Passion for print
Screen printing designers and teachers, Jessie Wright and Lara Davies Open up a world of possibilities with patterns in their new book, Print Play.
While drying the dishes is hardly the most exciting thing to do, the humble tea towel happens to be one of the easiest pre-made items for printing on. Tea towels are the perfect canvas for first-time printers: they’re flat and often blank and are always made from a natural fibre.
You will need:
+ screen printing kit
+ ink in 1 colour
+ 2 blank cotton or linen tea towels
+ We find natural fibres work best for screen printing. We recommend that you start out printing on cotton and then build up to linen once you become more confident.
+ For best results, iron your fabric before printing.
+ We recommend you print two tea towels. It’s rare that you’ll get the first print right, so it’s good to have a backup.
Draw your design, transfer it onto stencil paper, then cut your stencil. The design for this project was inspired by our love of indoor plants.
Iron your tea towels and lay them out flat on the work surface. Prepare the screen and attach the stencil to the front. Get your squeegee and ink ready.
Place the screen on top of the first tea towel. Use a spatula to spread a generous amount of ink above your design. Start printing with one flood stroke and then apply pressure during your three hard pulls. Carefully lift up the screen from the fabric.
Place the screen onto other areas of the tea towel, positioning the screen in different directions each time, and repeat the printing process. Do the same with the second tea towel. Once you’re done, peel off the stencil and wash it, then wash the screen. Dry the prints completely using a hair dryer. Heat set your tea towels with an iron.
This is an excerpt from Print Play: Screen printing inspiration for your life and home, by Jessie Wright and Lara Davies, published by Hardie Grant Books and available from all good book stores.
Your screen printing kit
These are the essential items you’ll need to start printing. When we talk about your ‘screen printing kit’ in the materials list for each project, this is what we are referring to.
1. Pencil. ALWAYS use a pencil to draw on your stencil paper. NEVER use a pen or marker – it will bleed onto your fabric and make you sad.
2. Stencil paper. Stencil paper (also called ‘easy cut’ or ‘Yupo’ paper) is a thin, strong plastic that has no grain. It is super easy to cut and lasts forever. You want the stencil paper to be as thin as possible; we don’t recommend using acetate or anything too thick. It’s also a good idea to have regular drawing paper on hand to map out your designs before you transfer them onto the stencil paper.
3. Light box. A light box is a portable box with a neon tube inside it, and a clear surface. The illuminated surface makes it easy to transfer your design onto the stencil paper. These are sold at art and photographic supply stores. Alternatively, use a brightly lit window when transferring (or tracing) your designs onto stencil paper. Attach the drawing to the window with masking tape, so it doesn’t move while you’re tracing over it.
4. Scalpel. You’ll need one of these to cut all the fine detail in your stencils.
5. Cutting mat. These are used to protect your tabletop when cutting stencils. We recommend using a self-healing mat, and one that’s A2 size or bigger will make your life easier.
6. Screen. We prefer screens with aluminium frames, but you can also find screens with wooden frames. Screens are available in many sizes, so pick one that suits your needs (we suggest an A4 to get started). To print onto fabric you want to make sure your mesh is 43T; to print onto paper you’ll want 100T. 43T means that the mesh will allow MORE ink through and 100T means LESS ink. Back in the day, screens were made from silk, but most screens today are made from nylon mesh.
7. Tapes. You’ll need to use tape on your screen. We use packing tape to make an ‘ink well’ (page 17), and masking tape to attach the stencil to the screen.
8. Squeegee. This is used to push the ink through the screen. Make sure that the rubber is quite flexible, and choose one that suits the size of your screen.
9. Ink. This is the fun part! There are so many types of ink.. Save any clean plastic containers and use them for mixing and storing your inks.
10. Spatula. Have a few on hand to mix inks, apply the ink to your screen and to get into all the nooks and crannies during the clean up.
11. Hair dryer. You can leave your prints to air-dry or use a hair dryer to speed things up – this is useful when printing several layers. You can also use a hair dryer to dry your stencils and screen.
