Rubber Stamping on Fabric

Rissa Peace Root © 2004

   
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Almost all of the motifs on the block to the right were stamped images that I embroidered over.  There is an almost limitless selection of rubber stamps available at most hobby and craft stores and online.  Using stamps gives you the ability to transfer complex designs with very little effort.  Often the stamps also give you a color reference on the wood mount, making thread and stitch selection much easier. 

Ironically, it took me a long time to warm to the idea of stamping on fabric.  I am not sure why, maybe because I tend to make mistakes when stamping, but all of that changed when  I started using the Tsukineko Water Erasable Fabric Ink stamp pads from RibbonSmyth.  I liked that I could stamp something and if I made a mistake I could erase it without consequence. That freedom emboldened me and I began using stamps on fabric more often, which in turn greatly improved my stamping technique.  Stamping is just like any other technique, the more you do it, the better you get.  Rubber stamping is now my favorite method of image transfer.

If you plan to sew, draw or paint over your image, I highly recommend the Tsukineko Water Erasable Fabric ink, because it gives you greater control over your design.  First, if you are a novice stamper, this is a great way to build your confidence.  However, even if you are an expert stamper, you may only want to embroider part of a design and this way, you can simply erase the unwanted part of the image once it is stamped.  I know there is a lot of talk about water erasable ink reappearing, but I have been using this particular product for more than two years now and never had it happen.  I like the flexibility of using a water erasable product, especially when I am using expensive fabrics.

If you want your image to be permanent, make sure you use an ink or dye made expressly for fabric.  The most common brand is Tsukineko Fabrico®, which is a fabric ink that becomes permanent when heat set.  Fabrico comes in both large and small pads, as well as rainbow pads and markers.  Clearsnap also makes a fabric ink that can be heat set, called Colorbox Craft Ink®, which is available in large and small pads, as well as custom palettes.  Although other rubber stamping products may work, these two brands are available in a wide variety of colors and are specifically formulated for fabric.   Several people also use "permanent" ink such as Ranger's Ancient Page®, but I cannot personally recommend it, since have not used it.  I already have a wide selection of fabric inks and dyes that I like, so I have not experimented further.

There is an option other than permanent and water erasable stamp pads.  You can always get un-inked stamp pads and fill them with your own ink, dyes and paints.  I have experimented with microwave set fabric dyes from RibbonSmyth with good results, especially when I am stamping chunky motifs onto fabric as part of the fabric design.  Jacquard's Lumiere®, Dye-na-flow® and other fabric paints also work well with stamping. The bottles are very similar to stamp pad re-inkers, so they work well in a stamp pad, but they can also be used to color or paint a stamped image.  Tsukineko also makes a product called "All Purpose Ink" that can be poured into stamp pads or brushed onto a stamp or painted onto a stamped image. With all of these products, be sure to heat set between color applications or the colors might run.

Whichever ink or dye you use there are some tips that might help you along.

