I had always thought screen printing was a really complicated process. Whenever I’d see a greeting card in our local stationery store with a “Screen printed” sticker on its protective cellophane envelope, or browsed dozens of beautiful boutique throw pillows boasting a screen print design, I’d pictured an operation on the scale of the printing press circa Gutenberg. Dozens of stencils and woodblock cuts organized in little boxes, huge ink rollers, and lots of lever-maneuvering to produce what suspiciously resembled an elaborate rubber stamp design. In my mind, screen printing was not something the average home craft enthusiast should think about tackling.
But thanks to my friend Carrie, of Dream Green DIY, and the magic of DIY screenprinting kits, I stand corrected. This art is accessible and fun, and opens up a whole realm of creative possibilities (and it has a fascinating history, which you can read about here). Last weekend when Carrie and I got together chez moi to teach each other something new (as we do a couple times a year), and while our husbands brewed some beer on the stove, Carrie showed me how it’s done!
Here’s what you need:
Screen print fabric ink (or paper ink if you’re printing onto paper) found at your local craft or art supply store
A screen (yes, really), a template and fabric of your choosing (Carrie selected a simple heart and a canvas tote bag), and a scraper-thingie (technical term, I think it’s alternately called a fill blade or a squeegee).
A friend to hold your screen in place (thanks, John!), plus a little muscle power to help spread the ink
Think of it like an open-faced sandwich. On the bottom, your plate (we put down some old paper to protect the table and keep the bag in place). Next, the bread to carry all your ingredients– in our case, the tote bag. Continuing to layer upwards, we have the template (cut to size for the width of the screen), the screen, and the ink.
Basically, all you do is plop a generous amount of ink onto the screen. Using firm, even pressure, scrape the squeegee over the ink and down the screen in order to depress the ink through the screen and onto the receiving medium. Be sure to go from top to bottom and side to side and bottom to top–all directions to make sure the ink has adhered. Carefully remove the stencil, and let dry. And that’s it!
If you wanted to do multiple colors, you would simply layer them on top once your first layer had dried (and after you wash the original color off your screen). Carrie entertained the idea of making a chevron stripe template and painting it over the existing heart. For this first project, we decided simpler might be better, and Carrie hoped to hand-paint a fitting word in this black heart.
A couple hints we learned along the way:
– Fabric ink really is different from paper ink. Carrie tested the process on a sheet of glossy paper, and we were a little wary that the heart came out kind of smudgy and really uneven. You’ll be relieved to know that fabric ink performs beautifully on fabric.
– Scrape the ink across the screen in all directions, not just top to bottom. In case your fabric has a “grain,” scraping in all directions insures that the ink has adhered. Unless you’re trying to achieve a vintage, splotchy look…
– We decided it wouldn’t be that difficult to make your own screen, if you needed a bigger one, for example. Simply stretch a piece of very fine mesh or gauzy fabric across a simple wooden frame (like an old wooden picture frame, perhaps?) and staple in place.
– Iron the fabric before you get started. Wrinkles are so uncool, and can cause your design to be a little wonky. It would be a shame to ruin a design because you didn’t take 2 minutes to iron your fabric flat.
– Print your template onto cardstock. The heavier weight paper won’t let the ink bleed through and provides more stability throughout the whole process.
Isn’t this a clever project? Carrie and I were pretty geeked out at how well it worked, and I can’t wait to see what she decides to do with her new bag. It might be something fun to do to make gifts for friends or an activity for girls’ night in. And you’re not limited to tote bags – how about shirts? pillowcases? tablecloths or table runners? cloth napkins?
Oh, and if you want to check out how I taught Carrie to bake a pie, check out her account of the day here! And if you want to catch up on what else Carrie and I have tackled together, check out our recaps here (or here), and here (or here).
Thanks, Carrie, for a great day of fun and learning! Now we wanna hear from you! What skills have you traded with a friend recently? Anybody interested in trying screen printing? Any screen print experts out there with more tips to share? Do tell.