Making A Dauber

In the intaglio process, a dauber – also called a dabber, or sometimes a dolly or poupee, especially if it is very small, or used in the ‘a la poupee’ process – is what we use to ink up an intaglio plate/matrix.

It is made from tarlatan, which is a coarsely-woven muslin, usually sized by the manufacturer so that it can be easily rolled onto the bolt. Tarlatan can be used for both inking the matrix and wiping – although for wiping, the excess size is removed by agitating or teasing the tarlatan, otherwise the stiffness interferes with the wiping process, and it is possible (although not very likely) that particles of size can work their way into the ink.

For making a dauber, the size is left in, to make rolling the tarlatan easier. A length of material is cut from the bolt. It can be any size at all, depending on personal preference or the job at hand. I decided to use the full width of the material.

The tarlatan is folded in half lengthways, and then the halves are folded in again towards the centre, so that the raw edges are concealed inside and have no way of making contact with the plate. Raw edges of a soft material are not necessarily going to damage the plate, but will wear a lot quicker, and potentially leave pieces of fibre on the plate.


Tarlatan folded 1 wm   Tarlatan folded 2 wm
Above: the strip of tarlatan folded lengthways in half, and then in again, to enclose the cut edges


I also decided to fold this long strip in half, because the full width of the roll was wider than I remembered, and this would make the next step easier.


Tarlatan folded 3 wm
Above: The long strip folded in half widthways

The strip is then carefully rolled, choosing one edge to keep as neat as possible – this will be the inking surface. I chose the edge which has the two folds as made above, to give more surface area for holding ink, and better wear. The dauber can also be shaped as it is rolled, to create more of a cone or ball surface for inking, depending, again, on preference or a particular need. A pointed end on a small dolly or poupee, for example, allows a very small area to be inked up separately (perhaps in another colour) to the rest of the matrix, for different effects.


Tarlatan rolled 1 wm    Tarlatan rolled 2 wm
Above: rolling carefully to maintain an even edge on one side

Once rolled, the dauber is fastened with anything which will keep it in a tight roll – this was more likely to be string or cord of some sort in period, but when one is prepping single-handedly, a modern option like masking tape is going to be easier to manipulate.

Tarlatan taped wm
Above: the easiest way to fasten one-handedly

And there you have it, one dauber ready for action. This will wear a little with every matrix inked, more quickly for a deeply incised plate or with rough work. In theory it is possible to turn it over and use the other end, but this will be less evenly rolled, and you will be holding the old working end, full of ink!

tarletan dauber wm
Above: ready to daub