Printing On Fabrics With Wood-Blocks
( Originally Published 1937 )
THE art of textile block-printing is so simple, and capable of such variety that it is a pity it is not widely practiced here, as in more primitive countries, as a home craft. You can give your bed-spreads, curtains, linens, and dress goods great individuality and distinction by printing on them your own designs in color.
Examine Colonial hand-blocked textiles for types of design suitable to this technique. See page 164. Try a simple repeating border first. Cut your block.
No pigment applied to the outside of a woven material becomes a part of it in the sense that a genuine dye becomes a part of the fibre of which the fabric is woven. For this reason all schemes for applying printing ink, oil-paint and I-don't-knowwhat other foreign matter to the surface of fabrics, should be returned with thanks to their originators; for I should as soon expect an honorable man to compound a felony, as one who prizes his esthetic integrity, to compromise with such unsound schemes as these.
Dyes for printing require thickening to prevent their running. Commercially, Irish Moss, Blood Albumen, starch, etc. are used, but for work on a small scale nothing is better than Gum Tragacanth, from your druggist. Add / oz. to one quart of water. After 24 hours stir it vigorously with an egg beater. Soak 24 hours more and stir again adding a few drops formaldehyde or carbolic acid.
The simplest technique is to color the thickening to a deep enough shade with regular Diamond Dyes dissolved in a little boiling water. If you wish to tackle the problem more professionally get du Pont "Pontamine" dyes and use them according to directions for printing which they will supply.
The General Dyestuffs Corporation handle a splendid line of German dyes called Fastusol L; and will furnish printing formula for them.
Lay in a shallow tray or cake tin larger than your block a piece of thick, soft felt. Pour sufficient thickened dye into the tray to saturate the felt, working it about until the dye is evenly distributed. Add dye to the pad as the block takes it out for printing.
Press the block gently on the pad a few times until it is evenly coated with color. Press firmly on a sample of cloth on a well padded table. Practise until you can make perfect impressions, before printing the final piece.
To hold the dye more evenly, varnish the printing face of the block and sift cotton flocks (fine lint obtained from textile mills) over it while the varnish is sticky. Repeat until a felty surface results.
Thoroughly dry the printed pieces. Lay them on clean newspaper (10 sheets thick) and roll up carefully. They must not overlap or touch each other. Suspend this roll in a netting across the top of a washboiler, well out of reach of splashing from the water below. Cover with old towels or blankets, and steam at least an hour. Finally rinse well in cold water and dry in the shade.
Now try all-over patterns In one color. Later you can experiment with two-color borders. Print all of one color first, letting it dry before starting the next. An endless variety of color-schemes is possible with two or three blocks. Interesting variations are made by printing with a mordant in clear thickening and then dipping in an unmordanted dye. See page 179. Only the printed part will take the dye and the rest will rinse out. Another scheme is to print with a discharging chemical (sodium hydrosulphite) on a previously dyed fabric. In this case the printed part will bleach out. In printing make use of a T-square, straight-edge or even a carpenters' chalkline for lining up the impressions as you print borders or continuous patterns. Do not be afraid to experiment with new ways of applying blocks.