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HS-AskMartha 7-18-06

Rubber Stamp of Approval

By Martha Stewart

Distributed by New York Times Special Features

CUTLINES:

(portrait)

Martha Stewart

Photo by Willam Abranowicz

(stamps)

TIP: Rubber stamps can be used to personalize or give a fresh design to anything from stationery to furniture.

Photo by Gemma Comas

Owning a collection of rubber stamps is not unlike having your own portable print shop. These small-scale crafting tools are affordable, easy to use and unexpectedly versatile. With a little know-how, you can create designs that resemble silk-screening, stenciling or typesetting.

Stamps are available in almost any design imaginable -- look in crafts stores or search online for sources (try www.hankodesigns.com and www.rubberstamptapestry.com). Don't be afraid to experiment. Try combining different stamps in a single design, or repeat one stamp multiple times. Play with scale, too, using small stamps on large surfaces and large stamps on small surfaces. Or layer one color on top of another, to give the illusion of depth and dimension.

Apply patterns to almost any surface: paper, fabric and objects found in nature such as stones, leaves and seashells. Even tables and chairs can be your canvases -- use a decorative stamp with some latex paint. You can also customize clothing and linens with special inks that won't fade or run in the wash.

There are no fancy tricks involved. All you need to make a big impression are some stamps and ink or paint -- and a little creativity. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Custom gift tags. Stamp plain gift tags with a pretty pattern or special message. To create an all-over design, use a patterned stamp that has a greater surface area than the tag. Customize messages using special multiletter stamps from crafts or office-supply stores.

Inspired by nature. Objects from your collection of rocks, shells, driftwood and leaves have a place at the table; use them to weight place cards or as place markers themselves. Select a stamp that bears an image appropriate to the object it will imprint. You might rest an egg stamped with the image of a hen in a store-bought nest with a paper tag lettered with a guest's name. A seahorse can similarly adorn a seashell picked from the beach.

Plain to pretty. Dress up paper party products, such as napkins and plates, with a set of stamps, creating a matching set. The surfaces of recycled paper cups and other items readily absorb ink, making them perfect for stamping. Try stamping green leaves and pink flowers together for an attractive floral motif, or use animal stamps for a child's party.

Stylish stationery. To design a personalized stationery set, print your name and address on a sheet of paper, then add a flourish with an artistic design or perhaps a bold monogram to complete the letterhead. Make matching accessories by repeating the pattern on cloth albums, scrapbooks and more.

Artful furnishings. "Painting" with stamps is easier than painting with stencils, since the designs are meant to be more free form. Use several flower stamps in different designs and sizes to create a garland of flowers that stretches across a headboard and trail onto the wall, overlapping different shades of paint, such as blue and green, to create more depth.

Stamping tips:

• When you stamp with ink, do some test runs on scrap paper. Sometimes the edge of the stamp will pick up ink and leave a mark on the surface you're stamping. If this happens, wipe the edge of the stamp clean with a baby wipe each time before you use it. On curved surfaces, apply the stamp in a rolling motion. Close inkpad cases tightly after each use.

• When stamping with latex paint, practice on a sheet of craft paper before you apply the design. Always use a brush to apply paint to the stamp. And if you make a mistake, don't fret -- on many slick surfaces, you can wipe wet paint away with damp paper towels.

• If you want to stamp on fabric, you'll need to purchase fabric pads -- special sponges that are saturated with fabric-safe ink. Test a fabric swatch before stamping on a garment or linen to get a sense of how much ink and pressure to use. Wipe away any excess ink on the edge of the stamp before each use. After you've stamped your fabric, follow the manufacturer's instructions on the fabric pad to set the design.

• You can have any graphic design or text made into a rubber stamp: search online or in the telephone book for a vendor. Prices are usually about $5 per square inch. Try clip art or your own artwork, or have stamps made in your own handwriting or a favorite print font.

Questions should be addressed to Ask Martha, care of Letters Department, Martha Stewart Living, 11 W. 42nd Street, New York, N.Y. 10036. Questions may also be emailed to: mslletters@marthastewart.com. Please include your name, address and daytime telephone number. Questions of general interest will be answered in this column; Martha Stewart regrets that unpublished letters cannot be answered individually. For more information on the topics covered in the Ask Martha column, visit www.marthastewart.com. Copyright 2006 Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Inc. All rights reserved.

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