Japanese bookbinding workshop

I’ve always loved the simple elegance of Japanese bookbinding, so when I saw a workshop advertised by Lois offering the chance to make a simple Japanese bound notebook with a printed fabric cover I jumped at it.

We started by printing the fabric with Jonna Saarinen, a Finnish textile designer whose zingy colour palette was perfect for the hot summer evening. Jonna had brought along a collection of printing blocks, but encouraged us to make our own using thin foam glued to blocks of MDF.

bookbinding blocks

First we experimented and practised on paper and scrap fabric.

bookbinding practice1

There were some very imaginative designs, including watermelons, Warhol-esque tomatoes and a landscape of mountains and stars! I decided to stick to a simple spiral block, printed in two colours.

bookbinding tomatoes

bookbinding practice2bookbinding fabric

Lois owner Helen Ward had probably the worst job of the evening – drying the printed fabric with a hairdryer on such a hot evening. That’s what you call a trouper! 🙂

Printing complete, we moved on to making up the books with Magda of Check Out My Print! After cutting the fabric to size, we glued it to one side of some card, and patterned paper on the other.

bookbinding cover

Then we punched holes in a pile of paper, lined them up with the covers, and stitched them together. Thankfully, this was less complicated than it looked. 🙂

Result: six beautiful notebooks and six very happy novice bookbinders!

bookbinding book outside bookbinding book inside bookbinding books

Many thanks to Helen, Jonna and Magda for a very productive and enjoyable evening!

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Pattern to Print

I had a splendid outing yesterday with my sister Women of the Cloth to Hall Place in Bexley, a Tudor house and gardens just off the A2. There’s a splendid great hall and decorative plasterwork, but the main purpose of our visit was to see Pattern to Print, an exhibition about silk-printing company David Evans.

evans wotc

It’s a small exhibition but definitely worth the trip. David Evans was a silk merchant who set up a silk printing factory in Crayford in 1843, in a former printworks. The factory specialised in block printing at first; this was replaced by screen printing in the 1970s.

The exhibition begins with s 55-minute film, dating from the 1980s if the hairstyles are anything to go by! Fascinating viewing, it covers all the stages of silk production, including growing mulberry plants and spinning the yarn at a silk farm at Lullingstone Castle in Kent (which produced the silk for the Queen’s coronation robes and Princess Diana’s wedding dress, but closed down in 2011).

But what really comes across is the labour-intensiveness of producing the blocks for printing. Every stage done was done by hand, from burning and carving the wooden moulds to cast the pewter blocks, to inking and printing the fabric itself. To carve the blocks, the block makers had to produce their own chisels and files to match the requirements of the design: as the commentary notes, the actual carving of the block was of secondary importance!

Wood marked out for carving the mould to cast the block
Wood marked out for carving the mould to cast the block

From the master block, other blocks were produced for different colours – all had to line up exactly. By the time David Evans closed down in 2001, it had a library of around 70,000 blocks and 11,000 designs. The blocks were sold at Christies, and many of them went to the Cantrol Collection of Textile Printing Blocks, about which I can find very little information.

Blocks used to produce two-colour fabric
Blocks used to produce two-colour fabric

The blocks on show are items of beauty, amazing for their intricacy and precision. Some have been used by designers for Top Shop as inspiration for modern garments – I particularly loved a tortoise design (sorry about the funny reflections on some of the photos, but most exhibits were under glass).

evans block tortoise

There are also covetous pattern and swatch books.

evans swatch book

After block printing, some of the silk was overdyed with madder, a natural red dye, to make the colours more subtle. A rail of Liberty prints shows samples of silk before and after overdyeing.

The three samples on the left show the block-printed silk before dyeing with madder. The fourth, fifth and sixth samples show the same fabric after overdyeing with madder. The unprinted silk on the right has been dyed with madder.
The three samples on the left show the block-printed silk before dyeing with madder. The fourth, fifth and sixth samples show the same fabric after overdyeing with madder. The unprinted silk on the right has been dyed with madder.

The madder was mixed with lime and cow dung to a secret recipe that only David Evans himself knew. The factory even had its own herd of cows to produce the dung!

Fittingly, all the information “panels” are printed on silk.

evans banner

Movingly, the final piece of printed silk is also on display, dated 4 July 2001 at 10.47am.

evans final

Pattern to Print runs until 26 March.

Chelsea degree show 2012

Lots of digital prints seemingly influenced by Peter Pilotto and Mary Katrantzou this year, though maybe that isn’t surprising, given how fashionable they are. I liked  Weiyi Liu’s prints, influenced by African textures and colours, shown with matching ceramic pieces.

Prints by Weiyi Liu

Sofia Drescher‘s shirts, scarves and jacket linings reminded me of looking at tissue samples under a microscope – there was something very cellular about them.

Shirt by Sofia Drescher

The highlight for me was one of the weavers. Katriona McKinnia’s pieces combined super-chunky wools and fine yarns in wonderfully textured and patterned pieces. Even better, her beautifully presented sketchbook contained samples and explained the thinking behind her work.

Weaving (close up) by Katriona McKinnia

Kirsty Jean Leadbetter’s upholstered chair was another fine example of weaving, in shades of earthy green and yellow.

Upholstery by Kirsty Jean Leadbetter (image courtesy of Kirsty Jean Leadbetter)

Kamonchanok Pookayaporn’s laser-cut garments reminded me of the work we did with paper cuts, and her use of puff binder to create  a textured dress was interesting.

