Block Printing …with a 1920’s vibe

Remember these lovely fabrics, dyed by toddlers, nursery and reception children?

pegged out
sky blue pink!

This week, the fabrics were handed onto Year 1 & 2 pupils for the next stage of the Last Shift Banner project.Last week, the little ones were doing Sixties style dyeing. This time we were looking back to the 1920’s and 30’s when artists Phyllis Barron and Dorothy Larcher were reviving the craft of block printing on fabrics.

Barron n Larcher blocks                            jane-weir-book

Using hand carved wooden blocks, found objects like kitchen utensils and natural dyes, Barron & Larcher hand printed fabrics for fashion and interiors. There’s a beautiful book of poems about the pair combined with images of their work & inspiration Walking The Block by poet Jane Weir

Inspired by  these textiles, I  I brought along 2 sets of printing blocks carved in quick cut lino. Year 1 pupils worked with blocks inspired by the school logo and class tree symbols, whilst the key stage 1 trip to  Beamish Pit Village inspired a set of blocks featuring items used by miners or found in a pit village.

For each class, I set up a DIY printing table (blanket and plastic sheet taped over a folding table!) and worked with 8 children at a time to block print on the fabrics.

Year 1 children printed the tree symbols in green on to the dyed fabric and also onto plain white fabric.

These colour prints will form an outer  border around the banner, whilst the green on white prints will make small flags for the children.

Year 2 children printed their blocks in black. These will make an inner border around the banner.

Before each session, we listened to some music from the 1920’s and 30’s and looked at pictures of fashion from the time as well as talking about Barron & Larcher’s textiles.

At the print table,we talked about the print process and I demonstrated what to do. Then the children worked in pairs; taking turns to be the printer and the assistant. The printer chose a block, inked it up and placed it on the fabric, then asked the assistant (nicely!) for the clean roller to press down the block. The assistant’s job was to remind the printer of the process and make sure the clean roller didn’t end up in the ink (very important!). All the children did a fantastic job of inking up and printing the blocks.

I had planned the activity to be inclusive and manageable in a tight time scale, each class of 30 had just over an hour to print on the fabric. Working with 4 pairs of children at a time and demonstrating the activity to each group meant that the children took control of the process, supporting each other and letting me oversee and remind of instructions where necessary. Whilst printing, the children talked about the images and their visit to Beamish. We talked about the language miners used – words like Bait meaning food (taken down the pit) and Leet (light). We also talked about the miners’ cottages and how different they seemed to our homes now.

A bit of washing up to do after!

It was lovely to see the children get so involved with the activity. One for fabulous question from Y2 – ‘why does some of the block stay blue when you ink it up?’ helped us to understand how the process works.

(I then managed to ‘lose’ all these lovely fabrics for 24 hours – PANIC!                                        I had packed everything up, taken it downstairs from the classroom in three journeys, then out to the car, drove back to mine, took everything back up two flights of stairs to the attic and at some point didn’t notice that I’d put the bag of print fabrics down separately from the box of equipment when I switched on a light – AARGH! Frantic phone calls to school, hectic searching of car and finally, cool calm partner retraces my steps and finds the bag by the attic door! Sorry everyone! Crisis over…Ö must remember to get some sleep soon!) 

Now I’ll get on with setting out the borders and preparing the next workshops for Key Stage 2 classses!

Published by Donna Cheshire Textiles

I am a professional textile artist specializing in Appliqué and Free Motion machine stitching. In order to create a unique colour palette, I hand dye my own fabrics and then use these to create the landscapes and coastal scenes recorded in my sketchbook. I often incorporate recycled or vintage fabrics in my work - they add meaning to the story the work is telling. I love being so close to the Northumbrian coast and countryside and I especially like taking time walk and draw these stunning landscapes

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