A TECHNIQUE DRIVEN Blog dedicated to mastery of surface design techniques. First we dye, overdye, paint, stitch, resist, tie, fold, silk screen, stamp, thermofax, batik, bejewel, stretch, shrink, sprinkle, Smooch, fuse, slice, dice, AND then we set it on fire using a variety of heat tools.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Adventures in Deconstructed Screen Printing

 First let me tell you that I am NO where near an expert in surface design. I DO know how various experiments I have tried have worked and I am willing to share them. I will start in the beginning with what I THINK I know. I will also include little side bits of info that I think are relevant marked with an asterisk(*) I will also try to answer all question in the comment box so everyone can see the answers (yeah, I was wondering that myself).

What exactly does deconstructed screen printing mean? To me, it means that I have constructed a screen with dyes applied in a textual way which I have allowed to dry onto the screen. Then I used a wetting agent to deconstruct the work (in dried dye) that I made, depositing the reconstituted dyes onto a substrate, which in this tutorial is cotton*.

            * you can use any plant based fabric. You can also use silk if you limit the exposure to soda ash to the final step as I have laid out in these directions OR pre-treat the silk in a vinegar solution ( 1 cup vinegar to 1 gallon of water) and allow the silk to dry and omit the soda ash but just for silk!

First I want to talk about “print paste”. Print paste is agar from seaweed  which is also used in processed food and totally non-toxic. This is a link to the directions from the company that I buy my supplies from. MY directions are a bit different. I call them (my shortcuts) the quick and dirty approach. I use only THICH SH instead of "regular" SH since it thickens twice as well. You get more bang for your buck. If you want thinner viscosity print paste simply use less THICK SH.
  • My directions for print paste:
  • In a kitchen blender that you use ONLY for your art materials mix 2 tablespoons of THICK SH with one quart of cool/coldwater. I use no other chemicals just water. Blend on high speed. 
  • Look for a used blender at Goodwill or any second hand shop. You’ll thank me. Trust me when I tell you this is the BEST way to mix it
  • Second best way is with a kitchen whisk.
  • It takes about a half hour for the print paste to “set-up”. The print paste after a half hour "rest" before using should be as thick as honey
  • Print paste will last over 6 months in the refrigerator. When it "goes bad" it smells like rotten sea weed or urine. ALSO thickened dye without soda ash will last a LONG time. I've used mine months later. Keep refrigerated.

**You will use print paste twice:

1. You will use it to make your thickened dye to apply to the screen WITHOUT soda ash

2. You will use it to wet and dissolve the dried thickened dye from the screens onto your fabric with soda ash.

*Picture this. Soda ash is the catcher’s mitt and dye molecules are the balls. Don’t let those expensive dye molecules fly around without a bunch of catcher’s mitts to grab them. Err on the side of caution. Soda ash is cheap.

It is possible to prepare the fabric ahead of time with soda ash but I wouldn't recommend it. It is time consuming not worth the effort.                              

Setting up/Constructing your screens

I am VERY fortunate and have a large space in my kitchen to set up my printing table which is 4’ X 8’. Yes, it is a ½ sheet of plywood covered with carpet foam (stiff) and synthetic felt. I cover the entire thing with an ugly old flannel sheet which is absorbent and washable. I am mentioning this because I set up about 6 screens to “do” a 45” wide piece of cotton 8 feet long. You will need to arrange a spot to deconstruct. You might want to get a sheet of ½” plywood 2’ X 4’ and cover with batting and muslin like I made hereto be my ironing surface. This is very handy because being 48” wide gives me room for a 45” wide piece of fabric. Just a suggestion. However you DO need a printing surface. Prepare as many screens as you think you can handle.

Making the thickened dyes: My thickened dye is dark and I like it that way. Try it my way first. There is nothing as disappointing as “light” pastel prints. If you are afraid the dye is too dark you can add the dye to some clear print paste right in the well before you print. This is an example of the flexibility of dark dyes.

Recipe for thickened dyes: 1 cup print paste with one teaspoon of dye powder.(use a mask when handling dye powder)  

*An added note. I try to use just enough and not too much thickened dye to construct the screens. If you do use too much thickened dye, make sure to get all the remaining thickened dye out of wells or the dye will drip onto the screens below while drying. Drops and spots of dye can add interest to prints but know that they will act as resists until they start to break down and become interesting. I will try to point this out later on when we look at actual prints. Remember, there are NO mistakes, just interesting lessons and "design elements".

                                   Outside bottom of screen faces fabric
                                      Inside of screen - 
where you place and squeegee the dye

 Something I bought to take to my first art quilting class with Pamela Allen, a life changing experience.
 It was a padded ironing board on one side and a cutting mat on the other. Very convenient.
 I slip it inside a bin bag and presto, it becomes a padded surface for prepping my screens
Place somewhat flat objects between the drop cloth and the face (bottom) of the screen. You will be looking at the inside of the screen. Suggestions are wrinkled plastic sheeting, vegetable bags, stings or yarns, flowers, leaves, grasses. You want the objects relatively flat.  This string turned out to be too hard and made blobs of dye on the screen. I was supposed to place a piece of soda soaked cotton on top of the plastic bin bag to catch dye. I remembered on screen #2.
                                        Screen holding objects in place before first pull with dye

Place one, two or three colors in the well of your screen and pull the dye over the screen. When you feel you have the screen covered well with dye do a very firm pull leaving an even but NOT THICK layer of dye on the screen. First pull with these two colors. All I had in the refrigerator was a drop of orange, a drop of red, some yellow and some dark navy. Thought I'd use these up before making more.
                                         Screen is covered without excess dye in screen
                                                  Marks made by dimensional objects
                           Lift screen off surface and remove any objects that are stuck to the screen.
 As you can see I forgot to put down a piece of pre-treated fabric to catch the dye. I did add the cloth for the second to sixth screens.
    The sun was a bit bright but you CAN see the variations in the amount of dye on the screen created by the objects.     
                                                      Orange and blue #1 and #2 have big blobs
       I removed the string because it was catching and holding too much dye. Screen below is my fave so far
                            You can really see the dimensionality of the dye on these two screens

                                       "Printing" on the catch cloth, blotting the vegetable bag
 I have now finished wiping all the utensils I used on the cloth as well as wiping up all spills. The clean up cloth usually turns out great. Below it is folded and in a bag for batching.

Place the screens on a flat surface and use jar lids as spacers between screens. I have been saving jar lids for years  *(optional).
Allow to dry – very dry.  IF I use spacers these will be dry in the morning. 

Tomorrow and Wednesday I will have be showing two ways of making your own silk screens.

* sorry about the formatting but I can't seem to correct it.


  1. Your tutorials are so extensive, thank you! Will definetely try this one of these days!

  2. I never grow tired of reading about your deconstructed dyeing sessions! I really must clear some space in my studio to do this soon!

  3. Interesting to read your approach to this type of printing. I normally apply the thickened dye to the outside bottom of the screen and press all kind of textured stuff in it, including thick and bulky pieces. Let everything dry before I remove the objects. Your method makes it possible to print with fragile material.

  4. Thanks. I'll be revisiting this post when I'm ready!!!

  5. Cool...a different way to do DSP! Love finding different ways to do things. My fave part...using the cutting mat/ironing surface with the bag on it! LOVE THAT...and I have a couple of those so I'm good to go now.


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