decorating. It may shrink.
  3. Lay down something in between layers so the ink does not bleed through. A piece of cardboard works well. Avoid newspaper.
  4. Use fabric chalk to sketch out your ideas.
  5. Don’t go freehand if you don’t have to. Best to print out a stencil and tape it down for stability.
  6. Use water-soluble screen printing ink. I used Simply Green, which had a precise nozzle tip for detail work.
  7. Use very thin layers of ink. If you get too gung ho about it, it’ll be all puffy, and that is gross, especially when you iron it out.
  8. If it looks like crap when you’re done decorating, don’t worry. It will probably even out after you iron, wash/dry and iron again.

Happy crafting!

Art, Craft, Life


This is my latest linocut. Because we all need a little encouragement…  

I’ve never thought of myself as particularly courageous, but lately people keep telling me that I am so brave. I’m pretty self deprecating, so my knee jerk reflex has been to say “No! I’m really not. I’m just doing what I have to do. You have no idea what I’m going through right now, I’m just muddling through and making it up as I go along.” Then somebody mentioned this quote to me:

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.” — Ambrose Redmoon

Hunh… It stuck with me, and after a while I realized that ok, this comment, hokey as it sounds every time I hear it is in a way true. I am scared, yes, but figuring things out so that I can live the life that I want is way more important than being scared.

In my mind I imagined holding the word “brave” in my hands, and rolling it into prickly ball of letters, then pressing the jumble against my chest until they passed through to my heart and became a part of me. I’ve been trying out this new identity for the past week or so-this brave person- and I like it.

It got me wondering why I am so quick to brush things off when people say nice things about me, quick to add a qualifier, quick to say “Well it’s complicated.” Also, if people are right about this, what other obvious truths have I been missing out on?

The next time someone says something nice to you about yourself, why not skip the self deprecation and just say thank you? Why not just believe it? You are beautiful. You are capable. You are lovable. You are going to figure it all out. Things are going to be ok, really. Things are gonna be great.


Art, Craft

Linoleum Block Printing- Part 3

My friends decided to do a craft night at my house- my knitting is pretty much dead right now, so I chose to work on my block printing. We had a nice spread of munchies to keep us fortified- red cabbage, miso dip, cheese, meat, bread and soup.

So I’d agreed to help my friend Michelle  make some printed napkins. After a bit of research I’d heard that screenprinting ink was the way to go with block printing on fabrics. Oh lord. IT WAS NOT PRETTY.

I put some ink in my tray, and the brayer (rolley thing) wouldn’t move! Even worse, once I got the ink on the block, it crept into all of the crevices of my linoleum block. It just wasn’t tacky enough. What a waste of time. Since I’d already bought so much ink, I decided that the only way to use this stuff would be to make some stencils. I dug the packaging of my March Birchbox out of the recycling, and cut up a simple “EAT” out of the cardboard. Then I tried printing it with the brayer onto a random pair of boxer shorts that came from my house’s “bicycle rags” pile. ALSO- not pretty. The transfer was so-so. So I think the moral of the story is don’t use a plastic brayer for fabric ink. With a fluffy brayer you might get a decent effect.

Feeling desperate, I raided my makeup case. I found a Bare Minerals Baby Buki brush, took a deep breath, and proceeded to slather the brush in the ink. The results were okay but didn’t merit a photo, even though the image of “EAT EAT EAT” all over a pair of boxers was pretty funny.

I think my next course of attack will be to try a proper paintbrush with my stencil, or a brayer from a paintshop.

Oh well. Since that was a bust, I moved on to finishing my latest linoleum cut.

I finished up my cat print. I really like how it turned out. I cut this print on unmounted linoleum, and the process and the printing were very different than with my first print (on a mounted block). Basically, the unmounted linoleum I purchased (Speedball) was a little bit softer, thus easier to carve  and good for prints like this with lots of negative space.

The unmounted linoleum was also cheaper, and takes up much less physical space in your home than the blocks.

