Category Archives: tutorials

Design Tip: Cropping

I was asked to talk about my quiltlet process at Sunday’s Modern Quilt Guild meeting, and since I work a little larger and then crop down, I wanted to give a visual of how that can change a composition. Since my quiltlets are all 6×8″, I cut a cropping window out of a larger piece of cardboard. This way, I can isolate 6×8″ compositions and decide what I like best. I also have a smaller window template (for smaller compositions, obviously!). Sometimes I’m working with a finished composition already in mind, but using this template is really helpful when I’m working intuitively. It can help you discover compositions you didn’t even know were hiding within your design. These view finders can also be helpful when you’re inspired by a particular design out in the world and trying to isolate part of it to focus in on.

To demonstrate this process, I pieced an improv square.

improv pieced square,

Before adding more surface interest, I took some pictures using the cropping windows. These are only a portion of the photos I took, as I wanted to remember all the possible ways I might want to enlarge this into a full-size quilt. I really love these colors together.

cropping example,

This crop keeps the horizontal and verticals intact. But don’t just move the cropping window around; tilt it from side to side as well, to see possibilities on the diagonal.

cropping on the diagonal,

cropping on the diagonal,

I then added some surface interest in the form of circles and quilting, so the full piece looked like this.

circles and lines,

Again, I took many more pictures than I’m sharing here.

cropping example,

And again, some on the diagonal.

cropping example,

cropping example,

I love zooming in on one part of a design like this–the results can be so interesting. Using this tool allows you to explore different focal points. What works best? What is most interesting? What draws you in the most? Often I do quite a bit of sewing that doesn’t make it into the final piece, but that sewing was necessary to get to the final composition. It’s like research in a novel; the reader might never read that backstory but it adds to the story nonetheless.

Tutorial: Offset Printing With A Gelatin Plate

Offset Printing Using a Gelatin Plate at

I’ve been head down into printmaking lately, even more than usual, as I researched and prepared Art Together Issue Three: Printmaking. At the beginning of this issue, I define the categories of printmaking, and every category includes at least one version that is possible to do at home, without a printing press…except for intaglio printing. In this type of printmaking, grooves are carved into a plate, which is usually metal, through any number of methods. The plate is inked and then wiped clean, so the ink only remains in the grooves. Paper is dampened, placed on the plate, and the whole shebang is run through a printing press, so that the heavy pressure pushes the paper into the grooves, resulting in the print. It’s just not possible to create enough pressure to do that without a press.

However, the process I describe here, which I read about in Making Monotypes Using a Gelatin Plate, by Nancy Marculewicz (sadly, out of print), mimics the effect of intaglio, taking advantage of the give that a gelatin plate provides–the surface is soft enough to be imprinted. I didn’t include this method in the zine; it’s a little more complex than the free-form experimentation with the gelatin plate that works so well with children and beginners (and truthfully, never gets old), and it uses a Very Sharp Tool. But I do want to share it for those of you who fall in love with gelatin plate printmaking and want to take it further.

Materials: Thin Plexiglas sheet (I found mine in the art store with the drafting/engineering type supplies); scribe or something similarly sharp; block-printing ink and palette of some sort; brayer; baren; gelatin plate (instructions for making one can be found in Art Together Issue Three)

Process: First, you need a line drawing that you want to work with and that fits the size of your gelatin plate. I did this twice. The first drawing is at the top of this post; the tutorial was made using the second drawing. When you have a drawing you’re happy with, tape it to your surface and then tape your thin Plexiglas sheet on top. You want to try to minimize slippage.

ready to trace

Now you’re going to use your scribe to scratch into the surface along the lines. You’re aiming to throw up a burr on each side of your scratch, so it holds the ink.

Inscribing into the plastic plate.

Apologies for the glare…overhead lighting in the studio.

You can lift up the plastic to check your progress. This isn’t easy work; you don’t want to scratch right through the plastic, but you do want the grooves deep enough to hold the ink. (You may find, after going through the entire process and taking a print, that you want to deepen your grooves and try again.)

