Tag Archives: textiles

Tutorial: Block Printed Tea Towels

In less than a week I’m heading back down to my red house for a binge of house projects and cat cuddling. There might be something wrong with me–I daydream about patching walls and painting ceilings, hanging pictures and polishing floors. I’m also longing to get an armful of chubby cat(s). A warning to our Instagram followers: expect a flood – biblical in scale – of cat photos next week. I know it will take at least a couple of days before my brain recalibrates and I realize that images of Dean sleeping in eight slightly different positions are not as brilliantly adorable to everyone else, no matter what filter I use.

As many of you know, I’ve been on a block printing tear lately. It started with the upholstered stool, ramped up with the two possible covers I made for the Paul McCobb chair, and this week I decided to make some simple, graphic tea towels.

Block printed tea towel tutorial - Red House West

I love kitchen linens! Pretty tea towels or table runners are an easy way to freshen up the kitchen, and they also make terrific gifts.  Useful, decorative and, in this case, homemade.

Let’s get this party started.


Plain white tea towels (I sewed mine using extra fabric, but this project would go much more quickly without that step)


Block cutting tool*

Rubber carving block (available online at Michael’s, or at most craft stores)

Screen printing ink, your choice of colors (I used white, blue and red)

Small tray or plate for rolling the ink* (a pie plate or kitchen plate would work fine)

A piece of scrap fabric for test prints

A dropcloth or newspapers to protect your work surface

Utility knife

Cutting board or mat

Soft pencil




*All the supplies marked with an asterix come in a ‘Block Printing Starter Kit‘ that – with one of the 50% off coupons that Michael’s often has – is a good value. The kit also comes with a small tub of black ink.

To make the all over ‘v’ pattern, I drew the image in Powerpoint and then printed it out. It would work just as well to draw it up using a ruler on a piece of paper. I then colored in the pattern using a pencil.

No hand modeling in my future (and this is not a subliminal ad for the credit union pencil - I swear!)

Alas – no hand modeling in my future

Put your pattern face down on the carving block and transfer the penciled design (I used my library card to go back and forth over the paper and it worked great).

Block printed tea towel tutorial - Red House West

To carve the block I used the small v-shaped cutting attachment (a standard Speedball carving tool comes with three attachments) to outline the shape, and then switched to the larger u-shaped one to carve the inside of the shape. It’s important to keep the tool pointed away from you and to keep the cuts shallow (if you hold the handle of your carving tool perpendicular to the block, it will gouge and tear your design). When I finished carving, I used my utility knife to cut off the ends of the carving block so it was a rectangle.

carving the block

I mixed up the colors I used for this project, and I’m afraid I don’t have recipes – I just kept adding and stirring until I had the color I wanted. I’ve mentioned her book on the blog before, but Lena Corwin’s Printing by Hand is a great resource for all kinds of fabric design, including block printing. She has many wonderful projects and gives precise recipes for specific colors.

Mixing paint (left) and color testing

Mixing paint (left) and color testing

Time to start printing! Put a small (about half of a teaspoon) dollop of ink in your tray, and roll the brayer in the tray until it is evenly coated. Next, roll the ink onto your block. If some ink happens to gloop into your design – as it did in mine – just wipe it out with a corner of a paper towel or rag before you begin printing.

Time to start printing!

Do some test prints on your scrap fabric to make sure your pattern is transferring cleanly, and then begin printing your towel starting in the upper left corner. I printed down the column, rather than across the row, but I think either way would work fine. Place your stamp so it overlaps the edge of the preceding print, and apply firm, even pressure.

I drew an arrow on the back of the block to make sure I oriented it correctly as I stamped

I drew an arrow on the back of the block to make sure I oriented it correctly as I stamped

Let your fabric dry and then iron it (no steam!) to set the ink. The color of the ink holds up well to washing, and the towels just get softer with use.

For this design I simply traced a circle (using a cup) onto the carving block and then used a ruler to add the lines in the circle.

For this design I simply traced a circle (using a cup) directly onto the carving block and then drew the lines using a ruler.

I got these cute cups at the thrift store yesterday, and thought they looked cute with the new linens.

Ah yes, those cups I got at the thrift store yesterday do look nice with the linens.

Red House West - Block Printing Tutorial

Red House West - Block Printing Tutorial

Please let me know if I can clarify anything about this printing process, and I’m curious – do you have any block printing plans? What do you think would be fun to make using this technique? Please tell us in the comments! Mera and I will be back on Friday with a collaborative post as we try to define the ineffable: our personal styles.

Paul McCobb Dining Chair with Hand Printed Fabric

I am really excited to share this project with you, both because it has been on my to-do list for a while and because I had a lot of fun doing it. I found this Paul McCobb dining chair over a year ago, and it is responsible for setting my thrift store expectations way too high–I consider it my gateway drug for compulsive thrifting. I found it in a corner of the thrift store, not with the other furniture, but with the washers and dryers. I didn’t know who Paul McCobb was at the time, but I knew I loved the angles of this chair. And even though it was in disrepair, I brought it home. For $1.99.

