Dye Stamping Pattern Experiments

Stamping is a very old technique for patterning cloth. A whole village, Bhagu (near Jaipur), in Rajasthan, India has been devoted to carving patterned blocks for over 300 years, and tourists make special trips to see it. You can read an article here, and another here that has a video showing a very detailed, multicolored pattern being made, and another from a tour company that includes a workshop and shows the village in action here. A quick online search gets you many more links.

Many years ago, someone gave me these textile stamping blocks with no information about them. I've come to think they may be from India, but I cannot verify that other than my own guess, based on some designs I have seen. I once inked up the one on the right and printed it on paper for a book cover, but mostly they have stood silently in my studio all this time.

A couple years ago I bought a little wooden tree stamp in New York and thankfully kept the tag on it. The company that makes it is blockwallah.com, a combination Indian and Finnish company that employs Indian carvers and utilizes both Indian and Finnish designs. Some of the designs look a bit like the larger textile blocks I have. I found out the name of my design: Dotted Tree, and while I was at the website, bought a few more: Ornate Leaf, Sunrise, and Ethnic Tile. Free shipping! The package came from India.

I folded up a large, flannel-backed, vinyl tablecloth as my work surface, and I tried both the method from Hand Dyed: A Modern Guide to Dyeing in Brilliant Color for You and Your Home by Anna Joyce and the method from BlockWallah, which suggests using a sponge to apply the dye.

I prepared each of the dyes with sodium alginate (thickener).

The kitchen window needed a new curtain, so I planned to create a pattern with two of the Block Wallah designs, Dotted Tree and Ornate Leaf.

Stamping into a pad of dye-soaked papers towels wasn't giving me the dark crisp lines I wanted. The dye was pooling in the recesses as well, leaving little blobs on the cloth. Perhaps the dye wasn't thick enough. After an hour it got much thicker.

I found it worked much better to apply the dye to the paper towels, then soak up the dye from there into a sponge (this is an old one I had carved into a heart years ago), and apply the dye with the sponge. You can check to make sure no flecks of the sodium alginate stick to the block.

After examining the results of the 36" x 36" cloth, I decided to go back in with the Moss Green and overstamp the lighter patterns. My hope was that it would give depth and interest. It was okay.

The stamps would print better on muslin, as is traditional, or a fine cotton or even silk, but this is what I had.

Anna Joyce recommends letting the stamped project dry for 24 hours before rinsing out.

I wondered how the blocks would work with the deColourant. As I had some hand-dyed cloth (this was the color indigo, not real indigo dye) from my Turbulent Travels quilt, I tried it out. Because the deColourant is basically clear, it was hard to see where I had stamped, so after each row, I put it out in the sun and the pattern gently emerged. Below is after ironing it out completely.

Ultimately, this try became the curtains.

Still, I wanted to try out the old blocks.
I used a bigger sponge, but still haven't quite got the hang of how much ink to use.
I like this one by itself and as a long, repeating line.

I like this one even more as a repeating pattern than as a single stamp. I love how the checkerboard works (when it is carefully stamped!).

What is interesting about these patterned blocks, is that they were ingeniously carved with little notches at the edges of the patterns so the stamper could align them as best as s/he could.

Both patterns, side by side. They need to cure overnight, then I will wash them out. They were probably meant to have color applied as well. Some stencils would work. We'll see.

It is possible that fabric paint would give a crisper line. But that is another experiment.