In this post I’ll take you through a DIY screen printing method that requires minimal expensive consumables and generates very little waste. In the past I’ve used adhesive plastic contact to create screen print stencils, the downside of this method is you have to throw out lots of bits of plastic at the end. Because I’m always trying to reduce the amount of waste in my processes I experimented this time with using only paper for the stencils. So how did I make it durable enough to endure the creation of roughly 2 metres of printed design? The answer is PVA glue! I coated both sides of my paper with a generous layer, let it dry then proceeded to cut my stencil into the strengthened paper.
Next I tackled the issue of attaching my stencil securely to the screen. Because I wanted to be able to remove the stencil when done I used water soluble rice paste glue – I dabbed it onto the stencil making sure to coat delicate areas well. Next I laid the screen on top of the glue coated stencil and rubbed it gently from the inside to make sure it adhered. I’ve found it is the paint itself that further sticks the stencil in place as you work.
Because I use a modified acrylic paint with textile medium added I find my screen can start to block up with paint as I work. The PVA glue coating on the stencils grants a degree of temporary waterproofing, which is enough to allow for gentle removal of paint build up. I found the best way to clear a blocked screen was to use two dampened rags and dab firmly but gently from both sides simultaneously, this is enough to open up the screen again. Rinsing the rags frequently and rotating them as you dab helps remove maximum paint. Check your screen is clear by holding it up to the light.
I’m pleased to say that the stencils held up well with only minimal loss of very fine parts – these can pull off onto the fabric after a pass with the squeegee, but I find that happens with adhesive plastic contact too. It’s just a matter of cutting a bit of masking tape to the right shape and attaching to the screen to replace the lost part of the design. Like every step of the process all that is required is patience and an acceptance of the loveable imperfection of DIY projects! You’ll never achieve the crispness of a cricut stencil or photo emulsion screen by using paper stencils. But, on the flip side you don’t have to invest in costly equipment and consumables nor generate the waste involved in those processes.
Working on top of an abstract yellow shape I built my design up in three layers of varying greens to create a semi-abstract tonal rendition of Strelitzia foliage found in my backyard. The design began as a basic sketch from life with tonal notes recorded in each section of the drawing.
This was transferred into Photoshop where I coloured it to see how the 3 stage tone would look. I liked it so proceeded to photocopy the line drawing thrice, one sheet each for light, mid and dark green. The areas to be cut were shaded in on each print-out and registration marks were added by punching all three sheets at once with a standard hole punch. Using a computer is by no means necessary, in the past I’ve just used water colour paint to fill the design in tonally then using my window as a light box I trace out the required layers onto separate sheets and proceed to cut the stencil (see Nasturtium Screen Printed Culottes and It Started as a Still Life for examples.)
These holes correspond with knots of thread sewn into my fabric and allow me to make sure the multiple layers of the design line up relatively neatly. Some misalignment draws attention to great alignment in other sections of the design. The inconsistent consistency of a hand made print is what happens when a human tries to be a production robot. The inevitable failure just adds visual richness to the overall design and I think it introduces an aesthetic reminder that mass production is unnatural.
It’s really important to wash your screen out as soon as you are finished printing. I stupidly let the paint dry overnight in one of my screens before I got around to washing it.
I recommend saturating the screen with water first and let it soak a bit, then with detergent, rags and good old elbow grease you’ll be able to scrape off the stencil and remove the paint. Once again I found scrubbing both sides of the screen at once helps clear stubborn areas of dry paint out of the mesh.
Note: Earlier in this post you saw me working with two stencils on one screen, the reason you shouldn’t do this is that it makes it hard to easily flood your screen with water and start the clean up immediately when you’re done printing the first layer.
DIY screen printing works great in tandem with a zero waste clothing design. In this case I printed just enough fabric to cut the pattern pieces for my very first menswear design.
Commissioned by a friend, these drawstring shorts are a prototype design featuring a detachable “sporan” like pocket-pouch which can also be worn as a bib and brace or turned into a light-weight satchel. I drew inspiration from some of my favourite menswear fashion houses including Walter Van Beirendonck, Thom Browne and Commes Des Garcon as well as general street wear and celeb style.
I’m really lucky to have a client who will indulge my avant-garde sensibilities and the initial fitting was positive with just a few tweaks to the design required.
The garment shown is a wearable prototype for a final piece which will be made from a length of green tartan found at an op-shop.
When I’m happy with the final design I will produce an assembly guide and share this zero waste menswear pattern so check back soon! In the meantime enjoy my selection of free zero waste clothing patterns and check out my Do-it-yourself Fashion Statements section to see more unique screen printed fashion pieces.
*This is a short run, single use screen printing method meaning you can’t reuse the stencils after you’re done.