Saturday, January 2, 2010

Stencils, pencils, muslin, and stamps . . .

Years ago, when I first started experimenting with foundation piecing on muslin, I was faced with the problem of how to transfer the design onto the muslin square. I chose to make a stencil of the design.

First, I printed the design on card stock.

Then, I used spray adhesive to glue the card stock to the back (smooth side) of a sheet of medium-grit sandpaper. I chose sandpaper because it would grab the muslin and not slide around.

Next, I cut openings in the design using a rotary cutter and acrylic ruler as shown below. Note that I cut the openings shy of the places where two or more lines connected. This space was 1/4" to 1/2". These "uncut" places are called bridges and hold the stencil together. Otherwise, the entire stencil would just fall apart. The opening were wide enough to accommodate a pencil lead. I used a mechanical pencil, so the thickness of the lead would be consistent.

I made two of these stencils: one was a mirror-image of the other.

Now for the muslin . . .

I wanted the muslin to be stable, so I starched it. I used liquid starch, available at the grocery store alongside the laundy soap (it comes scented and unscented). I experimented with different strengths. Full strength was too strong: the muslin was more like cardboard, and sent up little puffs of powdered starch while sewing. I settled for a solution of liquid starch and water somewhere between "light" and "medium."

I could stencil a muslin square in a couple of minutes . . . it was the sort of activity I could do in front of the TV (back when I watched TV, that is). There were only two drawbacks: stencilling several hundred muslin squares added up, timewise; and, I realized that the longer I used the stencil the less accurate it became. The pencil lead was slowly wearing away the sides of the stencil openings, making them larger . . . uh oh.

Now what??

I decided to go with a rubber stamp. A local company would make one for me from artwork I provided. They assured me that the stamp would be a photographic reproduction of my artwork, but the resulting stamp was larger than I expected. Since I didn't remember measuring my artwork, I couldn't say for sure that the fault was theirs.

I used a small, shallow cookie sheet with a sheet of felt as a stamp pad. I bought some indelible fabric ink and tried the stamp. The ink was thin (like water). Good thing the muslin squares were starched; the ink bled through the fabric, making the muslin squares reversible. But, the ink had a tendency to wick outwards, making thick lines . . . not good, but acceptable. The ink gave off noxious fumes, too. I could stamp muslin squares in a fraction of the time, but I wasn't pleased with the overall outcome.

I abandoned the rubber stamp and its smelly ink.

Recently, I decided to give it another try. This time, I DID measure my artwork . . . the resulting stamps came out smaller than my artwork.

I decided to use them anyway . . . as long as I was using them solely, and not trying to use other sized blocks, what did it matter?? I also found a supply of foam rubber to use as stamp pad and a better, slightly thicker ink. The ink still bled through the starched muslin, but it wicked outward much less (and didn't smell as bad, either). These stamps should last indefinitely (which makes it worth the investment).

I'm still getting the hang of stamping . . . sometimes, the lines don't show up as well as I'd like. I got a fabric pen to perform a little "quality control" on the possible rejects.

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  1. Thanks for the look into your system. I may have to invest in a stamp and some ink for myself.

  2. Stamping is quicker than stencilling, though not everyone would be willing to spend $150 for a rubber stamp . . . I've researched companies online that make mylar stencils (more durable than card stock/sandpaper) that may be cheaper than a rubber stamp . . . both of these options would be for a person making more than just one quilt using the design tile (mine or one they design themselves).

    I'm committed to making quilts ONLY from the design, from now till . . . (yeah, THAT long, LOL!!)

  3. I'm thinking about getting a piece of Plexiglas, and using my mad shop skills, I'd cut the tiles out of the plexi. It would be just like using my acrylic rulers. They'd last a while and if I needed another tile, cutting it would be easy.

  4. That's a great idea, Greg!!

    Originally, I made templates out of card stock and sandpaper, too . . . they had no seam allowances, so I had to use an acrylic ruler extended past the seam lines. This year, I had a set of metal templates made for me, with the seam allowances built-in . . . now, I wonder how I ever managed without 'em!!

    A set of plexiglass templates would last ya a long, long time . . .

  5. It looks a bit like a thick pen and chalk spray, and there is a wheel that offers the chalk. This tool is good to make straight lines I use my rule about where I want the chalk line and run along the stylus and it also contains a thin layer of chalk, but he brushes easily, so I I feel so hoop that fit in my lap.

    promotional pens

  6. wow..nice blog you have very informative...thanks for sharing...

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