When the etching is complete, ink up your plastic plate using block-printing ink and a brayer (again, if you’re unsure how to do this, you can check out Issue Three). I tried colored ink but found black worked best; however, experiment! Another type of ink, or acrylic paint, may yield completely different results.

inked plate

Make sure you cover the grooved area, but you don’t need to ink up the entire plate. That’s because in the next step, you’re going to wipe away the excess ink. I used an old dish towel for this, one of the really thin ones. Any lint-free cloth will work. I’m thinking old cloth diapers might be perfect.

excess ink wiped

Work quickly, because ink dries fast. See how it’s been caught in the grooves? The next step is to place your etched, inked plate face down onto your gelatin plate and press, to transfer the ink to the gelatin.

impression on gelatin plate

So cool, right? Now lay your paper over your gelatin plate and take a print. Normally with a gelatin plate you don’t need a baren, but for this process, you really kind of do.

finished print 1

It’s really an organic-looking result. Pressing hard enough on the plastic plate to transfer the ink causes some bubbles, which may show up on the finished print. Make sure to take ghost prints, too. (Ghost prints are second prints taken without re-inking the plate.)

Knowing that inked gelatin plates also pick up texture from textured surfaces, such as bubble wrap, that are pressed against them, I wondered if I could use the plastic plate in that way. So I inked up the gelatin plate instead, then pressed the non-inked plastic plate face down onto it. Then I took a print from the gelatin plate. This is the result.

finished print 2

You can really see the bubbles in this version. You can also see that the plastic plate was slightly smaller than the gelatin, because a firm line was created where the edge of the plate plastic into the gelatin. I prefer this version. It’s interesting.

As I said, this is a bit more labor intensive and controlled than the usual methods of using the gelatin plate, which are very loose and “let’s see what happens.” Yet because it uses gelatin, it’s still very organic looking and impossible to completely control. It’s also a way to integrate original drawings into gelatin plate prints.

If you try this method (or have tried it) and have any tips to share, I’d love to hear them. And if you’ve never tried printmaking before, it’s so much fun…and I have an entire issue of Art Together to help you get started.

How To: Postcard Backgrounds

After my last post, Lisa asked what I meant by “collaging Bristol board” and if I could explain it with pictures, too. Yes, I can! This is a really loose, open-ended type of thing, with no right or wrong way to do it, so I’m not sure I should even call it a tutorial. It’s more of, “Come peek over my shoulder while I do this.”

Materials: Bristol board, which is heavier than card stock but thinner than, say, cereal box cardboard; gel medium and a brush, although you can experiment with other adhesives; an assortment of papers; paint (optional)

The first thing I do is select some papers, generally around some focus. I chose warm colors for this collage.

selection of papers

I have an expandable file folder where I have papers I’ve collected, sorted by color. You can see that it includes some pre-painted book pages, too. The orange is a paper bag, and the ketchup is cut from a calendar. The rest are odds and ends of decorative papers.

I chose a few and began tearing and arranging. Then I glued the first one down.

first piece glued on

Just play with your papers. This one sheet of Bristol board is going to get cut into four pieces in the end anyway, so there’s not a lot of pressure here.

3 pieces glued on

all papers glued on

After I’d covered the sheet completely, I decided that the top part needed a little bit more, because it was a big space with mainly just that one paper. I thought that after I cut the sheet into fours, the cards cut from that section would be a little boring. So I decided to print over it using one of these foam texture plates the kids and I found on clearance (the whole pack for $1.99!) in a craft store last week. They were in the craft foam section, intended for cut-and-glue kids’ crafts, but my 9yo and I looked at them and immediately said, Printmaking!

foam texture plates

Aren’t they so cool? And they’re washable, so we can re-use them. I chose the smaller bumps (you can barely see it in this picture; it’s the darkest blue in the middle there) and added some prints to my collage using acrylic paint.

finished sheet

Better. Then I cut it into four equal rectangles, which are each 4.5 x 6″.

four individual cards

I think the one on the bottom right is my favorite. I really like creating something like this and then cutting it up–I always think the smaller compositions that result are interesting. And if they’re not, I can do something on them individually. I’ll probably add some cut-out images to these before mailing them.

