Friday, February 7, 2014

Yarn Block Printing

As it's February and National African-American History month, I thought I would post about one of the many famous African artists whom I adore. This project was done with my art class, but could easily be done at home as well.

William H. Johnson (whose bio you can read here)  painted the piece Going To Church. This piece was created using a technique called silk screening, which is basically a type of block printing done on cloth.

That got me thinking; I had been wanting to do a printing project, so this seemed like a good fit. One problem, I couldn't find the supplies I wanted anywhere. For those of you have better luck or an art store located by them, this would be a great project for Mono Printing using scratch foam. I realized after the project that scratch foam is basically like the Styrofoam containers you get take out food in sometimes. So you could cut those, clean them off and save them until you have enough to do the project. Which I love cause it cuts down on cost and is reusing materials. :)

So I had to come up with something else. That is when I came across this post at one of my new favorite blogs.  And viola. We have our project!

Block Printing


  •  Yarn - (I had this at the house, but you can get yarn pretty cheap at Joann's during their sales. It can range from .99 cents to over 5$ depending on type and size of roll. We used both thick and thin yarn. I suggest the thin as it seemed to work better.)
  • Wooden Blocks - (I got mine at Joann's, 3 for 1.99. You can scour yard sales though and pick up ABC blocks, which would be fun and allow for letter blocking as well. Building blocks can also be used if you have some of those. Or if you have the means of sawing, you can make your own. We also used wood circles.)
  • Paint - ( I used tempura colors because they wash out well. Most block prints use ink, but for kids I think tempura paints work well. They can be found at Fred Meyers/Kroger's/ most art or craft stores and usually are about 3 to 4 $.)
  • Paint Brushes - (these are handy in case you mix colors or just to paint the yarn)
  • Paint Palette - (We used paper plates - one per table group to save on waste. You can use plastic palettes also if you have those.)
  • Paper Towels - (something to dab off extra paint and to clean up any messes.)
  • Paper - (I used card stock. It holds up well with tempura paints. You can use anything, just make sure that its thick. Printer paper probably isn't a good choice for this project.)
  • Scissors - (to cut the yarn)

Addition supplies you may want:

  • Smocks/Aprons - (to help kids stay clean)
  • Newspaper - (to lay down in order to have less mess for clean up. You could also do your printing on Newspaper instead or with card stock.)



For this project we revisited secondary colors. I gave each table group the choice of which secondary color they wanted to use and then asked them which colors made that color. We had briefly discussed the colors at the carpet during our project discussion.

In our project discussion we talked about the artist and his work. How it was made using silk screening techniques and what they are.  One of the kids pointed out that the piece wasn't lined up properly because there's a chunk taken out of the sky where the tree should have been. :) I hadn't noticed that. It's amazing what they pick up on.

For the yarn you can either pre-cut it or do it when you pass out the supplies. Everyone should get a block, a piece of yarn, a paper towel, and paper. You can decide if they share paint palettes or get their own. Same with paint brushes.

Have kids wind their yarn around their block in whatever manner they want.  Then have them tie the string ends together or tuck them under the wound strings. Just be sure that string is tight.

For younger kids, its easier if they paint the string with paint brushes, instead of stamping. I had my class use the stamp method for the most part.

After they have paint, have them use a paint brush to mix it into the color it is supposed to be. Then they can paint or stamp their yarn block. When pressing the block to the paper, its best to be firm but not to slam it. We learned this the hard way. ;) Paint everywhere.

And that's pretty much it. It's more interesting if they turn the block one way and then another, so the image isn't the same through the whole paper. It's also more interesting to add focal colors here and there. So maybe a few squares of  a primary color to spice up the secondary colors. You could also turn this into a complimentary color project quite easily by having the few splashes of color be from the colors compliment.

Clean up for this project can be a bit have been forewarned.  :)

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