My favorite kinds of gifts are unexpected ones.
Neither of my sons’ grandmothers is expecting a Valentine’s Day present from us, so they’re this Cupid’s targets this year. What are they getting? Some quick and easy hand-stamped kitchen towels, which are so cute we had to make one to keep for ourselves. They’re a great afternoon craft for kids of all ages, they’re easy to mail to sweethearts far and wide, and they’ll only cost you a few bucks each.
These TEKLA kitchen towels from Ikea caught my eye not just because they’re simple and classic but because they were heaped under a sign that said $.79 EACH. I am constitutionally incapable of saying no to a bargain like that, so I bought a handful.
The subtle pattern and sweet red stripe made me think of a craft I loved doing with my mom when I was little: potato stamping. Have you ever? All you need is a few potatoes (I used big old Idaho russets, but smaller ones will do) + a tool to cut your stamp pattern with (either a cookie or vegetable cutter or a sharp knife) + a small tube of fabric paint.
Cut your potato in half, either lengthwise or widthwise depending on the size of the stamp you want to make. Place the cut ends face down on a towel for a few minutes to soak up some of the juice. Then (1) use the vegetable cutter to slice down into the potato at least one half inch. Remove the cutter and then (2) use your knife to slice around the whole outside of the potato without cutting all the way through it, i.e., into your shape. Carefully (3) peel away the slice you just made, being careful not to break any pieces off your shape. Look at that! You’ve (4) made a stamp!
If you don’t have a cutter in the shape of the stamp you want to make, you can print one off your computer, trace from another source, or draw it out freehand on a piece of paper. Remember: What you cut into the potato needs to be the mirror image of what you want your stamp to look like. To make a stamp of the word LOVE, I drew it with marker on a piece of scrap paper and then turned the paper over so I could get the reverse image by using the ink showing through on the other side.
I put the paper on my cut potato and, using my backward writing as a guide, poked holes along the lines with a skewer, the way you have if you’ve ever used one of those patterns for carving pumpkins.
Once you have your dot guide completed, it’s time to carve. A small paring knife is good, and the sharper the better. This is obviously a step to do without the kids.
Again, peel away the negative space and watch your stamp emerge. It’s not going to be perfect, but that homemade look is all part of potato stamping, so don’t worry about making mistakes. And if you do mess up too badly, you can just cut off your first try and start again on the same potato, no love lost. (HAR.)
Okay, call the kids in! It’s time to paint.
To get the best coverage and least mess, use a foam brush to paint the stamp rather than dipping the stamp into a puddle of color. Experiment with how much paint to use and how often you need to reload.
Again, the imperfections of the process are what make the finished project so charming, so just let whatever happens happen.
Kids dig this because it’s instant gratification and doesn’t take a hours of careful concentration. They’re going to be so proud to give this away.
I used just two stamps and one color here, but obviously you can take this technique as far as you want to go with it. It works on paper too, in case you decide you need a coordinating Valentine’s Day card to go with your gift (credit to my son for that idea!).
When you’re done stamping, hang your finished towels to dry and then follow the directions on your fabric paint to make sure your pattern sets permanently. (Sometimes you have to iron, sometimes not.)
Wasn’t that easy? Now go share some love this Valentine’s Day.
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