  • Pick stamps with clear, well defined lines and high relief.  Some of the modern stamps are highly shaded and do not translate well onto fabric. 
  • Stamp on a solid, even surface, like a cutting table.  Since ink sometimes saturates the fabric, place a piece of acrylic or wood between your fabric and your furniture.
  • Ideally, fabric that is meant to be stamped or painted should be washed first, to remove any sizing.
  • Stamped images are clearer on smooth fabrics than on textured ones.
  • If you plan to embroider your design, keep the stamp near you while you select colors and stitches.  You may want to keep it out as a reference or key while you are stitching the motif.
  • If you get ink in the wrong place, dab it with a wet Q-tip or a water brush as soon as possible to prevent setting. 
  • My personal experience has been that fabric inks do not come out completely when washed prior to heat setting, so you have to exercise more care with these inks.
  • To save some heartache, clean the excess ink off the stamp before you place it on your fabric.
  • Some images can be stamped on the backside and worked from the wrong side of the fabric.
  • Don't skimp on ink.  Make sure your ink pads stay moist.
  • Keep baby wipes close by to clean the ink off of your rubber stamps as soon as you are finished stamping. 
  • Always wash your stamps when you are done and use Rubber Stamp Cleaner to condition them.
  • Wood mounted stamps are easiest to use, because there is no give in the material.  Foam mounted stamps should be used with care, so that your design does not shift when you are pressing the ink stamp onto your fabric.
  • Stamp several images at once to save ink and time.   The assembly line method works very well for CQ blocks and artist trading cards (ATC).
  • A foam paint brush or make-up sponge can be used to apply ink to stamp.  These are inexpensive easily located items, but this method does waste ink, because the brush absorbs more ink than needed and can not be saved like an ink pad.  This method works best when you doing multiple images in a single setting.
  • If you plan to color or paint your stamped image, use textile paint, ink or markers that can be rendered permanent on fabric. 
  • Don't be afraid to try new things.  A recent stamped image swap opened my eyes to a whole world of stamped images I never would have considered using.
  • If you plan to sell your stamped items, you may want to check on copyright.  Some stamps do not allow for commercial use and others have an explicit "angel" policy.
I have collected a wide variety of stamps and fabric inks.  I also keep un-inked stamp pads for microwave dyes and other inks.  The pads do not have to be large to work, so it is a better value to buy a lot of small pads and re-inkers than large pads.  Inking the stamp is simple. Just lightly run or roll the re-inker across the sponge surface until it is juicy.  Your first few images after re-inking might be spotty until the ink has had time to settle evenly into the pad.
I use an L-shaped piece of clear acrylic to position my stamps.  This saves time in the long run. I position the dry stamp and mark the place with the acrylic L. Almost any ruler or heavy object can be used for this purpose.
Be generous when you ink your stamp, especially the first time you use the stamp.  You might want to do a test image to make sure all parts of the stamp have been equally well inked.   Sometimes it is easier to ink the stamp by running the ink pad over the rubber surface of the stamp than it is to press your stamp down into the pad. 
Even though this ink is water erasable, I always take a second to clean off any excess ink from the image with a wet Q-Tip before I place it on my fabric.  It is a good habit to cultivate, especially if you use permanent inks and dyes.
Line the image up on the fabric before you let it touch.  Never push or scoot the stamp, it will cause your image to smear or double.  Make sure you are working on a firm surface without any give.
Press down firmly and equally to get a clear image.  Sometimes hard tapping will work, but on a very intricate design, just use firm, even pressure, making sure not to rock.
If you are using water erasable ink, the image will be aqua colored.  You will have to determine how you want to embellish the item.  Start with outlines and dark areas.  Remember, since it is water erasable, you do not have to embroider every line. 
When you are finished embroidering the design, if any aqua is still showing, just gently dab it with a wet Q-tip or water brush to erase them. 
If you are stamping with permanent ink, heat set your image as soon as possible, even if you plan to paint over it with textile markers. 

The image to the left was stamped with black Fabrico® ink, then heat set.  Zig textile markers were used to color over the image, turning this "20's Lady" stamp into a Red Hat lady. 

This was my first try at making a Fiber Artist Trading Card and this is where I learned that heat setting is required between each application of color.  Notice that the purple at the collar is muddied by the black outlining. 

The images on the left were stamped onto pre-washed Kona cotton, which is a good quality cotton available at most quilt and fabric shops.  First, note that the stamped image itself is clearer and more well defined than the image above, because this fabric is smoother than linen.  Also note how crisp the colors are, because it was heat set between each color application.  You can clearly see the details on the collar and on the hat. 

Resources:

Tsukineko Water Erasable Fabric Ink, please note, it has recently come to my attention that this product has been discontinued, however, it is  still available from http://www.ribbonsmyth.com

Tuskineko Fabrico® and All-Purpose Ink
http://www.tsukineko.com

Jacquard's Textile Dye and Paint Products
http://www.jacquardproducts.com

 

 
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