So, that’s about it. I’m not great with creating collages as artwork–I find it challenging. But I like doing this for postcards. It’s play, and sometimes it’s just the thing to give myself a little break during the day, too.

How To: Freezer Paper Stencils

Slide2For the second year, I’m a part of a fantasy football league run by Diane of CraftyPod. It’s a fun way to connect with other creative women who also love football. Because I’m first and foremost a Patriots fan, I have a lot of rules for myself. I won’t have any player on my team who’s in the same division as the Patriots, and in any particular week, if one of my players is on the team playing the Patriots, I sit him. I won’t put myself in the position of rooting for a player against my Patriots.

So of course, when the idea was floated of a crafty football blog hop among crafty fantasy football league members, I knew I’d be doing something Patriots related, and I decided to share a tutorial on how to make and use freezer paper stencils. I generally create these stencils from my own designs; I’ve used the Patriots logo here in keeping with the blog hop theme. You cannot use a licensed logo on any item you plan to sell. Honestly, I’m hoping if anybody from the Patriots organization happens upon this tutorial, they see it for what it is (fan devotion) and don’t sue me. I like to think Mr. Kraft has sympathy for the common man…

How To: Freezer Paper Stencils at

Materials: Freezer paper (look in the supermarket in the aisle with foil and plastic wrap); scissors; craft knife; masking tape; source sketch for design; cutting mat; iron; item to be stenciled; fabric paint (see below); paint brush

How To: Freezer Paper Stencil at

Materials for cutting the stencil.

Every stencil begins with a source design drawn on regular paper at the final desired size. I like to measure the paper to fit the item I’m stenciling (in this case a tote bag purchased at the craft store) so I know my design fills the space the way I want it to.

How To: Freezer Paper Stencils at

Source sketch of design, with colors written in for reference.

The next step is to cut a piece of freezer paper a little bigger than your source design so you have plenty of  margin around the edges. Tape your design to your surface so it doesn’t move; tape the freezer paper over it, shiny side down. Trace your image onto the papery side of the freezer paper.

How To: Freezer Paper Stencils at

Now it’s time to cut out your stencil. Be precise and cut only on the lines. I use an x-acto knife for this. If the design has lots of straight edges (like this design that incorporates a star), I’ll use a steel ruler as a guide for those lines. Just make sure you stop right at the intersection of the lines; don’t cut over. You’ll be painting into the open spot, so you want the edges to be as clean as possible.

How To: Freezer Paper Stencils at

Turn the paper as necessary so the cutting motion is as smooth and easy as possible. Avoid awkwardness! This design has two “floating” pieces, the star and the face, which need to be ironed on into the middle of the open area. If your design has floating areas, you need to cut those precisely as well.

How To: Freezer Paper Stencils at

Once the stencil is cut, it’s time to iron it onto your item. The shiny side of the freezer paper will iron onto fabric firmly, yet also peels right off without residue. It’s really amazing stuff. Iron the surface of your item first to make sure it’s free of wrinkles, position your stencil where you want it, and iron away. Pay careful attention to the inside edges, where you’ll be applying paint. You want those firmly affixed so no paint bleeds under them. I usually stencil t-shirts; this is the first time I’ve tried a tote bag, and the surface is a bit more textured. You’ll see below where I didn’t get a few edges as closely adhered as I should have. Live and learn.

Because this design has those floating pieces, after I ironed on the outside piece, I fit the inside piece (which I’ll need later, too) without ironing it down, then placed the floating pieces inside, like puzzle pieces. I kept my finger on them while lifting off the inside piece, then ironed the floaters in place.

How To: Freezer Paper Stencils at

Proper positioning of the floating pieces.

The completely ironed on stencil looks like this for the first paint layer:

How To: Freezer Paper Stencils at

I typically use Speedball Screen Printing Ink for my stencils. I like the smooth look and the basic colors. It’s heat set, and it’s worn on our shirts well, although overly thick layers will crack a bit in the dryer. However, I needed silver for part of this design, and I don’t have that in the screen printing ink, so I used a little liquid acrylic paint as well. This is the kind of acrylic paint sold extremely cheaply in big-box craft stores, and it won’t wash out once it’s dry. It’s great for use on fabric, easy to find, and a fine alternative to screen printing ink for these stencils.

