Cheesecloth is a loosely-woven, gauze-like fabric used in copper plate printing to wipe off excess ink from the plate surface. In the past, it was chiefly made of hemp but nowadays, it is usually made of rayon and other artificial fabric or cotton. Cotton types are most suited for intaglio printing.
When using a new piece of cheesecloth, it should be cut to about 1m in length and then softened by rubbing or lightly soaking in water and drying, before use. After the grooves on the plate are loaded with ink using a rubber spatula etc., cheesecloth is used to wipe away the excess ink. This is done by shaping the cloth into a round pad with a diameter of around 10cm. The base of this pad must be flat and free of wrinkles. Wear gloves and use the base of the pad to wipe the plate. Be careful to remove only excess ink and not the ink in the grooves. Prepare three types of cheesecloth – one for giving the surface a rough wipe, another for a second wipe and a third for the finish. When the cloth gets dirty, roll it up again so that a clean surface is used on the plate at all times. For the rough wipe, use a dirty piece of cheesecloth and move it around in a circular motion to remove most of the unnecessary ink. For the second wipe, use a cleaner piece of cheesecloth and rub the plate quickly. Be careful not to use excessive force as this can result in removing too much ink. For the finish, use a new piece of cheesecloth to just wipe off ink protruding out of the grooves. Should you wish to polish the plate even further and wipe off the film of oil left behind by the ink, this can be done with a cupra fabric, rayon, paper or the palm of the hand. Used cheesecloth hardens when left exposed to air, so it is best to spread it out in between sheets of a newspaper and seal it up in a plastic bag for storage.
In addition to printmaking, cheesecloth is also used as a component of building materials, in agricultural uses to keep insects away and for shading. Common examples of products made of cheesecloth include curtains, handkerchiefs and mosquito nets. It can also be used as the base material for paintings and as a reinforcement for the spine of a bound book. Cheesecloth can be purchased at art supply stores that handle printing supplies and at home centers selling agricultural supplies.