Never fear! Screen printing myths busted

25 May 2010

Many people are afraid of screen printing. They're intimidated by the equipment and the process. Or they think it's expensive. Or difficult to get appealing results.

Well, I'm going to let you in on a little secret: Screen printing is easy, uses very little special equipment, and many methods require very little monetary investment. It is one of the best ways to create fabric and surface design that is all your own. But most of all, it's fun!

"A lot of people are intimidated by screen printing, but I liken it to the discovery of fire. At first, humans were afraid of fire. But when they learned how to use it, they started to cook!" says surface designer and screen printer extraordinaire Jane Dunnewold on her Quilting Arts WorkshopTM video, Screen Printing Sampler.

Perhaps you still need convincing? In that case, I'm going to bust a few screen-printing myths taken from my own experience as well as Jane's.

Myth: Screen printing requires a special frame and screening that is expensive or hard to find.
Busted: For most kinds of screen printing, all you need to make an effective screen is a simple wood frame, some polyester curtain sheer material, a stapler, and duct tape, all of which are available at your local discount department store. According to Jane, the only situation where you'd need specialized screen material is if you were doing photo-emulsion work. Thermofax screens involve special equipment, too, but this is only one method of screen printing.

Myth: You need a lot of fancy tools, like a tjanting.
Busted: Nope! A tjanting tool (which drips fluid wax onto the screen) is great to have, but not necessary at all. You can make designs for your screen using freezer paper cut-outs or make patterns and designs with water-soluble glue, flour paste, or soy wax and brushes, kitchen sponges, or found objects. You will need a squeegee, but those are easily found at hardware and discount stores.

Myth: About those designs--I can stitch, but I can't draw.
Busted: You'd be surprised at what an amazing impact simple marks like brush strokes, circles, and scribbles can have when you screen print paint, ink, or a discharge agent like bleach (working in a well-ventilated area and wearing a respirator, of course) onto fabric. I like to use found objects like kitchen tools to make designs, myself.

Myth: It's easy to screw up the design or ruin the fabric in some other way.
Busted: The joy and reward of screen printing comes from the process of experimenting and making discoveries. Jane says she enjoys screen printing--and the results--most when she breathes, slows down, and just lets the design develop. In fact, she says, "Often, you need to go too far [with an experiment] in order to know when to stop next time."

Personally, I find that there is no such thing as a screen-print fail, just learning opportunities and fodder for ATC and fabric postcard backgrounds! And when I'm in the screen-printing zone, there are few greater artistic pleasures. So, if you've never screen printed before or even if you've had a "fail" experience, I strongly recommend you give it a whirl.


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