Have you ever wanted to try your hand at screen printing? Let Australian designers and teachers Jessie Wright and Lara Davies hold your hand as you wade into their pattern-filled world in their new book, Print Play. Below, they share with us an easy tutorial for tea towels, a great project for newbies and experts alike.
All of the projects in Print Play are designed to teach people how to screen print, as well as how to inspire themselves to make their own great designs. It was written to appeal to all levels of printers from absolute beginners to experienced printers who want to learn about printing repeat patterns or other more technical things.
We have been teaching people screen printing and textile design for around 10 years now, so we made sure each project in the book covers a screen printing skill we know that people are keen to learn, as well as ending up with a fun and functional object.
Printing onto flat surfaces is a really easy way to get going on your printing journey, so the humble tea towel is a great place to start! And we just love the printed Turkish towel as it is such a large area to fill with patterns.
(And if you've never screen printed anything before, scroll down to check out what you need to build your own kit!)
How to Screen Print Tea Towels
While drying the dishes is hardly the most exciting thing to do, the humble tea towel happens to be one of the easiest pre-made items for printing on. Tea towels are the perfect canvas for first time printers: they’re flat and often blank and are always made from a natural fiber.
• We find natural fibres work best for screen printing. We recommend that you start out printing on cotton and then build up to linen once you become more confident. Cotton is easier to print onto, as linen absorbs a lot of ink. If you’re printing onto linen, do a test print on a scrap piece of linen first.
• For best results, iron your fabric before printing.
• Avoid printing on, or too close to, the seam of the tea towel.
• Think about how you position the design on your tea towel so it looks good when flat, as well as hanging on an oven door.
• We recommend you print two tea towels. It’s rare that you’ll get the first print right, so it’s good to have a backup.
You will need:
- screen printing kit (see below)
- 2 blank cotton or linen tea towels
- ink in 1 color
Draw your design, transfer it onto stencil paper, then cut your stencil (See "basic printing step-by-step" below). The design for this project was inspired by our love of indoor plants.
Iron your tea towels and lay them out flat on the work surface. Prepare the screen and attach the stencil to the front (See "it’s all about the preparation" below). Get your squeegee and ink ready.
Place the screen on top of the first tea towel. Use a spatula to spread a generous amount of ink above your design. Start printing with one flood stroke and then apply pressure during your three hard pulls. Carefully lift up the screen from the fabric (see "let the printing begin" below).
Place the screen onto other areas of the tea towel, positioning the screen in different directions each time, and repeat the printing process. Do the same with the second tea towel. Once you’re done, peel off the stencil and wash it, then wash the screen. Dry the prints completely using a hair dryer. Heat set your tea towels with an iron.
Your Screen Printing Kit
These are the essential items you’ll need to start printing. When we talk about your "screen printing kit" in the materials list for each project, this is what we are referring to.
ALWAYS use a pencil to draw on your stencil paper. NEVER use a pen or marker – it will bleed onto your fabric and make you sad.
Stencil paper (also called "easy cut" or "Yupo" paper) is a thin, strong plastic that has no grain. It is super easy to cut and lasts forever. You want the stencil paper to be as thin as possible; we don’t recommend using acetate or anything too thick. It’s also a good idea to have regular drawing paper on hand to map out your designs before you transfer them onto the stencil paper.
A light box is a portable box with a neon tube inside it, and a clear surface. The illuminated surface makes it easy to transfer your design onto the stencil paper. These are sold at art and photographic supply stores. Alternatively, use a brightly lit window when transferring (or tracing) your designs onto stencil paper. Attach the drawing to the window with masking tape, so it doesn’t move while you’re tracing over it.
You’ll need one of these to cut all the fine detail in your stencils.
These are used to protect your tabletop when cutting stencils. We recommend using a self-healing mat, and one that’s A2 size or bigger will make your life easier.
We prefer screens with aluminum frames, but you can also find screens with wooden frames. Screens are available in many sizes, so pick one that suits your needs (we suggest an A4 to get started).
To print onto fabric you want to make sure your mesh is 43T; to print onto paper you’ll want 100T. 43T means that the mesh will allow MORE ink through and 100T means LESS ink. Back in the day, screens were made from silk, but most screens today are made from nylon mesh.
You’ll need to use tape on your screen. We use packing tape to make an "ink well" (See "it’s all about the preparation" below), and masking tape to attach the stencil to the screen.
This is used to push the ink through the screen. Make sure that the rubber is quite flexible, and choose one that suits the size of your screen.
This is the fun part! There are so many types of ink. Save any clean plastic containers and use them for mixing and storing your inks.
Have a few on hand to mix inks, apply the ink to your screen and to get into all the nooks and crannies during the cleanup.
You can leave your prints to air-dry or use a hair dryer to speed things up—this is useful when printing several layers. You can also use a hair dryer to dry your stencils and screen.
Where to Use Your Newly-Printed Towels
Have you ever tried your hand at screen printing? Tell us about it below!