First Steps in Screen Printing

First Steps in Screen Printing

This month, I am exploring a new handmade technique: screen printing. I have been looking for ways to complement my sewing. I often work with plain fabrics, cream-coloured calico or simple Essex or Broadcloth. Maybe adding simple designs to light plain fabric would work… Therefore, I decided to take my first steps in screen printing. I also tried shibori, a Japanese dyeing technique, read about it here.

The Rizzeria

The Rizzeria is a collective of self-publishers and printmakers, who own a stencil press. They run as a not-for-profit organisation, run a small shop in Marrickville and host a range of handmade classes. I booked in a class run by Kitty Cardwell to get me started.

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Screen Printing

Screen printing is a printing technique whereby you use a mesh to transfer ink onto a substrate (read: fabric or paper). You cut a shape into a stencil and the ink will be applied to the “open” areas of the stencil. You then move a squeegee or a blade across the screen to fill the mesh apertures with ink and wet the fabric or paper.

The simplest technique, and the one I tried, is the stencil one. There are other techniques, such as the painted stencil method or photo emulsion, but they’re a bit more complicated.

Stencil Screen Printing

All you need to get started in stencil screen printing is:

A stencil

You can buy stencils, already designed, or you can get your own design photocopied on film paper. You will then need to cut out the stencil yourself, with a craft knife or a cutter.

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A mesh screen

You can find mesh screens in craft stores, such as Eckersley’s. If you start by printing cards or small design, you don’t need anything too big. Leapfrog Inkspot make mesh screens of various sizes.

Adhesive tape

You need to use tape to stick the stencil to the mesh but also to cover the area you will to block around it, so you want to use wide tape, and something sufficiently solid so it doesn’t tear when you pull it off.

A squeegee or blade

You can find plastic blades in craft stores or have a proper squeegee cut to size to match your screen.

Fabric paint

Permaset manufactures a thick and creamy type of paint, available in a wide range of colours. Permaset Aqua is perfect for fabric, there is also a kind that works on both fabric and paper.


Getting Set Up

If you design your own stencil, the first step is to cut it. A proper craft knife works best and this step requires attention to detail. Although my cutting wasn’t particularly fine, it didn’t show when printing, the ink seemed to blend in the edges, so don’t worry too much about this step.

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Then you need to tape the stencil “face down” to the back of the mesh screen. That way, it will print in the right sense when you turn the screen around.

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At this point, it’s very important to tape the stencil flat onto the back of the screen so the paint doesn’t leak.

Now your mesh screen is ready for printing.

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In order to screen print without too much mess, you need to prepare your space. Make sure your table is well protected from any paint.

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Now you need to spoon the paint into the screen. You can be generous, there needs to be sufficient paint in order to wet the cloth. Fabric will absorb paint well, and any leftover, you can spoon back into the pot. At this point, you need to make sure that you spoon the paint in the length of your squeegee, I made that mistake a few times…

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Ready? Now Squeegee Away!

Now you are ready to slide your squeegee or blade across the mesh screen. Grab some paint with the squeegee and slide across in a single, confident movement. The first time, I applied strong pressure to the squeegee but that didn’t apply much paint. The trick is to be confident and relatively swift, and to create a quick and whizzing noise of the squeegee polymer against the mesh. If you hear that noise, you’re doing well. With cloth, I recommend you squeegee the surface twice, back and forth, as a fair amount of paint will be absorbed.

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Be careful not to move the mesh screen when you slide the squeegee across. Any movement could create a blur in the design. In the class, we took turns in holding the screens for each other, as it’s easier to hold the squeegee with both hands. When I get to do some screen printing at home, I’ll be sure to rope up my husband for a few hours!

Removing the Mesh from the Fabric

To remove the mesh from the fabric, you need one clean movement, in order not to blur the edges. The screen printed shape will be wet and may have a slightly uneven appearance, but that’s part of the charm of anything handmade. In case you prefer to have an even fill on the printed shape, you can add some paint with a small brush.

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Drying and Heat Curing

Drying should take about 20 minutes. You can then add another design or another colour. Once the screen print is completely dry, it’s important to heat-cure it, and there are several techniques you can use.

Hand Iron

Apply a hot iron to the front and back of the printed garment, using a cotton cloth for protection.

Aluminium Foil Baking

Fold the garment in aluminium foil and bake in the oven at low heat (90°C). I don’t have clear instructions on how long you should bake the garment, but I would try for 30 minutes initially.

Tumble Dryer

After thorough air drying, tumble dry the garment for 30 minutes, on low heat.

Final Result

I was very pleased with the results for a first time. Screen printing is a fun and approachable handmade technique, with many possibilities. It’s not as messy as I thought it would be, however, you do need to set up properly, protect your surfaces and clean up the paint afterwards, however it’s all quite straightforward.

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I look forward to trying this at home and decorating kitchen linens and other hand-sewn materials.

Have you tried screen printing at home? Please share your stories!

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