Paul McCobb chair before

Since finding this chair, I’ve become a big fan of Paul McCobb and spend more time than I should on Ebay looking at furniture he designed that is way out of my price range.  This style of chair is called the bowtie, and I love its depiction in this mid-century ad (as the owner of this chair you too can lounge, in a suit, beneath your wall display of wind instruments):

I need to point out, right up front here, that the following series of pictures are taken outdoors because I’m not, in fact, currently residing in my red house west. This summer – for work – Cameron and I are living mostly up in Washington State (in Walla Walla specifically – if you know the area and have recommendations, please tell me in the comments!), and we have friends living in our house. This is mostly a good thing – I’ve always loved moving and living in new places – and spending a few months in a place is a great way to get to know it without worrying whether you’ll still like it in a year, or five or ten. I am missing our house, though, and my fevered house project brain can’t rest, so I’ll be sharing a few smaller projects then heading down next month for some frenzied (blissful!) painting and home repair.

Back to the chair (which I loaded into the car on top of all the other things we moved here with while Cameron looked on askance). Structurally, it is in good shape. No wiggles or cracks in the wood. However, it looked like somebody used it as a notching post to record the passing years of their life in exile–there are cuts and gouges all over the finish.

Chair before with marred finish

I knew I wouldn’t be able to make this chair look like new, but I did know I could make it a lot better. I washed it down with wood soap, gave it a light sanding, then pulled out my favorite one-two punch of Restor-A-Finish and Howard Feed & Wax.

Restor-a-Finish supplies

Somuch better

It looks so much better!

The cushion on the chair was torn and beyond repair and, as with the upholstered stool I shared here before, I knew I wanted to try printing my own fabric.

To make the stamps, I used a soft rubber carving block I got at the craft store and Speedball carving tools. I doodled some possible designs and then used a pencil to draw them freehand right on to the carving block.

carving stamps

I tested them, first on paper and then on fabric, carving away any raised areas that were marring the printed image. I ended up cutting out the fern stamps (rather than leaving them in a square shape), so I would have an easier time orienting them on the fabric as I stamped.


test fabric

I set up a printing station on the floor (doing this type of project in a rental house posed some challenges — I didn’t have a dropcloth or any newspapers, so I tore sheets out of a catalog to protect the floor). I used the ruler on my transparent cutting mat to help keep the lines straight.

printing triangles

The triangle print took a while. For expedience, I wish I’d carved a block with four columns of triangles instead of just a single one. Overall though, it was an easy process. I put on a podcast and happily printed away. The ferns went much faster and though I started with a measured grid carefully marked in pencil, I quickly abandoned that and just eyeballed the spacing.

fabric printed

Now here’s where I need your help! I can’t decide which print I like better on the chair, the botanical one or the triangles. Please take a look and cast your vote! Whichever one I don’t use, I will make into a pillow or find another use for it.

Keep in mind that when the decision is made about which fabric to use, I’ll staple it on and the fit will be much better than in these pictures. So which do you prefer? The triangles…

chair after outside with triangle fabric

chair after outside with triangle fabric side view

Or the ferns…

fern fabric after from front outside

fern fabric after outside side

Cast your vote and I’ll finish ‘er up and take some photos when I’m back in my red house next month.

Thanks for reading this post and for weighing in on the design decision! You’ve still got two days to be entered to win the Good Score giveaway–we’ll announce the winner on Friday!


My Mom the Weaver

In honor of Mother’s Day, I thought I would show you the impossibly gorgeous rugs made by none other than my madre.  My mom learned to weave and then taught weaving classes at the local University in the ’70s.  I grew up with these beauties in the house, and even as a kid I knew I was in the presence of greatness.

Donna Matthews Rug

On this side the rug is dark brown, almost black, and grey. As you can see in the next photo, on the opposite side the brown has faded to a soft qiviut color.


Donna Matthews Rug

When we were kids one of the rugs was in the living room, and another was upstairs. These days the rugs are kept rolled up in a closet upstairs. I think it was the cat that lived to be 22 years old and puked pretty much every day of the last 11 years of her life (I still love you Terra, wherever you are!) that convinced my mom to roll them up and put them in the attic.  Living, as I do, in a house where at any given moment some creature or other is barfing or worse, I can relate.  Even without the constant threat of hurling in my mom’s house these days, all my oohing and aahing hasn’t convinced her to display them again.

Donna Matthews Rug


Donna Matthews- Rug

The rugs are “picnic rugs” – soft and pliable wool.  Underfoot they feel like clouds made of macaron cookies and kittens.

Donna Matthews Rug

I particularly love the colors in this rug.  The mustard yellow (and you know I love mustard in all its forms) in this rug is paired with unexpected and bold colors.  The red is sort of an artisanal ketchup color, but that’s where the condiment comparisons end, because what really slays me is the pink.  PINK AND MUSTARD.  What kind of genius weaves pink and mustard yellow together?  My mom, that’s who.

Donna Matthews Rug

My mom pointed out later that this is actually the wrong side of the rug. If it’s wrong, then I don’t want to be right (except I do, because the other side is so pretty too!).

She wove other things aside from rugs, including clothing. I vividly remember her in a skirt and matching shawl, though I didn’t know at the time that she’d made them.  Here’s the shawl, displayed as a table runner:

Donna Matthews-Shawl

As you might remember from my bathroom makeover, I am firmly in the red and purple go together camp (incidentally, one of my favorite bloggers, Jenny Komenda of Little Green Notebook is also a purple and red devotee).  Apparently the love for that combo is in my genetics.

Donna Matthews Shawl

And here is a lovely little sampler showcasing different weaving techniques:

Donna Matthews-Sampler

Isn’t it beautiful? Thanks to my talented mom for letting me share these beauties here on Red House West. I hope everyone had a great Mother’s Day!  Check back on Wednesday for a post from Katie, and be sure to submit your Good Scores to redhousewest@gmail.com or by tagging #rhwgoodscore on Instagram for a chance to win (see the details here).