Making your stencil
Plan and draw your design onto paper. Remember that when creating a stencil you can’t have shapes floating inside other shapes; you will need a separate stencil for each layer.
Make sure your stencil fits the size of the screen. Place your design over a light box or attach it to a window, and transfer (trace) the design onto stencil paper. ONLY use a pencil when tracing on stencil paper. If you use a pen or marker, the ink will bleed onto your fabric.
Place the stencil paper on the cutting mat and use the scalpel to cut out your design. When cutting straight lines, it can be handy to use a metal ruler to keep your lines straight. Your stencil is ready to be printed.
It’s all about the preparation
Iron your fabric well. Some fabrics need to be pre-washed so they become more absorbent, but most fabrics, including calico, cotton and linen, generally don’t need pre-washing. If printing onto wood, corkboard or paper, there is no preparation needed; simply lay it flat on the work surface.
Attach your stencil to the front of the screen using two pieces of masking tape. Masking tape is easy to remove when wet, so it will not damage your stencil.
Prepare your screen by sticking packing tape to the front (flat side) of the screen to create a border. This makes space at the top, bottom and sides of the screen and is where the ink will start and finish; we call this the ‘ink well’. You should only attach tape and stencils to the front of your screen – you want to keep the back as smooth and uninterrupted as possible.
Make sure that the stencil overlaps the frame of tape around your screen. Hold the screen up to the light to make sure there is no exposed mesh other than your design, and adjust the stencil or add more packing tape if needed.
Let the printing begin!
Place your screen front-side down on the surface you’re printing onto. Use a spatula to spread a generous amount of ink in the ink well above your design. Hold the screen with one hand (or get a friend to hold it for you) so it doesn’t move while you print.
Position the squeegee on a 45-degree angle above your design and pull the ink down the screen. Don’t apply too much pressure – only use the weight of the squeegee. This is called a FLOOD STROKE; it ensures that your design will get sufficient ink. Now it’s time to apply pressure. Using that same 45-degree angle, give the squeegee three hard PULLS across the screen, keeping an even pressure from top to bottom. This process is slightly different for paper, cork and wood (see the relevant projects).
Remove the screen from the print by laying one hand flat on one side of the screen and using the other hand to lift the screen up, almost like opening a book. It is best to prop the screen up off the table using a block of wood or a roll of tape until you’re ready to clean it.
I have a print … now what?
Now comes the clean up. Carefully use the spatula to scrape all the excess ink back into the ink pot.
Remove the stencil and wash off the ink residue. Allow the stencil to air-dry or carefully dry using a hair dryer.
Wash out the screen in running water, making sure you get into all the nooks and crannies. It’s important to wash out your screen reasonably quickly – if you leave it too long, the ink will dry in the screen. Once clean, allow the screen to dry. If you opt to use a hair dryer, take care: if the hair dryer gets too close to the screen mesh, the heat can burn a hole in it. If washing the screen between stencils, make sure the screen is completely dry before using it again.
Either allow your print to air-dry or, if you’re printing on fabric, wood or cork, speed up the process by using a hair dryer. It’s important that you keep the hair dryer moving so nothing burns. You can check if your print is dry by lightly pressing a fingertip onto the printed area. If it’s dry, no ink will appear on your finger (be careful not to smudge the printed area in case it is still wet).
When can I start using my printed fabric?
Before you use your fabric you need to HEAT SET it. This means that you need to use a heat source to cure the ink onto the fabric. The easiest way to do this is with an iron (the heat from a hair dryer isn’t enough).
Put your iron on the cotton setting. Don’t use steam, as the fabric can’t be exposed to water until it has been heat set.
Get an old tea towel (or similar) and lay it over your print so you’re not ironing directly onto the fabric.
Iron the print for at least 5 minutes, but keep the iron moving – you don’t want to burn your design.
Once you have heat set your print, you can then launder the fabric as usual.