How To: Freezer Paper Stencils at

Materials for painting.

For this first paint application, I’m using red and blue.

How To: Freezer Paper Stencils at

Once those colors are dry, I can peel off all three pieces I’ve ironed on. For the small floating pieces, the edges of which are covered with paint, tweezers are helpful . These colors need to be heat set, so that’s the next step. Follow the directions on whatever paint you’re using.

How To: Freezer Paper Stencils at

Notice the slight bleed in a couple of places on the red stripes and one spot on the blue. I should have ironed a bit more firmly in those spots.

I still need to paint the face silver, however. Remember that other inside piece I said I’d need later? I matched it up to cover the blue paint and ironed it down, again paying attention to those edges. Now I can paint the exposed face silver.

How To: Freezer Paper Stencils at

After letting it dry, I carefully removed the final stencil and put my knitting inside the bag. Ready to watch some football and knit!

How To: Freezer Paper Stencils at

Be sure to visit the rest of the blog hop participants for more crafty football ideas!

Wool Felt Advent Calendar

(Originally published at Salamander Dreams in July 2011.)

Every December I wish I had a nice, handmade countdown calendar, but usually by the time I think of it, there’s no hope of getting one made. (One year I decided I’d knit two tiny mittens per month and at the end I’d have  a hand-knit mitten garland as a countdown calendar; I gave that up after one tiny mitten.) But THIS year is different–I decided to make our countdown calendar in July. I was distracted along the way by a few other projects, but I finished it within the month–it’s very simple, so if you’re a bit more focused than I, it won’t take you long at all!

A couple of years ago I put together a lickety-split one using coin envelopes and holiday stamps, and I thought I could transfer that idea to something more permanent without too much trouble, but with beautiful results. I made 24 wool felt pockets, designed to be hung by clips from a ribbon. The key here is the materials. I used wool felt, which makes all the difference and allows the beautiful simplicity to shine through.

* Wool felt: I used 18″ squares from Magic Cabin’s Vibrant Jewels line–one square each of red, gold, leaf, and forest. I have three kids, and it helps to assign each kid a color; then everybody knows whose turn it is to peek in the envelope. You could use whatever colors you want, of course. You’ll need 48 3×4″ rectangles, so just do the math to make sure you have enough felt.

* Cotton DMC embroidery floss: I used three strands throughout, and tried to match my floss color to the felt. So, on the red pockets I used 321, 700 for the light green pockets, and 895 for the dark green. I used 972 for all the blanket stitch around the edges.

* Number templates, which can be downloaded here. If you want to choose a different font or change the size of the numbers, see my post on how to create your own outline font. I wanted my numbers to fill the front of my pockets, so they’re not all the same size–“22” is a smaller font size than “1.” You may decide that it’s more important to you that the sizes match.

What To Do

Oh, it couldn’t be easier. If you’re using three colors, you’ll need 8 pockets, so 16 rectangles, of each color. If you’re using two colors, then 12 pockets and 24 rectangles. Four colors? Six pockets and 12 rectangles per color. Cut out however many 3×4″ rectangles as you need from each color. I used a straight edge and rotary cutter for this.

Print out either my number templates or your own and carefully cut out the paper numbers. This part really is the most laborious, but it pays to be patient and do it well. Once you have your paper numbers, you’ll need to cut the felt numbers. I used gold for the numbers throughout. I decided to trace them onto the felt with a disappearing ink fabric marker, but just to make sure nothing would show up on the right side, I traced them face down.

Again, cut them out carefully. I used small, sharp scissors.

Then, the fun part begins! Place your numbers roughly in the center–I just eyeballed it, and some of them might be a little crooked, but I’m creating a hand-made holiday countdown calendar for my children; I’m not looking to stress myself out right into tears here.

I sewed my numbers on with a running stitch.

I can’t help it–I think they just look delicious. It’s the wool felt. It’s really wonderful to handle and sew. Once I had all my numbers on, I used a blanket stitch to sew my pockets together. Here they all are together.

