Block It Out: DIY Fabric Printing

Photos by Frankie Schneckloth
Photos by Frankie Schneckloth


Brayer (ink roller)
Printmaking/linoleum block (found at art supply stores)
Carving tools (found at art supply stores)
Fabric printing ink
Rolling pin

Step One: Sketch out an image or a pattern you like on a piece of paper. You can then transfer this sketch to your linoleum block freehand, or you can use a pencil to fill in the reverse side of your sketch and then trace your image onto the block.

Step Two: Carve away what you don’t want to print. It can be a little tricky at first to figure out where the negative space lies if you are attempting line drawings. Solid fills and patterns are pretty easy to figure out, meanwhile. Take your time and be careful of your hands and fingers. One swift cut in the wrong direction can make a painful slice in your hand.

Step Three: Once you’re satisfied with the look of your block, place some of your fabric ink on the cardboard. Roll the brayer to coat and distribute the ink evenly. Use the brayer to transfer the ink onto your block. Notice if there are inked areas outside of your image. You’ll want to carve those away so they don’t appear when you print.

I always like to test print on paper before I waste any fabric. Position your paper over your block and use the rolling pin to press the paper into block. Peel the paper off the block and take a peek. Do you need to make any adjustments? If you’re ready to print, repeat the above process using your fabric instead of paper. Once you’ve pressed the fabric into the block, carefully lift the fabric off the block and set aside to dry. Follow the directions noted on your fabric ink—some require heat-setting. Wash and dry according to directions.

A Step Further: If you’ve created a pattern, try playing with different colors or making a gradient by lightening your ink subtly as you fill your fabric.

What to do with your block printed fabric? Sew it into pillows. Make napkins. Stamp a flat bed sheet. Print tea towels. A cool tee-shirt. The possibilities are endless!

Frankie Schneckloth lives and works in Iowa City. This article originally appeared in Little Village issue 185.

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