Foiling workshop

On Saturday I spent an enjoyable morning doing a foiling workshop with Anna Jackson of Black Cactus London. Anna is a screen printer and fellow Makerhood member, and she uses lots of leaves and textures in her work – so you can see why I’m a fan!

foil anna work

I bought one of her lovely foiled keypots (above) at Christmas, and I couldn’t turn down the chance to have a go at foiling myself.

We started by making a quick paper stencil to get familiar with the technique. Although we used a screen to push the glue through the stencil, Anna emphasised that this wasn’t essential – you can brush the glue on instead.

foil first stencil

Then we moved on to experimenting ourselves. Of course I spent most of the time using leaves and seeds!

Maple leaves
Maple leaves
Sycamore seeds
Sycamore seeds
Fig leaf
Fig leaf

I finished off with another more elaborate snail shell stencil.

foil last stencil

And here’s the happy group (including Kes of Heart in Art Workshops) showing off our work at the end.

foil workshop crop

Anna’s next foiling workshops are on 14 August and 3 September – a great way in to the metallic trend this summer!

Deconstructed screenprinting

This week at Morley we did some experiments with deconstructed screenprinting.

Chrissie Day has some beautiful examples of this technique in the book on Nuno Felting she wrote with Nicola Brown, but our tutor Mark had never tried it before, so we were all experimenting together!

We started by watching the video of Kerr Grabowski, below.

Then we arranged some items on paper under an open screen – I used leaves, Mark used feathers, and another student Jane used bits of jute and nylon netting.

Mark had mixed two different coloured Procion dyes with Manutex (sodium alginate, a thickener) – blue and a rusty golden colour – though the paste seemed thinner than in the video. He said that his first attempt at mixing the Manutex resulted in a solid lump that he couldn’t remove from the tub, so maybe he overcompensated a bit. 😉

I opted for the rust colour, as a change from blue, and spread the paste over the screen, then left it to dry. I’d used two types of leaves  – real ones and plastic ones that Jane gave me, as the veins seemed to stand out more. As the paste dried, the plastic ones dropped off the screen but the real ones remained stuck and looked very effective.

However, when the screen was dry and I peeled the leaves off, there didn’t seem to be much dye left on the screen. It was tricky to tell, but I was worried that I would only get a faint print out of it.

But the proof of the pudding is in the pulling, as we printers like to say. 😉 To compare properly at this stage I should really have done several pulls on the same fabric, so that there was only one variable. But I didn’t have enough of one type of fabric, and I also wanted to see the effect on different fabrics. So yet again I failed on scientific principles!

The first two pulls were surprisingly colourful, given how faint the screen seemed to be. But after that the colour did drop off very quickly.

First pull on calico
Second pull on cotton drill
Third pull on shiny (and unironed!) polyester
Fourth pull on calico
Fifth pull on muslin

I like the second and third pulls best. The polyester is a hideous fabric, but the sepia effect is rather charming.

Interestingly, although the veins on the plastic leaves were much more prominent than those on the real leaves, their imprint was much fainter – perhaps because the leaves didn’t stick to the screen as it dried, so didn’t create such a strong impression.

We agreed that the dye-Manutex mixture probably needs to be thicker so that more of it sticks to the screen and we can get more prints from it. But it was fun for a first go – and clearly there are lots of potentially interesting effects!

PS Thanks to everyone for your lovely comments on the shibori scarf giveaway. I’m not going to respond individually because that could upset the random draw for the winner. 😉

Tonal screenprinting, monoprinting – whatever goes

Experiment, if you hadn’t guessed by now, is one of my favourite words, along with the phrase “What happens if…?”

This week at Morley College I built on some of the work I did last week, trying to blend colours in screenprinting without getting regimented stripes, adding new items under the fabric to produce different textures, doing “clean pulls” across the screen to make a kind of monoprint, transferring whatever pigment was left onto a clean piece of fabric (or overprinting it onto another piece).

Because I didn’t have time to stitch any pleated fabric this week, I simply used whatever came to hand – it was much quicker, and I produced an awful lot of prints! So there’s not a lot of commentary on the pics below – just brief explanations in the captions.

The first set of prints was based on the texture of this unknown plastic object I found in a drawer. I have no idea what the original function of this thing was, but it does produce some lovely printed textures!

Various monoprints made from the screen afterwards
On this one I deliberately creased the fabric when I pinned it out (honest!)
Time to try some different colours – but the front of this piece felt rather “heavy”, with a lot of binder
I actually preferred the reverse side of the print
Monoprint in second colour over first monoprint
Here I actually put the original print face down on top of the blue monoprint and ran the squeegee over them before peeling them apart

Next I tried printing over some strips of loosely interwoven cartridge paper.