There were a few major disadvantages to this format. The linoleum would scrunch up sometimes if you were too aggressive with your carving. Also, printing was harder with the unmounted lino. Since it’s not as deep you are more likely to have mistakes with your printing (edges of the paper touching the messy workspace, etc). The softer linoleum seemed to shake out in little clumps and sabotage my printing. Also, when you wash off your ink, the unmounted linoleum really seems to suck up water and warp. I wouldn’t want to do anything really intricate on this stuff. It doesn’t feel like it will last.

I liked the golden yellow ink that I was using so much that I printed out a few copies of “Diving for love.” The lighting is a bit dark because I didn’t want to kill the mood of craft night, but geez this goldenrod is so beautiful. Just trust me.

All in all the night was a success. Everyone made progress on their projects. Now I wonder what to print next? I may move on to working with rubber. I’d like to make a stamp for my etsy shop, if I can ever think of a name for it. 🙂

Art, Craft

Linoleum Block Printing- Pt. 2

I am so bad at following up on craft posts, but this time I actually finished a project :). It helped that I had Jillian to coach me through the process. My cards turned out well and I ended up passing them out on Valentine’s Day.


When we last left my linocut, I’d drawn my print and transferred the image over to my linoleum block, with the help of my trusty spoon. Then came the fun part: carving out the negative space! Here it is in progress:


The ink that came with my kit is water-based, which meant easy cleanup. Surprisingly, the ink felt tacky and took a bit of work to smooth out.

Here’s an inked up block. Also very tricky: applying just the right amount. When you apply the right amount of ink to the tray and to the block, you get just the faintest wet gleam.

For printing, there are specialty tools, but I went back to my trusty spoon!


This is what happens when you use too little ink. If you happen to use too much ink all the crevices fill up and you won’t be able to see anything.

Here’s a print that’s more successful.

When I finally got my method down, things went like gangbusters! Here are my cards drying on my kitchen table.

For my next linoleum block I wanted to do text, but honestly I got bored with carving out so much blank space that I scrapped it.

Possible next linoleum block subjects:

  • Bismarck
  • Cup of tea
  • Sea creature
  • A state
  • Business cards


Art, Craft

Linoleum Block Printing- Part I

First, a quick note: I decided to take down the last handful of soul searching posts, and a few here and there from the past. I try to be honest about the good and bad times of my life, but it was really annoying me that the sad times were just sitting there in a lump, like the clammy Denver airport burrito of my blog. So I set them to private for now, until I figure out what I want to do with them. Life is good in many respects, I’m just really really emo about everything that isn’t. Ok, onwards…


What was I going to say? Oh yes, something about printing. I played around with Jill’s linoleum printing kit over the holidays in Little Rock, and found the process quite fascinating. It’s a craft, to be sure.

Jill was kind enough to gift me with my own block printing kit, and I’ve taken a few days to think of what I’d like to make. Something that could be a card, I was thinking. Today it hit me- I wanted to do a deep-sea diving suit. I’ve always thought that they were quite beautiful, and there’s so much going on mechanically that you could give a sketch of one as much or as little detail as you like. Plus there’s that wonderful song by the Magnetic Fields.


There were so many Google images of the suits online, but I was really drawn to the suits with the distinctive four openings around the head, with metal gratings. Also the brass looks so amazing against the soft and slouchy canvas, or whatever the heck the body is made out of.

Anyways, I drew a couple of sketches of different suits, but finally decided to go with this look. It’s low on details, but the simpler the better for my first time I think. I then went into overdrive with the pencil, so that I could make a good transfer to the linoleum.

Rubbing the paper onto the block with a spoon got some of the drawing over, but it was rather inadequate. I had to trace over and redraw quite a bit right onto the block.


So the way that this works is- whatever I carve away will be white. I’m basically carving out a stamp. I’m still wrapping my head around the positive/negative space, and what I’d like the finished product to look like. All that said I think I will probably try to carve the black parts out, for simplicity’s sake. Doing the inverse seems very technically tricky.

I’ll definitely update once I start carving, but so far I’m pleased with the process.