Since coming up to Scotland I’ve become something of a bird watcher. As a result my (very short) run of homemade Christmas cards this year were inspired by the tiny puff ball of a thing that skulks around our patio – troglodytes troglodytes, or the common wren.
We saw much more of this bird in the winter, I think because the lack of greenery made it much more difficult for him to hide as he scuttled along the low walls and through the bushes. And this I suppose is why the wren has its place in British folk lore – being unfortunate enough to get caught up in a pointless hunt on St. Stephen’s day, 26th December, when gangs of boys would chase through the bushes with sticks until they’d caught one. This is also why it seemed just the thing to capture for my Christmas card.
I have had a hankering to get lino cutting for a few years. Back when I was teaching I’d bought a set of lino cutters and some lino pieces from Cass Arts in London and then carted them around with me into postgraduate philosophy study and on to Scotland. Now with little funds for new art and craft supplies I am very glad of the stashing mentality of my former self and got these out to cut myself a small card sized square and dredged the memory banks for the Self Portrait Unit in my GCSE Art course where our final piece was a large lino print. We were shown how to make a cheats’ carbon paper transfer using tracing paper and a soft pencil so I traced another drawing of my little wren and flipped it over pressing it onto the lino surface by heavily drawing over the lines on the reverse – this also handily mirrors your original drawing so that once it’s printed it will be flipped again and appear in its original form.
Once I’d nervously laboured carefully scraping out my design I gave him a border of imagined trees and leaves and got to printing. I used a roller to apply the paint evenly and – as I only had the one roller – used a rolling pin to smooth the back of the lino, pressing it down onto the paper. After a few goes the lino sort of got into the swing of things and gave better prints – I think it needed to absorb more of the ink and I wiped off the surface a few times with a wet sponge. In retrospect, I think my design was too detailed and I lost quite a bit of definition in places where the gaps filled up with ink. But it’s all part of the printing aesthetic. I think it’s probably good for my perfectionist mentality.
I return to my little cave dweller now as I finally got the impetus to commandeer the kitchen for some more printing this month. This time on fabric. I wanted to see if it would be possible to use my lino cut in this way but didn’t hold out much hope as the level of detail on my print was a bit much even to transfer to smooth paper. The consistency of fabric paint is also very different from the block printing ink I’d used for my cards so you need to get quite a lot of it onto the lino which is a challenge as it’s rather sticky stuff.
It occurred to me that with the level of detail I’d have a much better time of it trying to replicate the sponge tray ink stamp pads that you buy commercially. So I got some VERY messy fingers using a soaked corner snip of a washing up sponge to apply the paint.
Now I’d got the hang of it I went and sponged up the lino to print some cotton bags – these have a heavier grain than the light calico I was experimenting with. It wasn’t so easy to get the ink into the fabric this time and one bag is kind of pale looking but they’re pretty cool for a first attempt.
Once I’d got my bags done I went back and ‘signed’ my prints with the ‘Evil snake hanko’ from my time living in Japan: Ja-mai-ma. ‘Ja’ being the evil/snake part and then ‘mai’ and ‘ma’ meaning dancing and a type of cloth – which I really like now given my increased enthusiasm for textiles. Etsuko (my Japanese Mama) never liked the evil/snake part and preferred to call me Jo-mai-ma for a woman dancing cloth instead.
I fixed my fabric paint with the iron (using some more calico as a barrier and cardboard behind).
At Christmas I made up some card labels to use as gift tags with washing instructions after receiving a lovely ‘knitted with love’ stamp for my birthday.
So I thought I’d fill up the spare calico with fabric paint versions I could sew into finish garments.
So there you have it! Some lovely project bags which will probably never make it to anyone for a present and instead are housing one of my many WIPs. I have some ideas brewing for my little calico wrens… Some batik pre-cut quilt squares I bought second hand are looking to be just the right size to combine with the little wrens. I’ll just need to do some sums. And maybe a little more printing.