Relief printing on fabric

When I print on fabric I generally use the ‘stamping’ method as I don’t have a press in my little studio. It’s quite a different result than printing on paper because I often use a barren or wooden spoon then, to help apply pressure to transfer the image.

On fabric, however, I found neither a barren nor wooden spoon were as effective and so it really comes down to how much ink and how much pressure can be applied without ‘moving’ either the Lino or the fabric.

I use masking tape to secure my fabric to a flat surface – usually a table in my studio covered with a plastic tablecloth to protect it from any ink which may seep through. I also put a couple of layers of wadding between the table and the plastic so then when I do apply pressure to the lino, there’s a bit of ‘give’ on the surface which in my opinion allows the ink to transfer more evenly. Because there isn’t the same weighted pressure as when a printing press is used, what is applied by hand, results in a much softer print.

Another tip to get a clearer print is to be quite generous with the ink. It’s a tricky balance to achieve as I don’t want to apply too much ink and clog up the design on the lino. I ink the lino block after every stamp. I love the handmade look of these prints but sometimes even if I’m careful with the amount of pressure and ink, I can still get a print which I feel is a little too faint. That’s when I might use a bit of artistic licence and do a few touch up’s with a small fine brush but I usually leave as is.

The fabric I’m printing on also has a huge impact on the print. When printing on a fine cotton which has a very even and tight weave, the print is quite clear although not as perfect as you’d get with a screen print which is a totally different printing method. I actually prefer the uniqueness or imperfection of the hand printed lino block.

When printing on linen, however, it’s very different again. The linen I use for my tea towels for example, does not have an even weave and can have slubs in it, which I think adds to the overall charm once printed. Even with wadding underneath, the print will not usually be completely clear. Often the texture of the linen is visible where the ink has not been able to penetrate the texture of the weave.

It all comes down to what type of print you want. For the most part, I prefer the ‘perfect imperfection’ of the hand printed linoblock and am happy to embrace the unique qualities these produce. I love the variations!

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