Thursday 28 June 2012

foam block printing tutorial


I love block printing. Its such a great way to print original designs on to fabric. There are lots of different ways to block print too, in fact anything that can be coated in paint and then impressed can be used. Some traditional methods include lino, woodcut and even potato prints.

Foam block printing is a relatively new process and uses craft foam to form the print surface. Unlike the other carved methods above, with foam printing you build up your printing design on top of the printing plate. The foam is good because it has a smooth, flat, waterproof surface that is slightly spongey and makes a perfect printing medium.

As promised I've made a simple tutorial to share my method for printing with foam. I recently photographed the different steps as I made and printed my Prism design for Leslie's recent Handprinted Fabric Swap.

block print

Foam Sheets - adhesive backed craft foam (though you could glue plain foam and glue the pieces on.)
Perspex, acrylic, card or board for the printing plate (the lovely Mr F customised mine with a handle - a block of wood screwed on)
Fabric ink - I use Aquatex and Permaset water soluble inks
Fabric - I prefer natural fibres and used linen/cotton for this project. Prewash and iron for best results.
Water for dilution and cleanup.

Paint palette - flat surface for rolling out paint, perspex, glass, a plate or a piece of wood.
Sponge roller - available at paint, craft, hardware or bargain shops for a couple of dollars.
Plastic spoons, spatula, knife for moving paint around.
Spray Adhesive or other glue.

All of these tools and materials are available through local and online art, craft, bargain and hardware shops. I used google to track down the foam online, its really cheap, just look for adhesive craft foam. I used discarded acrylic frames broken in half for my printing plates and you can buy these cheaply too.

Making the Printing Block

Your design needs to allow for the printing style, remember that smaller more intricate images will be harder to cut from the foam. It also needs to work in one colour, though you could use successive plates to build up different colours layers.

Once you have your design I find the easiest way to transfer my images is to draw them as outlines and then print or copy them to size on paper. I print two copies and use one to stick on to the foam and one to use as a placement guide for positioning. You could also draw straight onto the foam sheet if you wanted.

foam block printing tutorial;

Spray the back of your printout with light coating of spray adhesive or other glue. (Spray adhesive is a great craft glue and a can lasts a long time, just make sure to spread out newspaper in a wide area before use to contain the overspray and maybe do it outside if you're sensitive to chemically smells.)


Stick the paper onto the backing side of the foam block. (If your design has lettering or images that need to face a certain way then they will read the right way at this stage as this is the surface that sticks to the plate.)

foam block printing tutorial

At this stage I wrote coding on my pattern so that once it was cut up I could put the pieces back together. Even though the print has similar pieces it will fit better next to the pieces it has been cut from. You will see later too that I used the unprinting 'star' pieces (A, B, C, D etc below) as guides between the pieces when I was sticking down the design. Its easy to get confused when all those little pieces are cut and in a pile so coding is a good way to keep track.

foam block printing tutorial

Once you have your pattern stuck firmly to the foam cut out all the pieces, very carefully with scissors. For smaller pieces you can use nail scissors.

foam block printing tutorial

I printed out my pattern twice and used the spare sheet to lay my perspex sheet over. I then traced my design onto the top surface of the perspex with indelible pen. (It would probably have worked better to have my design go right up to the edge for less overprint but I'll do that next time.) This gives me both a guide for sticking on the foam but also a positioning guide for printing to line up the pattern repeat - which is why perspex or other clear material is such a handy thing to use!

If using cardboard or board try to put markings along the edge or on the upper surface of your block for lining things up later.

foam block printing tutorial

Carefully stick the design pieces on to the printing plate. As I mentioned before I used the inner stars as a positioning guide for my outer diamonds but left the backing on so they didn't stick. Before removing the adhesive backing have your piece oriented the right way round and then carefully put it in place. The adhesive is very strong so you are going to want to get it lined up right the first time!

foam block printing tutorial

Here's a picture of my design stuck down.

foam block printing tutorial

Here they are with the central stars removed. One thing I didn't think of until I was printing was that it would have been better to use a different colour foam to the ink colour!

foam block printing tutorial


When you're ready to print set up your workspace. I usually use our dining table for printing because its nice and long. Cover it first with a layer of newspapers.

Lay out your fabric. Make sure its ironed and crease-free because it will be much easier to print on. Prewash your fabric especially if its new because it can have a finish or coating on the surface. I'm using untreated linen/cotton which is ready to print.

