Block Textile Printing

Use potatoes and paints to recreate some Yoruba-inspired textile prints.


  • Pencil/Crayon/charcoal
  • Lino cutter
  • Iron
  • Sharp knife
  • Rubber gloves or disposable plastic gloves
  • Plastic paint pots
  • Thick child’s paint brush


  • Potatoes (Baking potatoes are best)
  • Paper for drawing
  • Newspaper
  • Piece of unbleached calico/cotton/cotton clothing (e.g. T-shirt)
  • Textile colour (e.g. Jacquard)


  1. Take a pencil and drawing paper. Let your mind go free and scribble on the paper.
  2. Look into the scribble and pick out interesting shapes. Now fill them in with the pencil (or charcoal or black felt tip pen). These will be the shapes that are printed
  3. Decide which shapes you would like to use together and transfer them to another piece of paper arranging them loosely within the shape of potatoes. You will need at least two designs.
  4. Of course you can repeat shapes as many times as you like. You can also make them larger or smaller as you like. You can even add in new ones.

Alternative for steps 1 & 2: draw regular shapes (e.g. circles, triangles) then draw a scribble shape within the shape. Fill in these new shapes.

Preparing the block

(adults should do this for under eights or closely supervise this for under twelves)

  1. Using a sharp knife cut a potato in half lengthways.
  2. Now gently mark the outlines of your design onto the potato.
  3. Cut a groove along each line about 5mm deep using either a lino cutter or a sharp knife.
  4. Repeat this with your second design for the second potato.

Messy time! Printing

Spread thick layers of newspaper all over your work surfaces and surrounding floor!

  1. Put your gloves on.
  2. Get the materials ready:
    a) Pour some textile colour into a paint pot and place to one side with the paint brush
    b) Lay out your calico material
    c) Place your potatoes nearby
  3. You are going to print in a regular sequence in lines. This is a feature of Yoruba art, or as Emmanuel would say, sequence is part of nature, and this is pleasing to the eye. The sequence is going to be 1 2 1 2 1 2 1 2 etc. on the top line, then 2 1 2 1 2 1 2 etc. in the next line and so on.
  4. Apply textile colour to the potato with the brush.
  5. Press the potato firmly onto the fabric working in lines.
  6. Print edge to edge filling up as much of the fabric as possible – if printing on a T-shirt you may decide to print only within an area of the shirt.
  7. If you have a second colour you could fill any gaps with the second colour or print alternate lines with different colours.
  8. Leave the fabric to dry.
  9. When the fabric is dry you can fix the colour by ironing it. (Refer to manufacturers instructions if using dyes other than Jacquard)

Finishing off

Traditionally Yoruba textiles would now be dyed to colour in the background. You should use a colour which is lighter than those you have printed with. Follow manufacturers instructions.

Young children making blocks

Children make their own blocks using any of the following:

  • Gluing pre-cut pieces of card together onto a larger square of card or wood. This would need three or four layers of card to build up the necessary depth.
  • Making indentations in clay or even plasticine using blunt objects (e.g. pencil, spoon handle) or fingers.
  • Making indentations in polystyrene using blunt objects or fingers.
  • Children can print onto paper using ordinary poster paints.