TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Those Versatile Textile Stamps

Rubber stamping and scrapbooking have become big business within the US craft industry. Fancy papers, inks, embossing supplies, and rubber and foam stamps command high prices. One can easily walk into a craft store for a couple of items and shell out a $100 bill, a far cry from the carved potato stamp days many of us played with as kids. The technique of stamping images on to a surface has been around for centuries all over the world, ranging from simple forms to highly stylized, multi-layered images that take a lifetime to perfect.

I carry wooden stamps from Afghanistan, Pakistan and the region in both my eBay and Etsy stores. Carved out of hard pear wood, they are considered seconds to the artisans who used them, but have continued use to us as artists, both in functionality and as ornaments or decorative objects.

Textile stamps have many uses. My customers buy them to imprint on fabric, paper, and clay. I even had an Italian customer buy several to use to apply henna on skin. I am also a henna artist and have not tried that yet. The paste I use is thick and it seems to me like it would blur when stamped, but she sent some photos and apparently it works. More conventional uses involve using either inks or wax to apply the design on fabric or paper.

When working with ink, thicker pasty mixes work best. It can be applied to the surface with a brayer or lightly dipped. Use a thick pad of newspaper or batting under the paper or fabric and press down firmly. Those felted table pads are excellent. Wax options for batik include paraffin mixed with beeswax, soy wax, and potato or rice starch. One of my customers, Ruth Garrison, sent a beautiful photo of fabric she stamped using soy wax:

Another customer, Justmare on Etsy, uses the stamps to imprint on clay:

As you can see, these stamps have endless uses! Here are some examples of textiles from different countries who also use stamps for printing or batiking on fabric:

This is a batiked piece of hemp which was then dyed in indigo by the Hmong, a hilltribe people from Laos, Thailand and the region. Indigo is a favorite dye in many cultures. Here is a batik textile by the Miao, the largest minority group of China:

This process used tie-dye and embroidery, but a similar effect could be done with textile blocks. Here is another Miao batiked piece that uses both free-hand painting with wax and stamps:

These fabrics are cotton batiks from Africa which have used batik stamps. Bold, bright and beautiful:

India and Indonesia have taken this cottage industry to the highest form of production in mass quantities, both for internal consumption and for export. Indian textiles often incorporate images of animals and birds. Here is an example of a cotton spread hand blocked with stamps and ink:

Indonesian batik textiles evolved into a technically challenging form of art. They developed copper stamps, tjaps, that can render superb intricacy in design. The island of Java is the center of this craft. I have been looking for a source for the tjaps, but haven't found one yet. Dharma Trading has a few available and is also a great source for batik and printing inks and supplies.

Here is an example of a Java batik:

Many fabric stores that cater to quilters now carry gorgeous cotton batik yardage. Here are a couple of pieces I made using Indonesian batiks that were stamped:

The golden fabric in these pillows I made is stamped fabric from Western Africa:

Once you own a couple of these stamps, you want more. It's just inevitable. Each one has it's own charm and function. There are border stamps, central motif stamps, running design stamps, and stamps that are just too beautiful to pass up. I've had several requests from customers for animal or bird stamps and then it recently occurred to me why I don't have any. These stamps come from Muslim artisan groups and Islam forbids portrayals of people or animals in their art. Therefore, we have floral or abstract motifs, all quite beautiful in their own right. A border stamp:

The ones I carry come in many different sizes and are priced accordingly. Some have chips or wear that can be repaired by using wood filler. The one below is an example of one which could benefit from a little filler. Carefully press in filler into the dents and sand when dry. Very easy.

Clean stamps with a stiff brush and soap. Oil them if they look dry. You should wash these thoroughly after purchasing as they have dye or ink from their previous use.

Not an artist, but like the stamps? Consider them as pieces of art in their own right. I have smaller ones on book shelves and large ones look great displayed on a plate stand or on the wall. I can ship several smaller ones in a flat rate envelope for $5 US, $9 Canada, or $11 everywhere else. A bunch fit in a flat rate box in the US for $9. I combine shipping between both stores and give free shipping to purchases over $100 in the US and cover the first $20 everywhere else. May you, too, become impassioned with these gorgeous stamps!


  1. What kind of ink or paint do you use with these stamps to make a pattern on cloth?

  2. You can roll acrylics on with a brayer or dip the stamps into liquid dyes. There are some videos on youtube of some Indian workshops using similar stamps.


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“Whatever you say, say it with conviction.”

(Both by the master, Mark Twain)

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