I roll my fabric ink out on a piece of white perspex I bought as an offcut from an art supplies shop. Its nice and flat and washable at the end. One tip, if you are mixing a colour try to make sure you have plenty of it, you will be surprised at how much ink you use, and it will be hard to mix the same exact colour twice.

I find its good to wet your sponge roller before you apply paint and squeeze it out really well first, it seems to stop the roller absorbing too much paint or coating unevenly. And if you are using water-soluble inks you can thin the paint slightly with water if it seems too thick.


Cover the foam roller with ink and then coat the block. It helps to roll from a couple of directions to make sure your coverage is even. Turn the block over, line it up with the fabric and make your first print. (You could experiment with paper at this stage but I'm always too impatient!)

foam block printing tutorial

Using the guides line up the repeat for printing. You could also use dissolvable pen or chalk for marking guides straight onto the fabric. Between each print recoat the block with printing ink.

Remember, it doesn't have to be perfect, that's part of the charm of handprinting. Once you commit to a position though don't change because its better to be out of line than smudged, I think.

foam block printing tutorial

Here's a better look at my printing setup.

foam block printing tutorial

Its easy to change colours, just wash the old colour off the equipment and set up for a new one. The foam on the printing plate is quite hardy and can be washed carefully.

When you're finished don't forget to heat set the paint. And leave it to dry for a day first if you have time. You want to remove the water from the ink so don't use the steam setting. I have a iron press for this but you can use a domestic iron on high for a few minutes.

And there you have it, foam printing. Its so simple to do and now you have your own original fabric to sew up into any design you want! I hope my tutorial is clear,  and I'm happy to answer any further questions you have, please leave them in the comments below.

Happy Printing! I'd love to hear if you use the tutorial and see your designs.

Further examples of my adventures in foam block printing here and here.

Wednesday 27 June 2012



I'm beavering away here writing up my foam printing tutorial, packaging up handprinted fabric swap parcels and shop orders. I did get a chance to join in with the red theme on instagram, which was fun. I love all the inspiring themes and memes around the place which get you thinking and making.

Are you on instagram? I post there as flowerpress so come and say hi!

I hope to have the printing tutorial up tomorrow too so I'd love it if you pop back in to check it out!

Thursday 21 June 2012

my creative space - prism

prism DSC_0203DSC_0205DSC_0205DSC_0223

I had so much fun playing in Leslie's Handprinted Swap last year that I was delighted when she decided to set up another swap this year.

I am a little obsessed with tile patterns and this Prism design was inspired by a photo I saw of a Portuguese tiles recently. Its not so different to the Starry pattern I printed for last year's swap and I've used the same technique for printing as I did last year too, namely foam block printing using a perspex base.

 It was great to get a nudge from the swap to follow through with some more of this printing. I love the process and I love the handmade patina (read overprinty smudgeiness!) of it. I'm delighted with the way this has turned out. In the end I used the colours that I had on hand but once I get some more inks I'm going to print up some fabric for cushions for me, oh and maybe some for the shop too.

I see reading last year's post that I promised a tutorial last time (for the next week no less!). Good news is that I took photos of the process this time and I've started putting together a simple how to so if you are interested in doing your own you can have a go. And at risk of repeating myself, I should have it up next week :-)

More creative spaces here.

Tuesday 19 June 2012

show & tell - ruth bruten


I'd be hard pressed to write a better introduction for Ruth Bruten than the one she has as her instagram bio - lover of life, mumma of five, wifey to one, drinker of coffee, cooker of goodness, wearer of clogs, taker of photographs, writer of words. She is all of those things and more.

I first met Ruth on instagram where her feed documents her life and in particular her cooking. I'm always dazzled by the beautiful food Ruth makes from scratch and it was a lovely surprise to later find her blog Gourmet Girlfriend where each blog post has some thoughts, a recipe for that wonderful food, and some inspirational music. She's very generous with her knowledge and her enthusiasm. I remember soon after I met her asking what to do with a cucumber glut and recieving three fantastic suggestions by return comment, each one mouth watering!

Ruth promotes good produce, family, music and making on her blog and talks about the power of simple pleasures, she has five boys and she writes about the ups and downs of family life. She also talks about raising kids and giving them responsibilities and trusting them. I come away inspired to get my kids cooking, to search out great produce and experiment with different meals. I am always overtaken with a desire to make every recipe, dance to every song and eat every picture! 

So you don't need to be interested in food to take something away from Ruth's blog though that is definitely one of the things I love about it. Her writing is about more than that, its also about nurturing, sharing, teaching, about life. Its about enthusiasm and care, kindness and friendship.