Laser-cut dress by Kamonchanok Pookayaporn (image by Oing)

Kate Lawson‘s geometric dresses, inspired by reflections and patterns from London buildings, were also fascinating.

Dress by Kate Lawson

Cara Piazza showed a selection of pieces all dyed with organic matter sourced and foraged in London, including squid ink, onion skins, red wine, strawberries and blackberries.

Cara Piazza Graduate Collection from Cara Marie on Vimeo.

Finally, a couple of garments by Chloe Phelps appealed to me because she used itajime shibori techniques to dye knitted trousers and felt skirts.

Shibori knitted trousers by Chloe Phelps

The Chelsea College of Art and Design BA Show runs until Saturday 23 June.

Bonding fabric and paper

I had a great day at Morley College yesterday learning a technique for bonding paper and cloth.

The technique is quite rough, so synthetic fabrics are better than delicate fabrics such as silk. The fabric also has to be as sheer as possible so that the paper can be seen clearly through it. And the paper has to be really low grade. Newspapers or colour photocopies are best – no glossy magazines.

We laid out a collage by cutting or tearing out bits of newspaper/colour photocopies, then pinned a piece of fabric over the top. Then we applied a matte medium through a silk screen. We didn’t prepare the screens ourselves but borrowed screens that were available in the studio.

Some screens were open – you can use paper templates or masking tape as an alternative to exposing the screen, or even paint the medium on using a brush (not sure how this works – I must ask next week).

After leaving the collage to dry thoroughly, we ironed it for 10 minutes to set the bonding thoroughly. Then we soaked it in water and rubbed off the excess paper. (This is why poor-grade paper is used, so that it disintegrates easily.)

Most people chose images for their collage, but I used a mixture of cuttings from Urdu, Hindi and Chinese publications, with occasional blocks of graphic colour, as you can see from the photos. It’s a difficult thing to photograph, owing to the mixture of transparent and opaque areas, so I’ve just shown some close-ups of various areas.

Some points to note:

  • Images that are printed by an inkjet printer tend to run and stain the fabric,  so colour photocopies are better than prints.
  • The more sheer the fabric the better – you’ll be looking at the paper through the fabric (though I guess there’s no reason why you can’t show it from the back).

I also learned that you can use open screens with paper templates – far quicker than coating it, waiting for it to dry and exposing it, given the problems we’ve had with the facilities! Of course, you won’t be able to make multiple copies this way.

And you can use heat transfer papers, foiling or further printing with opaque ink on top, as well as other embellishment such as stitch. Hopefully we’ll get to try some of this next week.

Relief printing

When I was on holiday in Rajasthan in India a few years ago, I visited some workshops where they printed fabrics with woodblocks. It was a fascinating process, so I thought I’d sign up for a two-day relief printing course at Morley College to learn the basics. The course synopsis said that we would learn about lino and woodblock printing on ink and paper, but I thought I might be able to learn enough to adapt the techniques to fabric.

D’oh! It turns out that relief printing usually results in a negative print – that is, if you cut away bits of the lino or woodblock in the pattern that you want and ink up the block, it’s the background that prints, leaving your pattern in the un-inked areas. To get a positive print, you’d have to cut away an awful lot of the block. Apparently, in Japanese woodblock prints, this is what happens to produce a key block. Not surprisingly, it takes a great deal of time and skill to produce such fine outlines, so it’s not something we tackled in our two-day course!

It takes a great deal of time and skill to produce a Japanese key block

So unless I want to use a lot of fabric paint, the lino and woodblock techniques I learned on the course are likely to be of little use for printing textiles. However, now I have a set of carving tools, there’s nothing to stop me carving simpler shapes on a woodblock and printing with that (like potato printing).

Anyway, I thought I might as well summarise some of the techniques we learned. Starting with lino, which is the easiest to cut, we used the reduction method to produce a three-colour print. So we first printed a yellow square using an uncut lino block (just lightly sanded with wet-and-dry paper).

First colour: uncut lino block in yellow

Then we cut away some of the block and inked it up in red before printing on top of the yellow.

Part of block cut away and inked in red over yellow

We completed the series by cutting more block away and printing in blue on top of the red and yellow. I didn’t get the registration quite right, so it’s a bit like looking at a 3D picture without the specs…

Three-colour lino print - slightly out of registration

Finally, we experimented with spreading a mixture of caustic soda and wallpaper paste onto parts of the block. This eats away at the lino, giving an interesting half-tone effect.

Caustic soda was added to the clouds and the edges of the sea

Another way to get a positive rather than negative image is to ink up with an opaque white ink and print on black or dark paper.  The example below also uses the Chine collé technique, where you print on to a smaller, thinner sheet of paper sandwiched between the press and the main paper. The press helps bond the two papers together.

Chine collé lino cut tiger

We also had a go at embossing, using lino blocks. Here’s the same tiger lino cut as an embossed print.

Embossed tiger
Embossed lino cut tiger

All the prints above were produced using presses. For our final work, a woodblock print, we used a baren, or hand-held disc, to rub the surface of the paper against the block to transfer the ink. The wood absorbs a fair amount of ink, so you need to add more ink than on lino. And apparently the prints get darker after two or three presses.

Tango woodblock print
Shall we dance?