Block Printing: I Made This!

I’m not entirely sure when I became obsessed with the idea of block printing. It may have been a few months ago, when Meighan O’Toole took Jen Hewitt’s block-printing class and started posting photos all over Instagram. Yes, that may have been when the seed took root in my brain. That may have been when I bought a lino-cut starter kit. I didn’t actually use that kit until this week, though, such was my obsession with the idea of block printing.

But I packed the kit, along with some other print-making stuff, when we went on our road trip. I had visions of carving stamps after Owen went to bed, and returning home with all kinds of things to print.

As it turned out, the weather was colder and far windier than we’d anticipated it would be in many places, and when it wasn’t super windy it was often very hot and so Owen went to bed later than usual, and anyway what I’m saying is that I hardly made anything at all on the trip, stamps and blocks included. (I also hardly knitted, and I didn’t bring out the watercolours even once.)

It was on one of the last nights of the trip that I finally said enough, and I pulled out a wee circle of rubber. I forgot to reverse the design for proper directional printing, but I made a stamp of our wee camper, and in the process of doing so I fell completely in love with block printing – not just the idea of it, but the actual act and product of it.

As I knew I would.

Block printing, see, like screen printing, is just so practical. You get the one-time thrill of creating something new, going through all the steps to make a stamp/screen, and then you can use that stamp/screen over and over and over again. In some ways, block printing is even more satisfying than screen printing: blocks take up less room to store than screens, they’re less fiddly to apply, and set-up and clean-up are faster and easier.

So when Owen decided that he wants the activity at his half-birthday party this weekend to be tie-dyeing t-shirts (just like last year, for he is a creature of habit) I knew that I had to make a stamp for those shirts. Obviously.

And so I sketched. And I ended up taking to the computer. And I printed. And I traced. And I drew. And I transferred. And I carved. And I printed. (And lest you think it all went perfectly in one go, take a look at the final photo on the right. I touched up the lino block twice before getting the small lines deep enough, and it took me a few goes to get a feel for how best to print on fabric vs. paper.) (I printed up a onesie, too, because I found one at the bottom of a pile and thought WELL DUH. That one’ll go to the next baby shower I attend.)

This weekend we’ll make a good-old classic mess (in a heat wave, no less) in our backyard, and when O’s friends get their tie-dyed shirts home and untie them so they can be washed, they’ll see that stamp on there reminding them that they made the shirt. (I have it in mind to make a quick stamp that says “in 2015″ to add on tonight in red, so then when parents dig up those shirts in a few years, they’ll remember when their kid made it.

Now I want to print everything. Fabric, postcards, greeting cards, random pieces of wood hanging around the workshop, the walls, my bedsheets. Everything.

Block printing t-shirts for a kid's birthday party!
Block-printed t-shirt: I Made This
Block printing trials, errors, and success.

Crocheted Rag Rug (and How to Crochet a Perfect Circle)

By far the most straightforward project I’m making to outfit the camper for our road trip is a crocheted rag rug. I’ve been wanting to make one for ages, and am glad I finally committed to making one for the very small amount of floor space we have in our tiny home on wheels.

First thing I did was wing it without either a) measuring the space I need to fill, nor b) redoing the problematic parts of the rug once I realized it looked funny.

So I’m calling it a useful experiment, and we’ll use this small rug outside the door to collect mud and dirt when we take our shoes off before going inside.

crocheted oval rag rug photo

Problematic things? First (this is for the crochet nerds), I started the rug with a row of foundation single crochet rather than a chain, because I wanted the very centre to have as much thickness and heft as the rest of the rug. But when I actually stopped to look at the thing, I was not pleased with how there’s that one lone loop of each stitch hanging out at the centre. But did I rip it back? Oh no. Like the not-perfectionist I am, I soldiered on.

And as I soldiered on, I increased around the ends of the oval at very regular intervals. Like you do.

But, (again for the crochet nerds), as you know, when you increase at regular intervals whilst crocheting in the round, you don’t actually produce a circle; you produce a straight-sided shape with the same number of sides as stitches you began with in the first round (like this). (For example, if you started with six stitches, you’d eventually end up with a hexagon, not really a circle; with eight stitches, an octagon.)

In yarn as thick as that made from cut-up t-shirts, the increasing at regular intervals bit in an oval-shaped rug did not make me happy.

So, you know. Eventually I went out to the camper and measured the floor, so I’d know how big I should make the next oval-shaped rug.

And you know what I discovered? That wee patch of floor is 36″ x 40″. So, uh, what I actually need is a circle rug.

Well. So much for prototyping for a project that’s actually less finicky than I’d anticipated.

So this is what the inside rug looks like, about 3/4 of the way to a diameter of about 34″:

circle rag rug photo

You may notice that it’s not a straight-sided shape pretending to be a circle. That’s because I’ve spread my increases out instead of lining them up one on top of the last. I’ve gotten some questions about how to do this in my Craftsy class, so I figured I’d write it out in a bit more detail:

How to Crochet a Perfect Circle

To crochet a proper circle that doesn’t have corners where the increases pile up, vary the number of stitches you make at the beginning of the round before you make your first increase. Once you’ve made your first increase at a different point than the first increase of the previous round, continue to crochet the round by counting as you need to to space the rest of the increases evenly. Perhaps that’ll be clearer with an example.

