Stamp Carving: Flea, Fly, Flo, Mosquito!

So I’m working on the concept for a neuro-inspired art piece for an upcoming exhibit. Wanted to move towards a vignette on fabric this time, and there will too many details for appliqué (yes, even for me). Some elements are going to repeat, so I decided to  explore creating stamps on fabric. After seeing an insanely creative exhibit of Saul Steinberg’s at the Morgan Library in New York a few years ago (here is an example), I guess the idea of stamps …er, made a deep impression. Since the lino carving experience last winter, I already had the carving tools and got the idea of negative space.

This tutorial makes fabric printing look unbelievably easy (go take a look; seriously feel like an underachiever here!). So I had a go at making the smallest element of my work: a flea. There will be a lot of fleas in one of the panels. I mostly followed the steps suggested there: worked with the “Speedy-Cut” rubber block instead of lino, and purchased a water-soluble fabric paint. Made the sketch in pencil (sorry, no photo).

To work on the details, I set up my third hand (the one used for soldering, comes with alligator clips and a magnifying glass) and a desk lamp for the extra light. Also handy are tweezers to pull off smaller shavings, and a soft paintbrush to dust off the stamp at the end. Here is what the carved flea looks like before the inking:

Now the inking for such a small stamp is simpler than in the tutorial. I used a glass tray (which I reserve for craft projects and never, never cook with) and my brayer to spread a small gob of the fabric paint. Rather than apply paint with the brayer, I used the soft paintbrush to coat the stamp with ink. It was quick and I had more control at the edges.

For the fabric I used some cotton canvas (mid-weight, woven)…the simplest thing I could find. An old pillowcase would probably do the trick (and a pillowcase would make for a great personalized gift too, hmmm).


Here are my test prints.  On the right is the first attempt. You can see the “frame” and a few areas where the block wasn’t completely carved into. On the left you can see the result after  I got a bit more bold in defining the outline. I was amazed at how much detail was captured; you can actually see the segments!

The whole thing – including stamp carving – took less than an hour. Apparently after the fabric dries, I am to give it a heat treatment (iron on dry setting with a thin cloth in between) to set the ink.

Can you imagine the possibilities?