You can see I staggered some of the numbers–this is so I could fit larger numbers onto the rectangles. I didn’t want to have to cut them any smaller. As it was, none of these were difficult to cut out, which was my aim anyway.

I’m sure there’s a better, proper way to go around corners using blanket stitch. Mine are a little wonky, but still, I love these pockets! Here’s a closer look.

These are designed to hold slips of paper with activities rather than trinkets. At most, I slip stickers or chocolates in, too. These are large enough for my purposes. I’m rather enchanted with the end result. Every time a child happened to walk by while I was sewing on them (usually an evening project) or noticed the finished pile slowly growing, he or she would exclaim. “Are these for us?” “Are you almost done?” “Oooh!” I’ve tucked them into the closet along with their hand-knit stockings, though, and it will all come out again in December.

I’d love to know if you are inspired by this idea–or if you’ve crafted a countdown calendar of your own. Happy sewing!

DIY: Two-Layer, Drawstring, Perfect Summer Skirt

(Originally published at Salamander Dreams in July 2011.)

(You can also download a PDF of this tutorial here. Please email me with any questions at amyhood at amyhoodarts dot com.)

This is an A-line skirt with two layers, a casing at the top, and a drawstring closure. It seems like a long tutorial, but that’s because I include how to sew a buttonhole by hand. You’ll draft a simple pattern according to your measurements. I used voile, which makes for a light, flowy skirt. So if you use something of a similar weight, you can expect a similar effect. If you use something heavier, the effect will be a bit stiffer.

Materials: 2-2.5 yards of fabric (or more), depending upon the lengths of your layers—we’ll do a wee bit of math down below; thread to match; basic sewing stuffs. If you don’t want to make the drawstring yourself, you’ll need enough of a matching (washable) cord or ribbon to comfortably go around your waist and tie.

What to Do

1. First, draft your pattern. (I promise, this takes way less time to do than it takes to explain it.) I used the guidelines in Sew What! Skirts. Take your hip measurement at the widest point, add 1” for ease and 2” for seam allowance. Then divide by 4, because we’re only drawing out one quarter of the skirt—you’ll place the straight edge (on the left in my photo) against the fold line. (Fold your fabric selvage to selvage and cut so the grain travels from waist to hem.)


When you cut, you’ll be cutting out the entire front (or back) at once. Decide how long you want your skirt to be, as well as how wide at the bottom. I had two yards of fabric and used it all—my bottom layer measured 19” and my top layer 17”. Since we’re cutting out two of each piece, that adds up to 72” (2 yards) exactly. I made my top layer two inches shorter than the bottom, but play with that however you like. Just remember to make sure you have enough fabric for what you want to do. You also need a hem allowance (1/2”) and a seam allowance (1/2”), so add a full inch to your desired finished skirt length—on both layers.

So, to draft: Make a dot on the edge of your paper, near the top. Placing your ruler perpendicular to the straight edge of your paper, measure out equal to your (hip measurement + 1 inch + 2 inches) divided by 4. For me, this is 9.75. Mark that point. If you want a curved waist, make another dot 1/2-1 inch above this mark. I went with a straight waistline, but really, I’m not so curvy. Up to you. Draw a gently curved line from your first dot to the higher dot—or just make a straight line. Either way, that’s your waist.

Measure the length of the longer layer down the straight edge of the paper. Draw an angled line from the other end of the waist to the hem. Think about how much flare you want on your skirt, and this may depend on the width of your fabric, too. My bottom edge measures 15 1/2″ on the pattern (so 62″ total). Gently curve the hem line. (To do this, I used a curved waist and then measured my skirt length down from the waistline at several points. Then I connected the dots. Then I erased the curved waist and went with the straight one instead.) Make a line on your pattern to indicate where the top layer will be—just measure the difference up from your hem, and connect the dots so it’s also curved. In my picture below, you can see that after I cut the first pieces out, I just cut on my line to get my shorter pattern.


2. Cut out your pieces. Place on the fold line and cut two of each layer. It doesn’t matter if your fabric is right side out or in, as long as you’re consistent.