So if you haven't visited her blog I think you should. And when she writes that cookbook I'll be first in line to buy it!

name Ruth Bruten
location Melbourne
twitter @ruthbruten  
instagram gourmetgirlfriend

1. Can you give us a short description of your blog/style/work
My blog is all about living life with five young boys and how I believe cooking and sharing good food is a really important part of that, BUT not the only part!!

2. Why blog? How did you start?
I started just over two years ago after several years of friends saying I should be sharing my food knowledge. I really had no idea about ‘blog world’. One of those friends suggested a blog as a means of sharing. When I started to look online I was so excited about this new world that I had not discovered!

The gorgeous and inspiring people who have become my life long friends are without a doubt the best thing to have come out of the blog. And the stories from my readers who tell me that my blog has changed their life in a positive way. I have been truly amazed and humbled by the things people have shared with me about how I have influenced them. I have grown to LOVE writing my blog and cannot imagine ever giving it up now. It is the connection with people that I love so much.


3. Family taught/Self-taught/Trained?
All my cooking skills are self taught with a lot of help in my childhood years by my mum & dad. I am the youngest of five children. Our mum worked as well as our dad. When I was 10 years old my father went overseas for several months for professional development and as my mother was working she needed us kids to help out with the weekday cooking roster.

It was my responsibility to prepare a meal once a week for the entire family- this included making sure I knew what I was going to cook, the ingredients required & writing a shopping list. Then I had to independently prepare and serve the meal. I think many of us now would not believe that a 10 year old is capable of doing that. We underestimate children’s ability in the kitchen. I think for lots of people the notion of the mess puts them off. It is just as important as a cook to be taught how to manage the mess as it is too do the actual cooking!


Cooking and sharing had always been a happy part of our family life and we were all happy to take on the challenge. Mum and Dad were both adventurous (and very good) cooks and we ate great food from a lot of different cultures. There were always extra people around and often BIG celebrations involving feasting with people we loved. Food and the cooking of it was a happy place for all of us I think. The preparation of food always involved a lot of people, loud music and lots of laughter as did the eating. All my siblings are also fantastic cooks. I have no doubt that my very happy childhood kitchen experience is what has shaped my cooking today.

4. Workspace - studio or kitchen table?
My workspace is our kitchen bench and dining table. I designed our kitchen space to be the centre of our home. We don’t have a big home and our kitchen includes our kitchen, dining & lounge room. It is impossible to NOT be in our kitchen! My computer is also in this space on a bench. I write standing up mostly. I don’t have time to sit down! Most of the pics of the food are taken at my kitchen bench.

5. Blog/Shop name, where does it come from?
The blog name comes from a friend who used to ring up for cooking advice for her & her friends. She would ask “Is that Gourmet Girlfriend?”….it stuck!

6. Favourite media to work in? Favourite foods, cuisine?
While I don’t have a favourite cuisine I am a savoury girl through and through!

7. Ambitions/future directions/projects you'd like to try?
I am keen to get cooking classes happening to share my knowledge in a more hands on way. My hope is to give people the confidence to enjoy cooking and preparing food rather than see it as a chore.

I would also love to have a cookbook published. It would be a dream come true to have my book on people’s benchtops with food splosh marks all over their favourite recipes of mine!


8. Are you neat and organised or, ahem, creatively messy?
While I am organized in the sense that I know where things are, my home is best described as Creatively Messy. A lack of storage amplifies this problem! Creatively Messy - I LOVE that term - I will happily use it from now on!

9. Favourite handmade, handcrafted item you own not made by you?
My favourite handcrafted item would have to be my new wedding ring. My husband & I had new rings made to celebrate our 25 years together this month. Both rings were handcrafted to our design by a good friend of ours in Adelaide who specialises in enamelled jewellery- John Richardson ( He is an amazing artist. My favourite cooking implement would have to be my big 900mm freestanding stove. It is where all the love happens! Once we finish our homemade Wood Oven- I am sure it will be that!


10. Favourite food/recipe?
I don’t think I can narrow this down to one thing. It changes according to the day, the weather, my cravings, my mood, what I have available. However the favourite part of food and recipes is always sharing with people. I would be genuinely happy to be eating Baked Beans on toast as long as it was with people I love. I love to cook pretty much everything- although I am not such a keen cook of baked things. Me and cakes have never been friends. I wrote a post about it recently. It is the perfection required I think. I am an intuitive cook so the whole measurement thing is not my forte.