Then on bits of jute and string, sometimes with creased fabric.

Again, I preferred the back of this print

Monoprints from these:

Finally, I did some more pulls on the previous pieces I pleated by ironing last week.

So what have I learned from all this experimental fun?

1. For the colours to blend properly, you need to put them really close together (or even in two rows touching each other). It also helps to move the squeegee from side to side before pulling to start the blending. Even then, the first couple of pulls are likely to result in discrete stripes – the colours don’t really start blending until later.

2. If you like what’s left on the screen, do a clean pull onto a blank piece of fabric or overprint – you can get some interesting effects. You can even use the print you’ve just made, if there’s a lot of binder on it, to produce another print.

3. Turn your pieces over – sometimes they look better from behind!

Tonal printing

In my scientific training I was taught to change one variable at a time in experiments to assess more accurately the effect of each variable. In my textile experiments, however, I’m too impatient to stick to this rule!

I started my day at college by repeating the printing on pleats with resists I did last week, using different fabrics: a heavier linen and a sheer synthetic organza.

I liked the printing on heavier linen – it produced lovely textures, quite crisp. The synthetic organza? Just meh.

Then I tried some stitched concentric circles. After printing with the first colour I undid the stitching, stitched in different places and was going to mask off part and then print with a second colour.

However, at this stage I decided to try some tonal printing with different colours instead.

The secret of good tonal printing is to get the right distance between the different colours so that they just blend at the edges. On this occasion, the distance between the different colours was too great, so they just ended up as stripes. The result looks more like a flag!

The imprint left on the screen after this looked quite interesting, so tutor Mark suggested putting the screen down on a blank piece of cloth and doing another pull, producing a kind of monoprint. I did a couple of pulls on two pieces of fabric; the results were very psychedelic 60s, man!

Finally, I tried ironing irregular pleats in the fabric both horizontally and vertically and then printing, letting it dry and then repleating before printing again. Because I used quite light calico I hoped that the binder might penetrate through at least one layer – but it didn’t.

So this method would require quite a few repleats and reprints to build up the colours – or I would have to make the pleats smaller to expose more fabric each time.

There’s also an interesting subtle “embossed” effect in places caused by the layers of fabric where it is folded underneath. It reminds me of a Braque painting.

Starting screenprinting

For the past couple of weeks at Morley College we’ve started learning about screenprinting. I’ve never done any screenprinting before, and if I’m honest, it’s been a bit frustrating.

For a start, there is quite a lot of hanging around anyway – for example, waiting for screens to dry after coating with emulsion. But this has been exacerbated by the number of people on our course – 15 or so, around 10 of whom, like me, have no experience of screenprinting – and lack of facilities. So there is not enough room in the drying cupboards to put all the screens after coating with emulsion (important so that they are not exposed to light); the fans in the drying cupboards don’t work, slowing down the process even more; the rubber cover on the single exposure bed has become detached from the frame, so we need to take extra care when setting up the screen for exposure; and if both sinks are used at the same time for washing down the screens, the water tank tends to empty, meaning no or little water at a crucial time.

None of this is the fault of the tutor, Mark, who does his best in trying circumstances to shepherd 10 tyros through the technicalities. But he hasn’t been helped by the fact that the new emulsion we used to coat the screens last week has different properties from the old emulsion, so all the screens had to be washed off and recoated, or by half the screens we prepared last week being taken by other students on other courses.

Anyway, enough of the griping, and back to the process. Sticking to my turtle theme, I wanted to do a design based on photos of some of the tanks of baby turtles I saw in Sri Lanka.


I am pretty hopeless at drawing, so I traced around the outlines of some of the turtles, reversed some of them and changed the sizes, then arranged them in a circular composition in two colours.

Then I made two separate tracings, one for the orange screen, one for the black screen. The photo below shows the tracing for the orange screen – although the printed colour will be orange, the artwork has to be black to prevent the screen from being exposed to light.

And this is the screen after being exposed with the artwork and washed down.

Then came the fun part – experimenting with printing on different fabrics. There are a few photos below, showing the orange ink on cotton, fleece, organza and broderie anglaise, among others.

Sadly, you’ll have to wait a few weeks before I can show you the prints with the black layer. It’s half term next week, and I haven’t coated my screen to be able to expose the black layer next – and you know how long that will take!