Thursday, January 5, 2017

Silkscreening with Stencils!


Today's post focuses on a kitchen towel applique project as well as other silkscreened artwork created with stencils; it was made possible with the help of Cindy Powell and Mary Ann Russo.


Above are two of Mary Ann's kitchen towels showing Mary Ann Russo's silkscreen printed fabrics used as appliques on a set of kitchen towels.

Above: a close-up detail of of one towel.  Both silkscreen prints were made with my 9"x 12" stencil Mimosa.

Above is a finished mixed-media collage of mine; the bottom layer of its background was silkscreen-printed onto canvas fabric using my Vases 9"X12" stencil.

This write-up is based on the works of many other artists who have shared their experiences and photos online, in books and in DVDs. These pioneers have broken the trail for fabric artists like Mary Ann Russo, whose lovely kitchen towels are pictured above, and Cindy Powell, whose photos will be used in the first section of this write-up.


One advantage of pairing a stencil with a silkscreen is that the same framed screen combo can be used over and over, to create repeat patterns on the same fabric.  This approach is quicker, less costly and less involved than the alternative of using multiple silkscreens, each created with its own single, permanent design. 


Another reason for using a silkscreen with a stencil is that the screen protects the stencil. The heavy pressure that is sometimes required for ink-application could damage stencils with intricate, delicate designs -- but, with this technique, the ink is never applied directly to the stencil. The framed silkscreen mesh is a porous yet protective barrier between the squeegee that spreads the ink and the cut-outs that form the design. Thus, the stencil remains totally intact, ready for use in any of the other multiple ways available to multi-media artists.


Supply list:


(1) T-pins and sturdy tape such as duct tape

(2)  scissors

(3) a large padded work surface, covered with protective plastic sheeting

(4) a second work surface, covered with newspaper

(5) a wide basin half-full of clean water

(6) a length of fabric --

100% cotton is a popular choice.  This cloth must first be washed in hot water to remove sizing, then machine-dried, using no drier sheets or any other form of fabric softener.  It must then be stretched taut across the padded surface, and secured there with T-pins (corsage pins) or sturdy tape.  
 (7) a stencil

With this technique, a stencil is what gives the artist the design to be printed. For this project, Cindy Powell is using the 9"X 12" Mimosa stencil.

 (8)  painter's tape 

     Painter's tape (a low-tack tape such as blue masking tape) is used to secure the stencil to the silkscreen frame.

(9)  fabric-printing ink and a plastic spoon or any similar tool 

     One popular ink is Speedball fabric screen printing ink; one source of this ink is
(10)  squeegee 

      This tool has a sturdy handle and a soft-plastic edge.  One example:

(11)  silkscreen

     A silkscreen consists of a frame, often aluminum or wood, which encases a tautly-stretched piece of mesh (originally made from silk but currently made from synthetics like polyester/organza.)  It's important to use a silkscreen large enough to accommodate the 9"X 12" stencil with enough leftover space along one edge for placing the streak of printing ink (which will be spread across the stencil.)  Below is a silkscreen viewed from the top (also called "the inside") --  it shows the white central area, which is sunken; this part is called "the well."


The above photo is courtesy of Cynthia Powell 

As you can see, for this technique, the artist uses a screen containing no previously established design -- so this screen can be considered a "blank."

The other side of this silkscreen has no indentation/well; it has a flat surface that will be placed upon the fabric -- after that flat surface has had the stencil attached.

To attach the stencil to the silkscreen:  Lengths of painter's tape are firmly pressed all the way around all four edges of the stencil, creating a snug fit on the side of the silkscreen that will be placed onto the fabric to be printed. The painter's tape must cover the entire area between the outer edges of the stencil and the outer edges of the silkscreen, since the artist wants no ink to print in these outer areas. 
Having taped the stencil to the silkscreen, the artist places the un-inked screen on a flat sturdy surface covered with newspaper.



In the above photo, viewed from the "well" side of the silkscreen, you can see the 9 X 12" Mimosa stencil through the thin mesh fabric.  The center-area stain is not going to print.  It is permanent, the result of a previous silkscreening project.


Now, the artist adds a stream of the thick ink into the sunken area, "the well," on top of the silkscreen -- the side opposite the flat side where the stencil has been added.  When placing this stream of ink onto the silkscreen, the artist is careful to place it along one taped edge, keeping the ink on the tape, to avoid getting ink onto the stencil which can be seen through the mesh.  Excess ink would make the ink pool, flooding the stencil to create a blob-print instead of a print with well-defined design.

The artist then uses the squeegee to make four or five passes across the silkscreen, to saturate the screen.

Next, the artist lifts the screen to see whether a good print has been made on the newspaper.


When the print has passed that test, the framed silkscreen-stencil-combo is then placed onto the fabric -- and it's time to make the final prints.


Mary Ann Russo, an experienced silkscreen user, makes her prints working alone.

Some other silkscreen users recommend that at this point, two people should work together -- one holding the screen securely in place, while the other makes multiple passes with the squeegee across the screen. 


It can take at least four passes with firm pressure from top to bottom, and side to side, to get the ink to penetrate the fabric. 


(Still other silkscreen artists use the Provo Craft Yudo machine, which comes in several versions with corresponding price ranges; this machine makes it easier for one person to do the operation alone.   One source: 


Once the first print is completed, the artist lifts her screen and sets it aside on clean newspaper. 


Above is a close-up of a just-completed silkscreen print, done by Cynthia Powell, using the 9" X 12" Mimosa stencil.  Note the reflected light on the left side, indicating the ink is still wet.
If the artist wants to make more prints on the same piece of fabric, she must first use a hair drier to dry the just-printed section.

As soon as the printing is finished, the stencil is un-taped from the screen and both are placed in a basin of water until time allows gentle cleansing away of the ink. Some artists work outdoors so as to cleanse the screens and stencils with water from a hose.
The printed fabric is allowed to dry overnight.  Then the artist heat-sets the prints with an iron, following directions supplied by the ink manufacturer.

No further washing is needed; the fabric is now ready to be cut into shapes for use in appliqué-making.  

To learn more about appliqué-creating and application, many online tutorials are available. Below are just a few of the possible choices:



To shop for a DVD giving detailed silkscreening instructions, here are just a few of the many choices out there:

Below are examples of my layered-look artwork incorporating stencil-prints on fabric: 



This close-up detail shows canvas having been silkscreen printed with one of my 9" x 12" Ivy Frame 9 stencil.



The above photo shows canvas fabric silkscreen-printed with my 9' x 12" Vases stencil.  This print was made on the original white canvas.  After drying the print, I brushed on a thin layer of translucent acrylic paint.  The finished mixed-media collage is shown at the start of this post.

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