Quilt Design: Block Printing Secrets

27 Jun 2012

I have four children. The oldest is college-age and the youngest is still in grade school. So I have seen a lot of teachers in action and I've observed that the ones who are most effective are usually the ones who can explain concepts simply without talking down to their students.

flower quilt design with block printing st charles
Cynthia starts with a plain piece of
white fabric, building up the quilt
design with hand-carved stamps
and fabric paint.
Fiber artist Cynthia St. Charles, a former first-grade teacher, has this gift. Watching her demonstrate how to design your own quilt using hand-carved printing blocks, I was so impressed by her ability to explain the process clearly, artist to artist.

And while her methods are totally accessible, the effects are stunning.

In her Quilting Arts WorkshopTM video "Art Quilt Design with Hand-Carved Printing Blocks," Cynthia starts with a piece of white fabric and by the end you have a quilt design that is completely your own.

Even if you've never used a printing block-let alone carved one-before, with Cynthia's instructions you'll be able to do so confidently.

Here are some of her tips for printing quilting designs that I found most helpful. Note that aside from the printing blocks, no special equipment is needed.

Quilt Design Block Printing Tips from Cynthia St. Charles

  • Apply moisturizer to your hands and wrists before you begin to print. This will make it easier to remove the fabric paint later. (Also be sure to wash your hands immediately after you finish printing.)
  • Use a plastic plate for a palette. You can reuse it many times.
  • Use a foam brush as wide as the printing block or the design (if the design is smaller than the block itself). This makes it easier for you apply an even coat of fabric paint over the block and helps you avoid getting paint down into the grooves.
  • Don't oversaturate the foam brush with paint and apply the block using a light pouncing motion for even coverage.
  • To add depth to your block print, line up three similar shades of the same hue on the palette right next to each other and dip the brush into all of them at once. For example, a light green, a slightly darker green, and a similar green that has some sparkle in it.
  • Clean your blocks soon after using them with a soft toothbrush and water.
  • Print on a padded surface. The padding will absorb the pressure, giving you a cleaner print. Cynthia uses a piece of polar fleece wrapped around a board, but you could also use a bath towel, she says.
  • Don't feel that you have to print with the entire block. Fill in odd spaces around your quilt design by inking up and printing only part of the block. In a flower quilt like the one Cynthia demonstrates, she sometimes uses only part of a leaf block.

inking the block for your quilting design
Cynthia uses a foam brush
the size of her block and
lightly tamps the paint on
for even coverage.
After the fabric paint is dry, Cynthia stitches around the printed motifs to enhance the quilt design.

Now that I've learned that designing quilts with hand-carved block prints can be so easy and satisfying, I'm eager to try doing it myself. 

You can learn the whole process from background painting, to block carving, to quilting from expert teacher Cynthia St. Charles in "Art Quilt Design with Hand-Carved Printing Blocks," available for download now.

P.S. Have you ever printed on fabric? What are your recommendations? Share them with us!


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