Ok, so now you have a hand carved stamp. Or, maybe you don’t yet. How about stamping with something you already have around your house? And, what gets me excited about either of these options: being able to use them on fabric and clothing.
Before we discuss fabric ink and stamping, let me talk briefly about how I set up these buttons as stamps. I got this idea from a really creative slideshow (on Martha Stewart of all places) which illustrates using all kinds of things you might find around your house to make some interesting designs. My favorite was the buttons. Some things already have an easy point to grab them by without getting your fingers covered in ink (like long pieces of wood, which you can see printed in the top photo), but buttons, not so much. I cut some pieces from a leftover dowel and a small wood block, just using a clamp and a handsaw, they don’t have to be perfect in any way. I did some quick online research and a couple of sources suggested using some kind of foam to back your stamps, to give them a little more give for even printing. This seemed like a good idea since buttons are pretty much hard to begin with. I used tiny pieces of dish packing type foam (we get it as packing material with some supplies) glued to the back of each button and its piece of wood with ATG, which once again I borrowed from the photo studio. You can use any type of glue as long as it will hold the object and be water-resistant enough to be rinsed after you stamp. And, you could use just about anything squishy for the foam, just cut the pieces smaller than your object, otherwise the edges of the foam may print.
Ok, time to stamp! For ink, I used Speedball Water-Based Textile Screen Printing Ink. I have gotten it from Blick, local art stores, and chain stores. On the jar, it just says FABRIC Screen Printing Ink, but if you look on the side it also says water based and non-toxic. I really like that you can thin this ink as much as you want with water, and you don’t have to worry about it if you get it on your hands, which is pretty much inevitable. Plus it is permanent on fabric with heat setting. It comes in lots of colors. I like to mix my own using the three primary colors; the “process” cyan, magenta, and yellow will give truer mixing results than the regular red blue and yellow. You’ll also need white and black. A tip I learned from Lena Corwin’s book Printing by Hand (I highly recommend this book if you are interested in more about printing!) is that mixing in a little of both white and black will give you a more subtle color (less screaming bright) and I love subtle colors.
To set up for printing, you’ll need ink, a little water for mixing, and more for washing things off (a big cup full with an old toothbrush for scrubbing is perfect) and a wet rag to wipe your hands and tools on after you rinse. It’s easier to print on thin fabrics if you put down an old towel underneath to give the surface a little more give, which can allow more details of the stamp to print. Putting all this on a big table you can wipe off is ideal, and it’s nice to have something under the messy ink part to catch drips. I used a box since I figured it would still be good for shipping with ink on it. I used one spoon to get out each color, one to mix my color with, and a small foam brush to hold the ink for stamping. I let the spoons dry when I’m done, and wash the foam brushes to save for the next time.
When mixing ink colors, start with as little ink as you can, you’ll add more as you decide what to add to get the color you’re looking for (a color wheel can help here), plus you’ll be adding water, and stamping doesn’t take very much ink in any case. Keep in mind that the ink will dry slightly darker in color than it looks wet.
Having scrap fabric to test on is essential! The closer the fabric is in type, weight and color to your intended project, the better you’ll be able to see how the stamps are coming out. For this project, I just used a small section on the edge of my fabric for testing, changing the color or the dilution of the ink a little bit at a time and waiting a couple of minutes to see how the results looked as they dried.
I like the ink to be absorbed into the fabric so that it doesn’t leave a hard or crunchy surface, but looks more like a dye. To get this effect, I add water until the ink slowly drips from the foam brush when I lift it up. The consistency you want may vary with your fabric, again, testing is key!
Here is my best fabric stamping tip: squeeze the ink out of the foam brush until it’s not dripping, and only releases ink when you press on it, like a stamp pad. Then, gently press your stamp or object against the sponge to get a coat of paint. You can see which parts are going to print by where the ink is on the stamp or object.
Keep the foam brush in one hand, and bring your stamp back to it for a fresh coat each time you print it. The sponge will hold enough ink for a bunch of stamps before it needs more from the cup.
I found that a light coating of ink, and a soft rolling motion against the fabric with each stamping helped the full possible detail of the buttons to print.
That’s about it! I place my stamps pretty much randomly, alternating whichever ones I am working with until I get a design density that I like. It helps to step back and take a look, especially if you are printing something big that you can’t work on all at once.
For troubleshooting, take a look at the very top photo (click to enlarge it). If you have too much ink on the stamp or the ink is too watery, it will spread out all around your stamp and the detail of the design will be lost. Clean the stamp off, squeeze more ink out of your sponge, press it gently on just the surface of the stamp and try again. If it’s still too flowy, add more ink to your color to reduce the water content. If you don’t have enough ink on the stamp, you’ll get a pale ghost of an image. If the ink is thick, like it comes out of the jar, it will dry harder and raised on the surface of your fabric, which you may want, depending on your design. If your fabric is wrinkled, iron it before you start. Soft wrinkles won’t get in the way too much, but if you stamp over a crease, you can see it when the crease opens up.
One last troubleshooting thing: some objects print better than others. Some of the buttons I tried had details too fine to print, but this will depend a lot on what fabric and how much ink you use, so test it out!
Here’s my finished button printed fabric. I think it may become a skirt.
Stamping is also awesome for reviving finished clothes or linens that are a little too plain. I used some of my aunt Barb’s hand made stamps to decorate this previously just beige thrift store skirt.
While your stamped fabric is drying, it’s worthwhile to clean off your tools, since this ink can eventually clog your stamps if left to dry. Using the old toothbrush and a little water from your clean-up cup works great.
Next time, I’ll post about heat setting the ink, lots of options for this important step that makes the finished product washable! Plus, a little bit about “green” crafting and less waste from what we make.
In the meantime, have you tried something similar? I’d love to know what you did and how it came out!