3. Sew your side seams, waistline to hem, for both layers. Because I used voile, I decided to use French seams so that my raw edges were encased. I felt that zigzagging the edges on such a thin material would be a bad choice. French seams are easy! Instructions are included in this Sew, Mama, Sew! post on seam finishes.

4. Hem each layer. If you are on friendly terms with your rolled hem foot, that would be perfect for a lightweight material. Otherwise, fold up a narrow hem. I ironed up 1/4” and then another 1/4”, then stitched.

5. Now it’s time to sew the layers together. Give them a press and lay them in front of you side by side, right sides out. Now, take the shorter skirt—the one that will be on top—and put it INSIDE the longer skirt—the one that will be on the bottom.

sewing together

Line up the side seams and pin around the top. You should be looking at the right side of the bottom layer. If you peek inside, you’ll see the wrong side of the top layer. If you think about this too much, your head will hurt. But trust me. Now sew around the top with a ½” seam allowance. Press your seam. Flip your skirts. Ta-da! Your top layer is right where it should be, right sides out.

6. Leave the skirt for a bit to make your drawstring. I wanted to keep it simple for myself, so I just cut a strip the entire length of my fabric—72”. I wanted a narrowish drawstring, so I cut my strip 1 1/4” wide. Make it the same way you’d make binding tape (Wendi Gratz has a nice tutorial here)—iron it in half, open it up, iron each side in to the fold, then iron in half again, folding in the raw edges at each end. Then, sew straight down, close to your open edge (where you actually  have two folds showing). The final drawstring was about 1/3” wide.

7. Now decide which side is the front of your skirt. Find the center and mark it. Measure 1 1/2” from each side and mark that—those are the buttonhole placements. Make sure the measurement is the same from each mark to each side seam, just to be sure. Mark about 1 1/4” down from the top edge (give or take; whatever makes you happy)—that’s where you’ll sew to finish the casing. Center an approximately 1/2-3/4” vertical line—so, about 1/4” from the top and the same from the casing line—at each mark. Those are your buttonhole marks. The length of your buttonhole may vary depending upon your drawstring. (This is why you make your drawstring first, so you can test it against your buttonhole length and make sure it will fit.)


8. If you’re using a lightweight material, cut some muslin to back your buttonholes. (It won’t hurt to have backing even on a heavier weight cotton, is what I think.) I used a one-inch square of muslin behind each buttonhole. Pin it in place and then, using sharp scissors, make a small snip through both fabrics. Carefully cut along the line. REMEMBER: The buttonhole is only through the top layer of the skirt.


9. (You can, of course, do the buttonholes on your machine. If so, skip ahead to step 10.) I used the same thread I’d used in the machine, doubled. I had a really hard time with it until I ran it along a piece of beeswax (undyed, from a candle). It was so much easier after that!! You’re going to work your muslin and skirt fabric together as if they’re one. Bring the thread in from behind—go ahead and knot it, nobody is going to see the back because it will be hidden inside the casing. You want to be neat but you don’t need to stress. Make a couple stitches along the top of the buttonhole. I’m using contrasting thread in this example just so you can see.


Now begin your buttonhole stitch down the right-hand side. You’ll be looping the thread around the raw edge of both materials. If there are some muslin strings coming loose, gently pull them out. (I was much neater with the real buttonhole than I was with this example.) Go carefully and slowly and keep your stitches close together, to cover the fabric. When you get to the bottom, stitch across the bottom a couple of times, then flip it around so you’re working down the other edge.


Finish it all up. You can trim the muslin closer on the back, if you want. Make the other buttonhole. See, the ones I made on my skirt are much neater!


10. Now that you’re done with the buttonholes, you can close the casing. Sew 1 1/4” (or whatever you decided) down from the hem line, all around, from the right side. You don’t need to leave an opening, since you have the buttonholes.

11. Pin a safety pin to the end of your drawstring. Feed it into one buttonhole, all the way around, and out the other. I knotted my drawstring at the very ends.


There you go. You’re done! Happy summer!!

(You Can) Carve a Stamp

(Originally published at Salamander Dreams in June 2011.)