11. Favourite colour?

12. Star sign?


13. Favourite place, landscape (not necessarily Australian)?
I struggle to answer this question as like the last one it changes. I do think that in general Scandinavia and more particularly Sweden has had a huge influence on my life. We lived in Sweden for a while when I was young. I still have my first pair of Red patent clogs (from when I was 3) on my mantelpiece. The Marimekko blinds (Finnish not Swedish) that were part of my childhood home now hang in my house as wall hangings. There are little touches of Sweden all over my house; glassware, Dalarna (the Swedish horses) and other knick knackery. This is where my life long love of clogs has come from. But more importantly it is the design aesthetic more generally. The Swedes celebration of, rather than tolerance of children has also been something that I admire.


14. Any tricks for juggling life/work/family with creative pursuits?
I guess it is about prioritising creativity into your life. I know how important it is to me and FOR me to use my creative side. I don’t worry a lot about some of the stuff that other people might. My house is a home not a showpiece so cleaning and general perfection in terms of tidiness are not a priority. Although that is not to say that I don’t LOVE having a tidy house. But I am happy to let it slide in favour of other things. I think it is VITAL for my children to see me doing the things that give me joy. They need to see that I have things that are good for me outside of being a mum. They need to know that being a mum does not preclude me from doing things for myself as well as for everyone else.

15. Favourite artists, artisans, crafters (cooks, painters, musicians)?
I don’t think I have one favourite cook. There are many that have influenced me. I have a couple of hundred cookbooks and they all offer me something. I guess at the moment the chefs I love to see championed are the ones who help demystify the process of cooking and help people just get in there and give it a go. It’s hard to look past the effervescent Jamie Oliver in this instance I think. In a climate of the celebrity chef he stands out as an advocate for keeping it real. He has helped so many people realise that it isn’t about technique and knowledge that is way beyond most people. It is about using good quality produce and just getting in and doing it.


But on a different level I want to champion the people who live with passion to provide us with incredible produce that is grown with love- the FARMERS. These people are artisans. They don’t get anywhere near the credit they deserve. I would love to see more people making the effort to buy their food from the Farmer’s markets. It is so amazing for my kids to be meeting the people who delivered their food to us. It is a huge life lesson & one that I feel is very important for all of our children. An understanding of where food comes from is vital. My children love it. It is a part of the week they really look forward to.

16. Your favourite thing you've made/written/done.
I am choosing the favourite thing I have written for this question. I think this post was really important for me. I needed to clarify that what happens in my house isn’t perfect. That just because I am good at cooking & LOVE it doesn’t mean our house is like a restaurant & that my kids ate everything that was served. I felt it was important for my readers to know that the delivery of my philosophy is bigger than what is served on the table.

17. Three words to describe yourself?
I didn’t know how to answer this so I asked my 11year old to answer! His response was ‘Big Beautiful Mumma”. That description makes me happy.  

18. What do you like to do besides creating? cooking?
I love to sew. I sew most of my own clothes. I also love drawing & photography. I ALWAYS have a camera on me. And of course music. I love to go to see live music and it is a rare thing for there NOT to be music playing in our house. I always post a song at the end of each post. I love to share music as well as food.


Friday 15 June 2012

bonfire night

winterwinterwinter winterwinterwinterwinter

We took a long weekend trip out West last week for a big family birthday bonfire party. The predicted minus temperatures emphasised that winter has well and truly set in here and we made sure to pack all our warmest clothes. As Sydneysiders we are never really prepared for cold weather! We have such mild quick winters here that we don't have those really thick coats that keep out the wind, we don't have thermals or proper boots. So I worried a bit that we were going to freeze!

Luckily the heavy rain in Sydney didn't follow us and we had beautiful bright sunny days out west and that huge big bonfire to keep us warm. We survived quite well, truth is out west they have beautiful central heating and toasty radiators, when we ventured outside we had all our winter stuff on and it was only cold at night.

What a wonderful night it was packed with lots of old friends and extended family we haven't seen for ages, young and old. It was so good to see everyone and toast our lovely brother-in-law on his big day. And that bonfire was epic!

My Diggers garlic finally came and helped me finish off my winter vegie planting. I already have some gifted plants up and growing but I really want to give garlic a good try this year. The three packages of different garlic varieties were fun to unwrap and I've planted them all out together in in a large raised garden box. Little shoots are just starting to emerge, yay, and I just hope our winters are cold enough and summer dry enough for the garlic to be productive.

My new beds have spinach, silver beet, beetroot, broad beans, radishes, spring onions and peas planted. They don't want for rain - we returned to the wettest June day in forty years, driving home through fog and torrential downpours - but they seem to be surviving. The worm towers have luckily stayed warm and dry but not very active yet. I don't blame them, I'd be tucked up too!

