How to Carve Stamps for Fabric Printing

Once in a while, all of the stars align, and I am able to spend a couple uninterrupted hours playing around in my sewing room.  No kids, no to-do lists…. just fun.  One of those magical mornings happened over Memorial Day weekend.  My husband took the kids outside for the morning, and I had time to myself…..lots of coffee and stamp carving.  Fish Stamps, to be exact.  I have the beach and ocean on the brain these days!  Maybe you want to make some too?

Supplies:

  • Linoleum cutter – I use one from Speedball.  Mine came in a block printing kit that I picked up at a local craft store.  Here is , if you want to check it out.  The kit came with a #1 cutter (for narrow detail cuts) a #2 cutter for deep narrow cuts, and a #5 for wide shallow cuts.
  • Speedball Speedy-Carve block (or other carving material).  I like this carving block because I can find it easily and it is so soft to carve.  Very reminiscent of cutting through a piece of cheese.  Not hard on the wrists at all.
  • X-acto knife (optional) – great for cleaning up rough edges and carving down the block
  • Pencil
  • Sketch pad
  • Permanent ink pad (or fabric paint and sponge applicator – for testing your stamp)

Time, Location, and Skill Level:

This project does not get that messy.  You could easily do it at a kitchen or craft room table.  I spend a couple hours carving 4 stamps and messing around with designs. But, if you know what you are carving, this can easily be an under 1 hour project.  As far as skill level, it depends on the amount of detail you put into your stamp  But even my 5 year old can carve a  stamp (with lots of supervision, of course).

Here we go:

Step 1:

Design your stamp.  I like to start by sketching ideas for a stamp. If you are just giving this a try, try a basic single image, such as….a fish!  I played around with a couple of different ideas for fish silhouettes and patterns.

Step 2:

Once you have settled on your design, trace the outline in dark pencil.

Step 3:

Transfer the image.  Place your drawing of the fish pencil line side down on top of your carving block. Be sure to try and place your drawing near the edge of the printing block. You do not need a lot of background space for a single image. Using the back of your carving tool press down on your drawing. You want to transfer the pencil lines to the carving block with even pressure.

Step 4:

Use an X-Acto knife to cut around your image. Leave a bit of white space for carving.

Step 5:

Use your smallest blade (I am using a speed ball tip #1) to trace around the outline of your image. Hold your cutter at 45° angle and make a smooth line. Be careful not to cut deeper then the groove on the edge of your tool. With a soft carving block, it is very easy to cut too deep.  When cutting the outline, I find it easier to finish one line, lift your tool, and start the next. For example, as I did the top curve of the fish I stopped at the tail, picked up my cutter, and pivoted to make the tail cut. This way the corner and angle looks crisp. If you try to do the whole outline in a continuous line your angles and corners will not be as sharp.

Step 6:

Cut away the background  of your stamp using a broader tip.  Here, I am using a # 5 speed ball tip.

I then used the X-Acto knife to cut away some of the extra background that may cause background space ridges in my final stamp.

Step 7:

Use your smallest tip to cut in the detail on your image.

Step 8:

Shake off all the crumbs, and do a test print on a piece of paper. Cut away any imperfections and retest until you have a clean print.

Step 9:

Make more stamps and have fun experimenting!