Earlier in the week I carved a stamp as part of our end-of-year teacher gifts.finished compass stamp at

It’s so easy and satisfying that I wanted to share the process. There are tutorials out there already, I know, but I carved my first stamp using the instructions in the book Print Workshop, and it was a fair bit of a hack job until I managed to translate the words into action, so I thought I’d post a picture of exactly how to hold those carving tools. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

Speedball Speedy Carve block (you can cut this into smaller pieces easily using a straight edge and x-acto knife); set of linoleum cutting tools (I bought mine at a local craft store using a 50% off coupon); pencil; paper; bone folder (optional, but it works best for burnishing your image onto the block)

The first thing you need is an image to turn into a stamp, obviously. You can use your own doodle or something you’ve printed out or photocopied, as long as available for personal use (I am so not getting into copyright here). I’m showing you an example of both. I prefer to turn my own doodles into stamps, because how fun is that? But for the teacher gifts, I wanted a stamp of the school logo, which looks like pretty basic clip art to me. I printed it out and went over all the black areas with pencil.

compass design at

If it’s your own doodle, once you have something you’re happy with, go over the lines more darkly with your pencil. This is because next, you’re going to transfer those pencil lines to your carving block. (I cut mine into two-inch squares to make both of these stamps.)

transferred design

Here’s my compass rose…

Lay your image face-down onto the block and burnish–that means to rub firmly–the entire area with the bone folder, or your fingernail if you don’t have one. When you peel off the paper, your image will be on your block, in reverse, which is exactly what you want, because your stamped image is going to be the reverse of what you carve.

...and a little salamander I doodled.

…and a little salamander I doodled.

Now you’re ready to carve. Begin with the shallowest, narrowest tip for your tool–#1–and carefully carve around the outlines of your image. (For the salamander, I’m ignoring the interior lines–those were just there to help me draw, but they’re not getting carved out.) Hold the tool at a 45-degree angle and carve away from yourself. The tool is going to gently scoop the block away–I have to pause periodically and clear the peels out of the tool. Start shallow and gradually go deeper, and when you need to change direction, it’s easier to rotate the block and keep your hand steady.

carving stamp 1

I was doing this at night under daylight bulbs, hence the shadows. Also, I had to take the picture with my left hand, but you get the idea. Here’s another view.

carving stamp 2

You can see that this stamp has more detail than the salamander. The salamander is easy–I’m carving around it, because I want it to stamp as a solid. But the compass rose has some white areas and some dark areas in the interior–which do you carve? You carve out the white areas, because you want the dark areas to pick up ink. So I’m carefully carving away each of those open triangles so they don’t pick up any ink and the image prints correctly. (Ultimately, I carved a second version of this stamp–that’s the finished one at the top of the post–because I decided it made more sense to cut around the compass rose with an x-acto knife and then carve out the interior portions. Otherwise, I was losing my outline edge and it was just going to look like floating triangles!)

For the salamander, I used mostly the #1 tip–those bits between the legs and body are tight. Can you see where I carefully carved out the space between the front left leg and the body?

in process carved stamp

When it looks like I’m close to done, I start testing with some ink.

testing carved stamp

You can see all those lines I need to trim. Eventually I cut close around the salamander with the x-acto knife as well.

salamander stamp

For bigger stamps, I might leave them as they are, but for these smaller stamps, I glued each of them to a cork. Cork, whether repurposed (if you’re a wine drinker or know someone who is) or bought, makes a nice handle.

Carving a stamp is just one of those processes that is much easier than you think–you mainly need patience and a steady hand–and results in something that seems so impressive, at least to me. I don’t know why I’d ever buy a stamp again when I can just make whatever I want at home.

Also, it’s easy enough to do around the needs of kids–doodle when you can, carve a bit here and there (just make sure to keep those lino-cutting tools out of reach–they’re sharp!), and you can fit a stamp into the nooks and crannies of the day, if you wanted to. There’s nothing toxic, so you can carve a stamp while your kids do their own creative thing nearby. While I carved the compass rose, my daughter decorated a sheet of paper with smiley face stickers. Just be prepared for lots of little pink shavings, so carve your stamp on some newspaper so you can fold it up and easily tip all the mess into the trash.

Happy stamping! Let me know if you give it a try, or if you have other tips to share.