Rotary-Printed Cloth Napkins

1 / 2
These Rotary-Printed Cloth Napkins are great for a dining party event, or for you to enjoy over dinner with the family.
2 / 2
In "Made By Hand," Lena Corwin curates a "best of" collection of 26 studio classes from rotary-printed cloth napkins to sewn and stuffed toys, all of which include step-by-step photos.

In 2009, Lena Corwin turned the top floor of her Brooklyn brownstone into a studio and began to host eclectic classes for designers and do-it-yourselfers. In a short time, her space filled and became a hub for the vibrant “maker” scene. Made by Hand (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2013) is Lena’s collection of projects from artists whose work she loves to teach. The following excerpt gives a tutorial for making Rotary-Printed Cloth Napkins.

Purchase this book from the Mother Earth Living store: Made by Hand.

Rotary-Printed Cloth Napkins

While planning this book, I spent time experimenting with printing techniques that were new to me, and I became especially interested in the concept of rotary printing. When manufacturers produce rotary-printed fabric, a large cylinder is carved with impressions and is used to print on long, continuous rolls of fabric. Wondering if I could make a smaller-scale rotating stamp to print an allover pattern, I adhered foam pieces to a rolling pin, and it worked. The foam pieces soak up the ink, and the design can be rolled along fabric or paper. For this napkin project, I chose a simple scattered dot design, which I especially like printed in neon ink, but a more complex design can be used, too. One yard of fabric will make four cloth napkins, and the newsprint used under the fabric while printing can be recycled as wrapping paper.


• Apron (optional)
• Metal hole punch, with 1/4 inch hole or larger
• 1/4 inch-thick foam sheet, approximately 8 1/2 inches by 11 inches
• Small scissors (optional)
• Multisurface waterproof glue
• 18-inch wooden rolling pin (an even cylinder rolling pin, not tapered)
• Paper cup (optional)
• Small paintbrush (optional)
• 1 yard muslin, for test printing
• 4 yards light- or medium-weight cotton, washed, dried, and ironed
• Fabric scissors
• 18 inches by 24 inches pad newsprint paper
• Plastic artist’s palette, at least 18 inches by 15 inches
• Water-based acrylic fabric ink, in colors of your choice
• Old spoon
• Foam brayer
• Rag or paper towel
• Thread in color matching fabric
• Sewing machine

1. Set up: You will need a work surface of approximately 5 feet by 3 feet. While water-based ink is considered nontoxic, it is best to work in a well-ventilated area. Wear an apron if you wish to protect your clothing from stray ink.

2. Make a rotary stamp: Using the hole punch, create holes in the foam sheet. Keep the small foam circles you punch out and set them aside.

Note: If you’re having a hard time fitting the foam into the hole punch, try punching close to the edge of the foam, pushing back and forth. Alternatively, you can cut out any shapes you like using small scissors.

Lay the rolling pin on your work surface and carefully glue each foam dot (or other shape) to the rolling pin. You can use the glue directly from the bottle, or you can pour the glue into a paper cup and use a paintbrush to dab glue on the underside of each foam piece. Create a random pattern on the rolling pin, gluing some dots close together in clusters and others farther apart. Allow the glue to dry before you rotate the rolling pin to add more foam dots. Continue gluing dots or shapes until the entire rolling pin is covered. Allow the glue to dry for several hours or overnight.

3. Cut fabric: Either iron the muslin and napkin fabric or pull the (still warm) fabric from the dryer and press out any wrinkles with your hands. Cut both the muslin and napkin fabric into 18 inch square pieces.

4. Print test fabric: Place two pieces of newsprint, side by side, on your work surface. Lay the muslin test fabric on top of the newsprint, smoothing out the fabric with your hands. Place your artist’s palette to one side. Open your ink and stir it. The consistency should be like melted ice cream. If the ink is too thick, add a small amount (approximately 1 teaspoon) of water and stir thoroughly. Add more if needed. If your ink is too thin, leave it uncovered and exposed to air until it thickens.

Using the spoon, scoop out approximately 2 tablespoons of ink onto the palette. Spread out the ink with the spoon, creating a line across the width of the palette. Take the foam brayer and spread the ink further, creating a rectangle of ink approximately 16 inches wide and 10 inches long. Place the rolling pin on the ink and slowly roll the pin back and forth through the ink. I prefer to hold the pin itself, rather than the handles, by placing my fingers between the foam dots, which gives me more control while rolling (sometimes the pin will skid along the palette instead of rolling when the handles are used).

Lift the rolling pin and stand it upright, resting the handle on your work surface. Check to see if any ink has gotten on the rolling pin, and if so, wipe those areas with a paper towel or rag. Place the rolling pin on the edge of the test fabric and slowly roll the pin away from you. Note that for the first rotation of the rolling pin, the ink is heavily coated on the foam and only a little pressure is needed. As you finish one rotation of the rolling pin, the printed ink will start to appear lighter, so you will need to apply increasing pressure as you approach the second rotation. With practice you will be able to achieve two rotations of the rolling pin with nice, even prints. If your print has globs of excess ink, you are pressing too hard. If your print is faded, you are pressing too

After two rotations of the rolling pin, stop to roll the foam brayer on the palette to redistribute the ink, and reapply the ink to the rolling pin. Add more ink to the palette as needed. Lay down fresh sheets of newsprint for each piece of fabric, and practice printing on the test fabric until you are happy with the appearance of your prints.

5. Print napkins: Lay down fresh newsprint on your work surface and place a piece of napkin fabric on top. Print as you did with the test fabric, rolling the foam brayer on the palette to redistribute the ink, applying the ink to the rolling pin, and checking for stray ink. Roll the pin over the fabric, adding pressure as you finish the first rotation. Place the rotary-printed cloth napkins in a place where they can dry completely.

6. Switch ink colors: If you want to switch to a different color, wash the palette, foam brayer, and rolling pin with cold or warm water. Press the brayer and rolling pin with a rag or towel and wipe the palette to speed up the drying time. (If you want to roll a second color on the same fabric, wait until the first layer of ink is dry.) When the fabric is completely dry, iron the pieces on high heat or dry them in a machine dryer on high heat for 15 minutes. This will make the ink permanent and washable.

7. Sew napkins: Hem the edges by folding the rotary-printed fabric under a scant 1/4 inch and then a generous 1/4 inch and sewing with a straight stitch in a thread color matching the fabric.

Reprinted with permission from Made By Hand: A Collection of Projects to Print, Sew, Weave, Dye, Knit, or Otherwise Create by Lena Corwin and published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2013. Buy this book from our store: Made by Hand.

Need Help? Call 1-800-234-3368