In winter mode I am still having fun cooking and eating at the moment so thanks for all your slow cook suggestions. I came home with a new cake recipe too, which I will share once I've cooked it. Which reminds me, I have the most fantastic Show & Tell coming up next Tuesday and I've really been looking forward to this interview. Say that every month I know but this one you are going to love!

So if I don't make it back here before then, make sure you drop in then and meet this month's guest!

Thursday 7 June 2012

my creative space - shop


Years ago I worked as a web designer, and I still enjoy playing with code. I love the mix of maths and design, and the special language of html and css! It appeals to my inner nerd.

For a while now I've been wanting to have my own space online for selling. Etsy has been wonderful to me over the years and I will always keep that shop, but for local buyers who want to buy in Australian dollars and find me more easily through my website, an independent shop selling in Australian currency is the perfect fit.

I've set up shop with bigcartel as they offer a cheapish option with no commission and just a monthly fee. The big cartel design is customisable too, you can fiddle with the colours and fonts etc with no coding experience, or you can off-road it and attack the css and html yourself, starting as I did from one of the free templates on offer and tweaking till it fits your design.

So though it may seem a funny thing to post for my creative space, this is literally how my creative time has been spent this week. The shop is newly open, so to kick it off, and see if it actually works (!) I've put a few of the items on sale for my lovely readers.

This week get the 'Collection' print, Yellow Bricks fabric or Chalk on Unbleached linen tea towel at bargain Australian currency prices, meaning you and I don't pay the exchange rate. I'll throw in a Ruby Slippers card too for each of the first five orders!

Meanwhile my Etsy store will change back to US currency for overseas customers. (Prices are a little cheaper in my shop due to the exchange rate at the moment, and all will be going up a little soon).

And please tell me if something doesn't work or looks funny. I need you to help me roadtest!

Wednesday 6 June 2012

sausage and bean stew

If you live on the East Coast of Australia it seems they've been talking about the extreme weather event to come all week while the sun shone defiantly and the sky stayed blue. Then yesterday afternoon it hit with a screech of wind and rain and its been cold and windy with random patches of blue all day. There have even been reports of snow out west where we're headed this weekend and I'm wondering if I can knit some more woolies before Saturday!

All of which inspired this meal which I first made a couple of weeks ago. I'm certain there's a recipe for this sort of thing out there somewhere but this one is mine and uses what I had on hand at the time - chicken sausages with lots of different beans and my old favourite tomato base. It makes a heart warming and healthy stew to help fill those empty legs my children seem to have at the moment. I think the sausages make it a bit more child friendly too, they love it.

I made it early today (which I never do) and it gave me the chance to take some pics along the way. I must say it was lovely cooking away with the sun and rain duelling outside the kitchen window, listening to the radio and pottering about. And its such a nice feeling knowing that dinner is all ready I must do it more often, maybe finally invest in a slow cooker. All thats left to do is slice some crusty bread and pour a glass of wine.

The chicken sausages are so light and tasty. Some are plain and the others are chicken cheese and spinach. I really love all the sausages you can buy these days, aren't we spoilt! All measurements are approximate and you could easily use different beans or perhaps lentils, add some vegies (I popped in some pumpkin), some chilli or a different meat, pork sausages would be nice. (p.s. I love this locally made Massel stock which is vegetarian - even the chicken stock - and all natural and free of lactose, gluten and msg.)

Bean and Sausage Stew

olive oil
salt and pepper
2 onions chopped
3 garlic cloves crushed
100ml white wine
1 cube vegetable stock dissolved in 350mls hot water
 2 (or 3) cans chopped Italian tomatoes
3 or 4 cans of beans (cannelini, kidney, lima, chickpeas, borlotti) I drain and rinse mine
2 packets chicken sausages

heat olive oil in large pot or casserole dish
fry onion and garlic till soft and golden
add white wine and stir for three minutes
add stock cube, water and cans of tomatoes cook down, approximately 15 minutes
meanwhile fry the sausages in a separate frypan or grill
add beans to casserole, cook ten minutes
add sausages to casserole (cut into large pieces)
season to taste

cook a bit longer then serve with crusty bread and glass of wine!

p.s. Winter warmer recipes very welcome! (And thanks to Tiel who emailled me about Boston Baked Beans today, sounds so delicious, its top of my eat list now!)

Do you have a slow cooker? What's the best one to buy, and what do you cook with it?