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How To: Screenprinted Holiday Gifts

By Allie

Allie is the co-founder of Indiesew and creator of all things pretty on the site. Follow Allie and receive other Indiesew updates by subscribing to the blog.

Learn How to Screenprint | Indiesew.com

For several years now, I’ve had a keen interest in fabric printing. I’ve dipped my toe into the world of block printing, potato printing, freezer paper stencils, and screenprinting. And with every project I’ve finished, I’ve felt even more inspired to start another one. So when my buddy Lauren and I were brainstorming a potential holiday-themed collaboration, screenprinting fabric was the first idea I threw out. 

I’ve taken two screenprinting workshops: a six-week intensive class at Modern Domestic in Portland and a weekend-long class at Harvest Workroom in Melbourne, Australia. Each class had an entirely different approach to the process. Later, I acquired some printing supplies with hopes that I’d start doing it on the regular. But besides this one time I printed on clay, I haven’t touched them.

So I brought my supplies out (Lauren has an exhaustive list of the supplies we used in her post today) and we started paging through some books for customized gift-giving inspiration. Lauren’s an incredible quilter so she wanted to print a large piece of fabric to make a quilt. I had initially planned to print some apparel yardage for a garment, but later decided a tote bag was really what I wanted to make. 

Surface Design Books

Here’s what we did: 

 

1. Sketch a design and transfer it to the stencil paper.

Lauren drew a darling geometric tree motif and I waffled between an alien-esque design and block letters of Indiesew’s tagline “Sew Your Own.” I eventually decided on the latter. We both digitized the designs and cut out our stencils by laying them on top of the printed paper.
 Cut Out Stencil | DIY Holiday Gifts

We cut out the areas where we wanted the ink to print with X-ACTO knives. (You can also print directly onto some stencil sheets.)

  

2. Pick out the colors you plan to use.

Lauren and I headed to our local hardware store to look at paint cards. I’m a sucker for dark saturated colors, so I lean towards reds, teal greens, and blues. Lauren knew from the outset that she wanted metallic inks, so she found those online.
 Choose Ink Colors | Screenprinting 101

I bought some primary color inks (along with black and white) so that I could mix custom colors. The red ink you see on my tote is actually a reddish orange (red mixed with a lot of yellow).

 

3. Tape the stencil paper to the screen.

Tape your stencil to the side of the screen that will touch the fabric while you print. Tape well around all four corners of the stencil so that no ink can get through. You’ll notice that Lauren also taped over one of the trees in the center of her motif. She did this so that she could use a different color ink for that tree after she printed her first color.
 Indiesew Tutorials | Tape Stencil to Screen

I find that masking tape or blue painter’s tape works best for this. Place your fabric under the screen. You can tape it to your table to keep it secure if you prefer.

 

4. Apply a liberal amount of ink to the top of the screen. 
 

One of the most important parts of printing is to be pretty generous with the amount of ink you use. The screen has tiny little holes that will regulate how much ink transfers to your fabric, so using more ink doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll end up with large blobs of color.
 Screenprinting Tutorial | Add Ink to Top of Screen

For our screens we applied roughly 1/4 to 1/3 cup of ink across the top of the screen.

 

5. Flood the screen with the ink and print.

Dab the rubber part of the squeegee in the ink a few times, keeping it held directly up and down. Then lightly bring the squeegee down the screen, dragging most of the ink in front of the squeegee. This is called “flooding” the screen. Then, scoop up the extra ink with the squeegee and bring it back to the top of the screen.

Pull Squeegee | Indiesew Blog

Now the real printing begins. Hold the squeegee at a 90-degree angle to the table and firmly pull it towards you in one fluid motion. Try to push the squeegee down into the screen and pull it towards you with equal pressure. 

This can take a few tries before you master it, so practice first on some scrap fabric. You typically only need one “pull” of the squeegee to achieve a successful, crisp print on your fabric. Lift up your screen and take a look. If it appears that not enough ink penetrated the screen, remember to add more next time. I don’t recommend trying to “reprint” on fabric that you’ve already printed, as it will have invariably shifted after you lifted the screen up.

 

6. Let dry and heat set.

Take a look at the instructions on your inkbottle for the best method for “setting” it so the ink doesn’t wash out. Once dry, most ink can be heat set with an iron or in a hot clothes dryer. 

 

7. Sew up your item!

Now it’s time to use that fabric for its intended purpose. Head on over to Right Sides Together to see what we made from our fabric!

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Learn the step-by-step process to personalize your presents! | Indiesew.com

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