Say I started with six stitches in my first round, so need to increase six times evenly spaced on every subsequent round. It would look something like this:

Round 1: 6 sc.
Round 2: [2 sc in next stitch] 6 times.
Round 3: [Sc in next stitch, 2 sc in next stitch] 6 times.
Round 4: [Sc in each of next 2 stitches, 2 sc in next stitch] 6 times.
Round 5: [Sc in each of next 3 stitches, 2 sc in next stitch] 6 times.

This is the formula that ends up stacking the increases one on top of the others, resulting in a hexagon rather than a true circle.

To stagger your stitches to achieve perfect roundness, try something like:

Round 1: 6 sc.
Round 2: [2 sc in next stitch] 6 times.
Round 3: [Sc in next stitch, 2 sc in next stitch] 6 times.
Round 4: Sc in next stitch, 2 sc in next stitch, sc in next stitch, [sc in each of next 2 stitches, 2 sc in next stitch] 5 times, sc in last stitch.
Round 5: 2 sc in first stitch, [sc in each of next 3 stitches, 2 sc in next stitch] 5 times, sc to end of round.

You can see that the formula is the same, it’s just that starting with Round 4, I began to offset the placement of the increases so they don’t all pile up. Note that in Round 5, I didn’t just continue the pattern I set up in Round 4; instead, I made sure the increases were offset from where they were placed in the fourth round. You’d just continue in this manner, increasing evenly around each round, but with the placement of the increases staggered.

Crocheted Rag Rug Resources

I’ve gotten loads of comments from people expressing interest in crocheting their own rag rug, so here are some great resources: Cal Patch teaches a super Creativebug class on how to crochet rag rugs, including lessons on circle rugs and also oval ones. I used this tutorial for how to make yarn from old t-shirts.

If you’ve crocheted a rag rug, share a photo in the comments! If you want to, let me know if you have any questions!

Happy 100th Day of Making!

If you started a #yearofmaking on January 1st, today is your one hundredth day!

(If you started before or after January 1st, tell me what day you’re on in the comments, wontcha? And if you haven’t started yet, no day is a bad day to start.) (Oh, and if you’re doing the #The100DayProject, I bet you cash money you won’t want to stop making at the end, so continuing with an additional 265 days of making – according to your own rules – will probably feel like the best idea ever.)

Here’s what I’m making today (it’s a wee rug for our camper trailer for our massive road trip next month [you’ll hear lots more about that over the next couple weeks!]):

Compulsory Podcast Special Burrito Bulletin: Lauren Venell

I just returned from Craftcation Conference (more about that in another post), where I recorded three interviews for future episodes of Compulsory. One of those was with Lauren Venell, who’s an artist and a designer of plush, among other things. She told me a story that made me laugh so hard I thought I was going to die (you can hear my near-death wheezing in the recording, obviously). The story was about the time a few years ago when she was commissioned to design a human-size plush burrito costume.

So then I got home from Craftcation last night, and this morning I see that, in an amazing turn of internet magic, the very same giant burrito is going viral. Like, Boing Boing viral. Like, I texted Greg about it after he went to work and he told me that yes, he’d seen the burrito… viral. That’s why this episode is out before the second season of Compulsory is even fully scheduled.

So. More about Lauren and the things we discussed:

Lauren Venell is an artist and designer specializing in editorial props and product development. Her work has been published in titles by Chronicle Books, Klutz/Scholastic, Uppercase, Monsa Books and Quarry Books, among others, and featured in several media outlets including The New York TimesThe San Francisco ChronicleEveryday with Rachel Ray and on Canal+ Television. She has launched several of her own successful toy lines including her current line, the Deep Creeps, which can be found in stores across the globe.

In addition to her creative work, Lauren speaks at events about small business financial topics. She has aired two bookkeeping classes through Creative Live and contributes in-depth small business articles to several creative blogs, including design*sponge and Craftzine. From 2009-2011, she co-founded and programmed the Conference of Creative Entrepreneurs. Lauren lives in San Francisco with her husband, her daughter and an ornery parrotlet named Elvis.

Because of the huge amount of attention the burrito is sending her way, Lauren tells me that the contact form on her website isn’t working. If you need to reach her during this particular time of burrito virulence, she kindly requests that you do so via social media (see below).

Relevant Links:

My conversation with Lauren was recorded by Mike Boyle of MB Studio Services at Craftcation Conference in Ventura, CA.

Our hiatus is a great time to catch up on the first season of Compulsory, which you can find on iTunesStitcher, and Soundcloud. Subscribe now so you won’t miss the start of Season 2! And if you enjoy the podcast, please give it a rating and a review, so more people can find it.