Block printing is a creative and fun way to add character to fabric. With a few simple tools and a lesson in carving a block, you'll be making your own block-printed fabric in no time! But where can you find inspiration for your design? Quilts, of course! This quilt-inspired block printing tutorial is the place to start!
This tutorial, brought to you by guest contributor and Suzy Quilts super fan Deborah Batson of @travelingwombat, shows you how to turn your quilt-inspired block printing into a bandana. The second we saw Deborah's block-printed Voyage quilt bandanas in the Suzy Quilts Patterns Facebook group, we knew her tutorial would be perfect for the blog.
Deborah is a world traveler. After growing up in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Deborah worked as a geologist in London. When she met the love of her life, Deborah moved to Texas and raised three daughters.
Deborah and her husband spend their time traveling between New Mexico and Texas. She loves to create utilitarian sewn objects that are also pretty.
This tutorial is versatile. You can use your new quilt-inspired block printing skills to make cards, t-shirts, and of course, fabric for your next quilt. Let's get started!
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Quilt-Inspired Block Printing Materials
- 5/8 yards of solid cotton fabric (makes two 22" square bandanas)
- Hera marker or other marking tool/pen
- Quilting ruler
- Metal ruler
- Basic sewing supplies
- Sharp X-Acto knife or box cutter
- Pencil and Sharpie marker pen
- Block printing starter kit IMPORTANT NOTE: The ink included in this kit is meant for paper and not fabric. If you plan to wash your fabric, you need to use fabric block printing ink such as this Speedball ink seen in the pic below.
Step 1: Choose Your Quilt-Inspired Block Printing Design
This tutorial uses the Suzy Quilts Voyage quilt block, a visual delight with dizzying juxtapositions of lines and angles! See more photos of this quilt pattern here:
You can also see another fun quilt-inspired block printed bandana made using the Shine quilt pattern. This pattern is intentionally "wonky" so it works great as a first time project for beginners. It's also a wonderful project for kids!
See more photos of this quilt pattern here:
Using an X-Acto knife and a metal ruler, trim the Speedycarve block to the size required for your design. I cut my Voyage block to a 3 3/4" square. Don’t drag the blade as this could distort the rubbery material. Instead, go slowly by making several passes and using a chopping motion with the blade.
Step 2: Prepare the Block
Draw the quilt-inspired block printing design onto the Speedycarve block using a pencil so you can correct any mistakes. Draw over the design with a Sharpie pen to make it more visible once you are ready.
To make a Voyage block, it is helpful to use the "color your own" diagram included with the Voyage quilt pattern so that you can see how the block is constructed. For the Voyage design, you will carve one block to create the look of the quilt.
It’s important to remember with block printing that whatever you carve away will be blank (background fabric will show) and whatever is raised will hold the ink and create the design. Also, remember that the print will be the mirror image of whatever you have carved on the block.
Tip—I find it easiest for simple designs to mark everything that I will be cutting away with a negative (-) mark.
Step 3: Carve the Block
Now for the exciting part! I LOVE carving into this Speedycarve material. It’s smooth, easy, and doesn’t require much effort. Choose the appropriate size gouge and insert it into your Speedycarve linocut tool (the starter kit in the materials section will help beginners). Hold the tool in your dominant hand at a shallow angle and trace the lines of your design.
You don’t need to remove much material for a successful print. Slow and steady is the game. And remember to keep your non-dominant hand out of the way. These blades are sharp!
Gradually remove all of the material you have marked. You can be precise and clean with this carving process or you can leave it a bit messy. This is sometimes called ‘chatter,’ when little bits are left behind and pick up some ink. It can give the end product a charming and printerly character!
Run a test print and if you like it, leave it. Or if you don’t, continue to clean up the design with your carving tool.
On the reverse side of the block mark a direction arrow #1 at the top and a direction arrow #2 at the bottom. This will help you keep the block oriented the correct way when printing.
Step 4: Prepare the Fabric for Block Printing
Cut your solid cotton fabric into a 22" square. Place fabric on a protected surface, right side up. A surface that has a little give will produce a better print impression on fabric. I used some old cotton batting secured to a card table with duct tape.
Mark a grid on your fabric that is the size of your carved block. You can use your handy dandy Hera marker or an air or water erasable marker.
Place a few straight pins around the perimeter of your fabric square to anchor it to your surface. I find it useful to place a pin in the alternating squares where you will be printing with the #2 orientation of the block. That way it’ll be quite apparent where all the #1 oriented blocks should be printed.
Step 5: Start Block Printing
Squirt a blob of ink at the top of a piece of glass or even a taped-down sheet of freezer or wax paper. Pick up a smidge of ink on the brayer and roll it downwards, working it until the ink makes a satisfying tacky sound. Trust me, it’s a thing!
If you get any ink on your fingers, you can clean them off with baby wipes.
Ink the block with smooth even strokes. You’ll need to practice to get just the right amount of ink for a nice crisp print.
Alternate your blocks, paying attention to the direction arrow on the back, and carefully place them on the grid square on your fabric. This bit is tricky and the blocks may be slightly crooked, but it’s all part of the charm of block printing!
Apply solid pressure using your baren, being careful to not shift the block. This is part of your workout! If you don’t have a baren, any good solid object will work—try your tailor's clapper, a flat glass bottle, or just your hand.
Ink and repeat for all #1 blocks. Remove the pins and repeat the process for all of the alternating #2 blocks.
Step 6: Let the Ink Dry
If using fabric block printing ink as suggested above, once the ink is dry it is permanently on the fabric. This ink requires no heat setting to get a permanent result. Speedball’s Fabric Block Printing Inks dry to the touch overnight, however you need to allow the ink to fully cure for 7 days before washing.
Clean-up is a breeze! Wash off your tools with soap and water.
Step 7: Finish Your Quilt-Inspired Block Printing Bandana
If you are turning your block-printed fabric into a bandana, now is the time to finish the edges. Hem your bandana by using this simple tutorial – How to Sew Cloth Napkins Tutorial.
Your bandana is ready for its day in the sun! Wear it on a hike, to the beach, or even put your baby in it! Show off your Suzy Quilts Voyage or Shine bandana on Instagram using the #SuzyQuiltsPatterns and #SuzyQuiltsBlog hashtags. And let us know in the comments if you're planning to make a quilt-inspired block printing project!