Spring has finally sprung here in the South-East of England – everything is a really vivid shade of green and bursting into life. The ferns in my back garden are unfurling long, sinuous tendrils which inspired me to make a patterned fabric featuring this intricate botanical. I had wanted to try linocutting for a long time so this felt like the perfect opportunity. I loved the process of designing and (armed with my Mum’s old linocutting tools from her art school days) carving my printing block and thought it might be helpful to show you the steps I took in case you feel inspired to try it too!Linocutting is really satisfying – and you don’t even have to be brilliant at drawing! When you ink up the finished linocut and start printing, the pattern takes on a life of it’s own and becomes so much more than just a picture. This project made me realise that I would really love to study pattern making in more depth one day. I had originally planned to show my process for inking up the block and printing onto the fabric within this blog post but have decided to split it into two because the more I thought about it, I realised making a printing block and printing the fabric are really two completely separate processes so deserve their own space. I’ll be back with part two (including some esoteric thoughts on print and pattern) soon!
Materials and Equipment:
- Linolium tile (after a bit of research I decided to buy a big sheet and use a scalpel to cut a piece to the exact size I needed – it seemed to work out better value that way compared with buying individual pre-cut tiles).
- Linocutting tools (I used my Mum’s old ones but truth be told, they’re a little on the blunt side so might treat myself to this new set soon).
- Pencil for drawing your design (I used a 2b one which was nice and soft).
- A piece of wood for backing your lino onto (I used an old plywood sample from work – a perk of the job!).
- PVA glue to stick the lino to the wood.
- A hat pin (or similar spiky object) to prick the outline of the design into the lino.
- An idea and a piece of paper to sketch it out on!
1. After cutting my piece of lino to the size of my wooden block I traced around it into my sketchbook to use as a template. I used a fern leaf from my garden as inspiration but you could use anything! Just remember that if you’re going to be using your linocut to print onto fabric the finished pattern may be seen from more than one direction so choosing a design which still makes sense when viewed from upside down is something to consider. I knew I wouldn’t be able to re-create the fern leaf exactly but I took my time studying it – really looking and seeing what was there, not what my brain thought should be there. I think that by noticing the way the leaf curled and behaved it helped me capture more of it’s essence in the finished printing block?
Just as an aside, if you don’t feel confident in your drawing abilities don’t let that hold you back from experimenting with linocutting! I don’t feel confident in mine but for some reason, once it gets to the carving stage it becomes somehow abstracted and I didn’t feel so exposed putting my drawings ‘out there’.
2. To transfer the drawing to the lino, I placed the lino under the paper and used a hat pin to prick out the outline. I then used my pencil to refine the outlines directly onto the lino.
3. I used the lino cutting tools to carve away the negative space, leaving my fern design standing proud, then did a quick test print which showed me where I needed to work on the carving a little more. The lino cutting tools come in a variety of shapes and sizes from a tiny V to a deep V shape and a tiny U to a wide and shallow U. I found the wider U tool useful for clearing away the background and the small V tool best for creating fine detail around the leaves towards the end. You don’t need a hammer to cut through the lino – just a bit of pressure and perseverance!
4. Once I was happy with my linocut (after a few more test prints, tea breaks and lots more background carving!) I used PVA glue to stick the reverse side of the lino to the wooden block – weighing it down with a big stack of books overnight. This step is important as it gives you something to hold onto and press down on when printing, helping you make a clearer, more accurate print and making it easier to handle.
Once the glue is dry it’s time to print! I’ll show you how I used my linocut printing block to create this fabric in part 2, coming next week!