Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Ink Week, Part 1

I have not been able to find any online information about how to use Tsukineko inks in a painterly way, so I thought I'd go in depth on my learning experiences with them this week. You can learn from my mistakes as well as my successes!

I'm making Leanne Beasley's stitchery quilt, Down the the Garden. A year ago I chose Tamara Kate's Flight Patterns fabric collection for this project. Inspired by the watercolour effects in the fabric, I thought it would be nice to "watercolour" the stitchery designs before I stitch them. Rather than use real watercolour paint, I chose Tsukineko inks for the job, which are water-based, but can be heat set to become permanent and washable.

I've had the ink for 10 months now, but it was never the "right time" to get started. Finally, to get over the first hurdle, I dredged up my science lab experience from a long time ago, and set it up like an experiment. I wrote down the things I wanted to learn:
  • Test ink colours - Banana Cream, Cool Gray, Cerulean Blue (not the colours in the photo above, those are for later)
  • Compare brushes with Tsukineko Fantastix
  • Try various wet/dry wash techniques
  • Test drying, heat setting
Then I made a test sheet with the same fabric, Kona PFD, and permanent lines, Pigma Micron, that I will use for the quilt:

I ironed a piece of freezer paper to the back of the fabric, to stabilize it while I worked. I picked up this tip from Linda M. Poole's book, Painted Applique, and it worked great!

Then I assembled all my equipment. Tsukineko Fantastix are blank foam pens that you can load with your ink:

I also bought a cheap set of brushes, and single-use eyedroppers to transfer the ink from the bottle to the mixing cups. I'm calling this "Ink Week," by the way, because my sewing machine is packed away until I finish this phase of the project.

Here's how my experiment progressed:

  1. I started with the undiluted blue ink, and a small brush. The Kona PFD fabric really sucks up the ink, and the more you hesitate, the wider the line.
  2. I wetted the corner of the fabric with water, and used the brush to paint a line of pure ink, then pull it back into the water. The wash took time to really soak back through the fabric.
  3. I decided the pure pigment was too dark for the effect I wanted to achieve, so I diluted the ink, and tried to repeat #2 along the edge of the first square. The diluted ink really soaks in fast! 
  4. I still felt the ink was too dark, so I diluted it more and loaded it onto one of the Tsukineko Fantastix. They are much easier to control!  I found that if I drew about 1/8" away from the line, the ink soaked up to the line but not usually past it. It is easiest to just dip the Fantastix in your ink, and hold the tip up for a few seconds to let it soak in.
  5. I used the same technique as #4 to colour around the birdhouse. The colour was flatter than I would have preferred, but I was ready to move on!
  6. Same as the blue, I started with the Cool Gray diluted and loaded onto a Fantastix for the flat area of colour in the first circle.
  7. For the second circle I soaked a little water into the centre first, and then filled in the edges with the same Fantastix as #6, and blended it back into the centre. Success! 
  8. I tried the same blended technique in the roof, with moderate success. At this point I got out the blow dryer and dried all the blue and grey bits before I started with the yellow. Waiting for the paint to dry is worst part of a watercolour technique!
  9. The yellow square was done the same way as #7, with a little water in the centre, diluted ink and a fresh Fantastix. There was no problem at all with the wet yellow ink picking up any of the dry blue ink.
  10. I went ahead and finished the birdhouse with the yellow.
Feeling pretty confident, and with the inks all set up, I decided to forge ahead and colour the four birdhouse blocks for the real quilt.

I started with the yellow this time, dried it, and painted the grey. The real grey roofs were narrower than my test one, so I gave up on the wash after two of them, and just filled them in with solid grey. The block above has been heat set with the iron, and I found that the yellow and grey both faded away more than I wanted.

The blue, however, was a little too dark! I wasn't totally happy with the flat blue colour around the birdhouse in the test piece, so I loaded the edges of the fabric with plain water, and tried to use the Fantastix to blend the ink back. However, I ran out of the first batch of diluted ink, and you can see I made the second batch too dark.

For the third and fourth houses, I was getting impatient, and I decided to use a wider brush to ink around the edges of the fabric:

You can really see how the ink carries out to the edges of the brushstroke! Then I used a Fantastix with the same mix to fill in the gaps along the line. I like these ones the best -- the blotches look a little like clouds to me.

All of them have some bleeding of the blue over the line. My hope is that with the stitchery added, it will not be too noticeable. I made a start with the embroidery on the worst one first, just to see if I can live with it:


It certainly has the "loose" feeling of some watercolours! I bought enough fabric to redo everything if the experiment failed, but at this point I want to keep moving forward. The others will be better, and once it is part of the whole quilt, I think it will just be a minor quibble.

Next up, the watering cans, and all the larger flowers around the quilt. I think it will be a couple more days!

Click here for Part 2!


  1. well you certainly have made a great job of colouring your fabric I love the delicacy of the colours you are using

  2. Amazing woman! Thank you so much for the description of your reasoning and process. I can't imagine myself having the patience and discipline to apply this to panels that matter! I might have a go in free form and then find a use, but this is something else altogether. I salute you!

    1. Thanks very much, Jillian! I think the organized approach actually makes it easier to start, and certainly to be consistent over time. There's less risk and chance for frustration.

      Day 2 has gone pretty well. I'll write it up tomorrow!

  3. Brave you are. I would be really frustrated trying to control the ink. Looks good, though.

  4. Amazing! I too agree that having a test swatch and a very organised approach is needed when diving into something like this. They are going to look amazing when all together witht he fabrics.

    1. Thanks, Katherine! It will definitely be exciting to see it all come together. But there is a lot of stitching to do before that!


I'm told Blogger has been bouncing some comments, so if it happens to you I'm sorry! But the settings look right so I can't explain it. In any case, thanks for reading!

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