Sunday, December 8, 2019

Experiments - printing on fabric

Looking back over my goals for 2019  I noticed I had written once again - print on fabric.  So before 2019 was farewelled, I wanted to give it a shot, rather than roll it over for yet another year.

I wanted to do letterpress printing on fabric in particular, so went around the interweb to see how people did it - with very limited success.  So I googled a bit more and found a few people who I thought might know how to do it.  I emailed them and got replies from nearly everybody which was very kind and very helpful.

And so I decide to do some tests and some trials with the inks I had to hand.

I really wanted to find out if the rubber-based inks I use for most of my letterpress would print on fabric.  Nobody I contacted had ever done it, so there was a challenge!  I also wanted to test the Permaset Aqua inks which folk tend to use for screen printing; and I also had a go with some of the Golden Open Acrylics just in case.

I was working with a white 50% cotton-50% linen mix fabric (and some calico for trials as well).

First up, some wood type went onto the bed of our new proofing press. Held in place with magnets.

The results of the printing.  The calico strip in the middle has them all; the four white rectangles have one each.

The orange is a rubber-based ink, the black is Permaset Aqua and the red is Golden Open Acrylic. Here they all are drying in the sun in the gravel at the back of the studio (weighed down so as not to blow away).

On the calico - the rubber based ink was crisp and printed beautifully.

The Permaset Aqua applied using a foam roller  was bit blotchy and didn't cover as well.

So I tried it with a small rubber roller which slipped and slid all over the shop but created a rather painterly look.

On the calico I applied the Golden Open Acrylic with the rubber roller. And I used a small foam roller on the piece of white line/cotton.

First up you have to dry them.  The rubber based ink dries by absorption - so it has to seep into the fabric.  The others dry by evaporation and will disappear into the air to dry.  It has been hot and dry and so they worked pretty well.

After drying you have to 'cure' the ink by ironing. Which I dutifully did.  I knew at this point that the orange rubber based ink wasn't really dry like the others, but decided to wash the calico strip anyway just to confirm my understanding.

And I was right - it bled and made a lovely orange backdrop to the calico. Lovely, but not the look we were going for.

All the others held well after washing.

And so I let the orange on linen/cotton dry for a week.  It sat in the sun some days, it sat inside, I forgot about it and decided that I would probably have the patience to let something sit for a week, so it was now or never - if it worked it worked if it didn't then I had to find an alternative to rubber based inks.

Yay it worked.  I ironed it then washed it and it came out fine.

Here it is crisp and clean but apologies for the odd coloured background - it is a beautiful white still. The shudder judder mark was me messing up the actual print, not a result of the washing.

And so I have written down all my notes, and marked each one with a sharpie as the notes refer to it so I should always remember what I did and what I might do.

I then went and washed the orange on the linen/cotton again just to make sure and it came out good as gold so I think I have the whole drying/curing thing right. Phew.

Now what to print?!?!?!?


  1. once again, wonderful process notes and images ... so looking forward to what comes next!

    and wondering ... 305.42 ???

    1. I am having a heap of fun Liz - and yes, dewey decimal it is! And there are more...go well.

  2. I am obsessed with large letters printed on clothing or a purse. I love this idea.

    1. I am loving large letters on cloth too - I have some really big ones lined up - such fun!

  3. Hi Fiona. Just found these notes by googling “letterpress on fabric”. Great to see. Thank you. I want to print letterpress on vintage satin (my mother’s wedding dress) so am thinking that I will bond the fabric to Japanese paper first (as one would do to make bookcloth) to avoid slipping. Did you try this at any stage of your adventure? Cheers


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