Our family has embarked on virtual travels to various countries and regions. To explore these countries and their cultures, we have followed along with the festivals, cooked and eaten traditional foods, learned of traditional handicrafts with hands on exploration, along with many activities to immerse ourselves. Chronicled here are some of these activities.

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Monday, February 10, 2014

The Chinese Invented It: Printing {Making Eraser Stamps}

Printing is one of the Four Great Inventions, along with the compasspaper and gunpowderThese inventions are celebrated in the Chinese culture for their historical and far ranging impact.

Chinese Printing Blocks - their size is about 1/4 inch wide
Photo Credit: Jenni Konrad
Woodblock printing originated in China nearly 2000 years ago. It was first used for printing on cloth, with the earliest surviving fragment being a piece of silk printed with flowers. It later became used on paper, and by the 10th century Buddhist scriptures and Confucian classics were in print - making the Chinese the first to use printing for text. 

Around 1040 AD, the Chinese also invented movable type in clay, and shortly afterword in wood. This is a more flexible system than woodblock printing because it allows for moving various individual pieces. This became a successful method when printing thousands of books.

Printing with Eraser Stamps

We first decided to carve our own movable type out of clay. After the deadpan stare I received for suggesting they create a font and carve their own alphabet, we tried the more reasonable task of carving the letters to a short word, that could be used regularly on cards. For example, Elle decided on MERCI, which is French for Thank You. 

We cut our blocks, drew our templates, carved them with toothpicks and paring knives. We let them dry, dipped them in ink and  we got - smudges. We tried with paint and an ink pad, but still the same result, a series of spots and smudges. I think because we used clay, between the carving and the drying, our letters weren't level, which is important to create an imprint. Disappointed with all that hard work and nothing to show for it, we put printing aside for a bit. Then we did the tried and true carving of erasers.

The materials needed for this project are:

  • 1 or more white erasers (we got 3 letters per eraser, therefore used 2)
  • small carving tool
  • cutting mat (for a non slip surface when carving)
  • pencil
  • dark fine tip marker or pen
  • paper
  • ink, ink pad, or paint

1. Cut your eraser into segments - we cut ours into 3 equal pieces.

2. Because we were carving letters, the stamp carving needed to be reversed. Rather than trying to draw it reversed, we created a template: trace your eraser pieces on a piece of paper. Within those squares, draw what you want to stamp. We did capital letters for the word MERCI. Outline your drawing in dark pen/marker - something you can see through the paper. Color in fully your drawing with a pencil. Cut out the templates. *For anything other than letters, forget this step and draw right on the eraser.

3. Turn your template over onto the surface of the eraser. Can you see the outline of your drawing? Using a pencil, trace the edges of the template, and color it in again. This should transfer your template in pencil onto the eraser.

4. Using the carving tool, carefully and slowly carve away around your drawing. Make sure to get the edges of the eraser. To get the hang of using this, Elle started by carving out the edges, and worked her way towards the letters. When using the carving tool, carve away from yourself, and make sure not to carve towards the fingers holding the eraser. 

I helped Elle out with some of these - R was a little tricky, but we weren't looking for perfection. It is easier to start off with simple shapes or letters, with straight lines. 

5. Stamp onto a piece of paper. Elle made a thank you card to mail to her aunt and uncle for her amazing Christmas gifts. 

Can you imagine carving Chinese characters? On a 1/4 inch square surface? When there are over 10,000 Chinese characters? Incredible...

You can find more cultural and historical activities at the following linkups:
You can find more creative and kid friendly activities at the following linkups:


  1. I love them! I am not very skilled at this sort of thing, but you make it look so easy!

    1. It was a lot easier than it looks - I was worried about trying wood, so I considered this the next best thing - and keeping the images simple!

  2. Rubbers!!! What a brilliant idea! Gosh, we could use sculptured rubbers for so many things. I am so nicking this idea. My mind has just gone all haywire with the possibilities! (pastry stamping for medieval subtleties for example...)
    I don't seem to be able to post a comment on your newest post, but yay for setting up a linky! You're so clever! I'm having my computer time severely limited by the computer police at the moment (my children - one has to ask who exactly is in charge in this house hold?) but I will be back to link up all my posts when they give me a little more leeway!
    I spotted the West African pic at the top.....the excitement is building! I do think studying a country for a whole year is such a fantastic idea.

    1. ooh pastry stamping! (I'm still in awe of the subtleties by the way) That's a great idea! Now I'm thinking Valentine's day cookie stamps...
      So glad you'll be linking up :) - and let's be honest, we only kid ourselves into thinking it isn't the kids who are in charge :)

  3. I am SO excited that you are going to be doing West Africa next. I have been studying Africa all year with my autistic son, taking one country a week. We will save West Africa for last so we can do some of the exciting things I know you will come up with. Thank you for sharing all that you do.

    1. I've been keeping track of your posts and Africa pinterest board :) I'm pretty excited about all the textile crafts from the region - we'll be doing more stamping! May have to re-use the eraser stamp idea...

  4. I love them! I am not very skilled at this sort of thing, but you make it look so easy!
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  5. I'm horrid at carving, absolutely horrid, so like everyone else has said I'm always in awe of people who are good at it.
    There's a great series of books called "The Story of..." and it's about how 3 Chinese brothers invented all the cool stuff to get out of work. I think there's one on noodles, paper, kites.... and one other I can't remember the name of.

    1. If Elle and I can do these stamps, then anyone can!
      I'll check out those books - thanks for the recommendation :)


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