I love making small art quilts and I always strive for originality. I decided to play with making my own fabric prints using a commercial gelatin printing plate to achieve unique, handmade designs. I like to use a small 4″ × 6″ plate because I can test and play without spending a lot of time fiddling with each print or using up a lot of fabric on my trials. The small prints have an added benefit: at the end of a printing session I have a vast stockpile of fabric elements to play with when I am ready to make an art quilt!
I have experimented with different paints, textures, and masking techniques. The method I enjoy the most is simple: after rolling paint onto the gel plate, I mask or block the paint in some areas and print a piece of fabric. I then remove the mask and print the “ghost” of the mask, and repeat—voila! I have a stack of unique fabric prints before you know it!
Anything fairly thin can be a mask—a leaf or simple flowers work well, a bit of thick thread makes a lovely serpentine mask, even rubber bands and paper cutouts create remarkable effects. Store-bought stencils work too—look for ones with open designs so you can press the fabric into the open spaces for clearer printing. I have a stash of silhouette stencils of animals and people that I made by cutting the simple shape in acetate with a heat knife. (You can make a stencil using cardstock and get the same effect, but it doesn’t hold up to repeated use.)
As for paint, I only use Golden Open acrylics. The term “open” means that the paint has a slower drying time, which is important when printing. Because you are rolling a very thin layer of paint on the gel plate, you need the longer drying time to get a good print. I have seen other folks using regular acrylics but I have not been satisfied with the results. I recommend the Golden Open line of paints both because they are slow drying and they come in rich, vibrant colors.
- 4″ × 6″ gel plate
- 5″ × 7″ pieces of fabric
- 2–3 coordinating colors of slow-drying acrylic paint (I used Golden Artist Colors® Open acrylics in Carbon Black, Cobalt Blue, and Green Gold.)
- 4″ brayer
- 2 precut pattern stencils with open designs
- Botanicals (I use relatively thin and flat plants or flowers.)
- Other masking materials such as thread, rubber bands, bubble wrap, and cut paper shapes
- Silhouette stencil cut from acetate (I used Grafix® Clear-Lay plastic film.)
I use two open phone books when gelatin printing. My gel plate rests on one and I roll my brayer clean on the other. When a page gets messy, I simply tear it off. My work surface stays clean and paint doesn’t get everywhere.
1. Squeeze a dime-size dollop of paint directly onto the gel plate. Roll it out with the brayer until you have a smooth, thin, even layer.
2. Place an element to block or mask the paint; here I’m using flowers. (figure 1)
3. Center a rectangle of fabric on top and gently rub around the raised edges of the mask with your fingers and palm.
4. Peel the fabric off the gel plate and you have your first print. Gently pull up the flowers, press a second piece of fabric onto the plate, and rub gently with the palm of your hand. Peel up the fabric and your second print is a ghost of the first—the ghost reveals the details of the petals and has a pale background. (figure 2)
5. Work with one mask using all your colors and printing its ghost. Remember to print on a variety of fabrics before moving to the next mask. (figure 3) Continue in this fashion experimenting with the different masks you have chosen.
TIP: To change colors, roll the brayer on the phone book page until it is clean. Tear off the page and discard—or save it for a mixed-media project.
6. You can get two colors in a print by rolling one color on the gel plate and a different color on the mask stencil. Create wonderful texture by simply rolling paint on gel plate and pressing bubble wrap on the surface. Print the bubble texture on your fabric, then print another color on top using one of your chosen masks. If you make a print you don’t like just print over it and see what you get. Experiment and have fun. After an hour or two you will have a lovely stash of color-coordinated fabrics ready for your art quilt.