Use Screenprinting to Improve the Stash You Have

I have taken many classes from fiber artist Rayna Gillman. I love her warm, giving approach to teaching and I have acquired many skills from her lessons.

thermofax screen printing on fabric
The results of Rayna Gillman’s “therapy sewing” using many fabrics she made more interesting with Thermofax screen printing.

But maybe the most important lesson I’ve learned from Rayna is that rules and perfection are overratedat least when it comes to surface design and art quilting. In fact, I think it’s her laid-back attitude, coupled with a keen eye for color and design, that makes her such a brilliant artist.

Take, for example, experiments in dyeing fabric that didn’t work out as you’d hoped. Rayna, who hand dyes many of her own fabrics, turns these not-so-great examples into backgrounds for further surface design, like Thermofax screen printing.

Rayna often screen-prints her hand-dyed fabric in preparation for what she calls “therapy sewing.” This is where she cuts strips of fabric without a ruler, then sews them together two at a time, playing with the combinations of pattern and color until she gets a block of strips that she likes.

Here is her no-rules process for screen-printing the fabric.

thermofax screenprinting
Rayna pulls yellow paint through the Thermofaxscreen to add allover striations to her blue, dyed fabric.

1. Select a small piece of hand-dyed or hand-printed fabric that you’re not happy with.

2. Tape the fabric down on newspaper or a drop cloth so it won’t move around when you print.

3. Choose a Thermofax screen (one that you made or purchased) that has an allover pattern. You will be cutting up the fabric into small strips later, so a screen with central motif won’t work as well.

4. Use a spoon to apply fabric paint to the top of the screen and pull the paint down with a squeegee or expired credit card. Don’t worry if you get blotches of paint or if the paint coverage is perfectly even, because this won’t show after you cut up the fabric.

thermofax screen printing
Gray text is added over the yellow stripes. Rayna doesn’t mind the paint blotch, because she’s going to cut the fabric up later.

5. Let the fabric dry before attempting another screen print on top of it. Then, choose another screen with an allover pattern (text, for example).

Note: Rayna likes to apply the same screen and paint to two pieces of fabric, then screen-print a second time over only one. This gives her two fabrics that will work well together in a later quilt. Repetition is a key element in quilt design, she says.

6. When your screen-printed fabrics are dry, go over them for 1-2 minutes with a dry iron to set the paint. Then cut them into 2½”-wide strips.

On another day in the studio, Rayna will cut these pieces into skinny strips, without benefit of the ruler, and start her therapy sewing.

rayna gillman
Rayna Gillman

I’m so glad I’ve had the benefit of watching Rayna’s process in class, and now you can do it in your own home. In her new Quilting Arts WorkshopTM video, “Free-Form Fabric Art: Cut, Piece, & Create without Rules,” Rayna demonstrates her techniques for Thermofax screen printing, cutting, and sewing strips of fabric, then revealing her thought process for designing a quilt.

This video represents a wonderful opportunity for you to learn how to let go, have fun, and be more creative with your fabric stash.

P.S. Do you mind getting messy in your studio? Do you follow the rules or toss them aside? Tell me about it in the comments section below.

Other topics you may enjoy:


Monoprinting & Screenprinting, Quilting Daily Blog

6 thoughts on “Use Screenprinting to Improve the Stash You Have

  1. I loved the title in the original posting regarding “Getting messy with fabrics”. That is so-o-o me. When I first started quilting,back in the 80s, I would get rejected from traditional quilting shows because I had messy backs (this was in the day when you actually delivered the quilt to be judged for inclusion in a show). Now, I don’t care and wrote a blog about how messy I can get. Hurray for people who don’t follow rules because when people just play, that’s where exciting things can happen. Not all who wander are lost!

  2. My workspace certainly gets messy…
    I usually follow the rules (more or less) the first time I try a new technique. It seems easier to break the rules once you learn what they are. Some are important and life is easier if you follow them, others are far more fun when you break them and discover what happens.
    I remember the years of 4-H sewing when everything had to be perfect inside and out. Eventually, I realized that while it is important to look good (not necessarily neat, but “right,” and not fall apart at a critical moment, a bit of mess is no big deal. With garment linings, quilt backings–and not showing anyone what you don’t want them to see–messy is fine.

  3. My whole house is my studio.I work on the kitchen island, also, the kitchen table. In the LR, I have a large table that I sew on. In my husband’s office is my ironing board in the middle of the room. My husband doesn’t care about my messes and is very understanding. I am so thankful for him!

  4. I have to admit, I used to only be able to work in a clean well organized workspace but I really think that held me back from really letting myself go. Now I start out clean and just flow from there. Now I love surprises and I feel much more creative. Allow yourself the freedom to play and wonderful things happen. I wish I would of felt this way years ago. No pressure to make perfection. I have to thank Quilting Arts for telling me and showing me that it is ok to just have fun! Funny how we need permission sometimes to free ourselves from the box!

  5. I love Rayna! I have not met her but she sure sounds like my kind of gal!
    I have a few of her books…waiting patiently to get her new book and have a DVDs of her.
    I like to start off organized but can go into full out mess. I then have fun re organizing. It is my therapy to fondle my fabrics as I clean up. I am a messy perfectionist procrastinators! And proud of it.
    As for rules I must know them but I like calling them parameters.. A rule is so harsh and doesn’t let you fell free to experiment. So rules in our house are few like you can hurt anyone physically or mentally. Then there are guidelines… Don’t craft without pretecting the floors and tables.
    I am an info junky always looking at how people do things and why. So for instance I read about how to do a process like fabric dyeing… How many ways can you do it. Turns out a lot of people have different ways and supplies to dye fabric. I try a few ways and see what works for me and then find the way I like to do it. I play with the perimeters people give. Then I never feel guilty of breaking the rules!
    So I say learn the “rules” people give and test to find your perimeters. Does this make sense? And the outcome in dyeing I always end up with cool fabric or ugly fabric which I have learned from and can play some more with.
    I get the feeling that this method is the method of an experimentor and a bit of a free foam rebel! Lol