Printing and painting on fabric.
I posted about my first group of work here. I was pretty happy with my results – some experimentation, some development of my chosen designs, lots of room for further work. The second round of work is here and I was super excited. I’d had an idea, worked towards it, and got results that exceeded my expectations with a strong development of the design and lots of future potential.
Most of the work to this stage used textile printing ink. For my final experiment I wanted to use dyes on silk – using a fibre I love and trying to keep the hand and sheen. I’ve done some silk painting in the past, so was looking for something different. Some internet searching on monoprinting led me to Linda Germain’s blog printing without a press. She prints using gelatine – it’s definitely worth watching her video here to see the amazing results she gets.
My plan was to make a gelatin plate. Instead of a commercial printing ink I would thicken some Lanaset dyes with DR33 (a modified guar gum I got a few weeks ago from Batik Oetoro). Lanaset dyes work at a pH of 4.5 – 5.0. I decided to soak the silk in an acidic solution, then dry and iron the pieces ready for printing, in the hope that steamed after printing and drying the conditions would be roughly the right pH.
It all went horribly wrong. For some bizarre reason I decided to use a rusty old baking pan to hold the gelatin while it set in the fridge. I had trouble getting the set gelatine out of the the pan, so held it “briefly” in a larger pan of hot water to loosen it – which actually melted a large amount of it.
To go with my lumpy, bumpy, sticky gelatin plate I made up some DR33. I’d found a variety of “recipes” on the internet and actually came up with something that looked roughly the consistency of the textile printing ink. Very roughly – the big problem being it was gloopy. It stuck to itself. If it deigned to attach to my foam paint roller, it attached in a big blob all in one spot. Somehow the roller couldn’t get any traction, so skidded over the gloop instead of spreading it nicely. I tried lots of ways to spread dye gloop onto melting gelatin gloop. Occasionally something would end up on the fabric – blobs that ran down the fabric as it hung to dry.
On the plus side, when dried and steamed the dye fixed and very little came out in the wash. Unfortunately some of the gloop also didn’t come out and the silk has completely lost its drape. With the wonders of hindsight, I’d set myself up for failure. Too many new techniques at once, too many approximations and make-dos on ingredients and equipment.
This all happened almost three weekends ago. Mulling it over I decided the two main problems were: 1) experimenting with both the gelatin plate and the dye thickener at once; 2) the surface tension of the thickened dye was too great, so it clung to itself and wouldn’t spread out or stick to other things (like stamps) nicely.
Last weekend I tried again, experimenting with adding albegal set and orvus paste to help with the surface tension problem. Albegal set is a surfactant used as an auxiliary with Lanaset dyes. Orvus is a detergent, sodium lauryl sulphate, that is good for washing silk. I learnt about both of these from Karren Brito’s book Shibori: Creating color & texture on silk (my go-to place on dyeing silk), but this use was definitely off script. I thought both had properties that could reduce the surface tension and help the paste to spread nicely.
The learning curve continued – for instance adding a little albegal set can make the DR33 paste a bit thinner, adding rather more can turn the paste to liquid. Also take time about stirring the DR33 into a small volume of liquid and make a nice smooth paste. Trying to stir out lumps later is …(pause to find nice words)… unpleasant and time-consuming.
Ultimately my printing paste was much better, but I still couldn’t get decent, even coverage on a stamp. I bought a small silkscreen and squeegee a month or two ago – still in the shop’s bag because I realised I was trying to do too many new things at once. Out that came, and I was able to squeeze the paste through with a paper doily underneath. It worked! This was my absolute first-ever time screen printing and it got pretty messy – but I was getting imagery onto fabric.
Next was some grasses and (weed) flowers under the screen and got an image. I used a brayer to get the remaining colour, but this time put an acetate sheet between it and the screen so I didn’t cause paint movement and smudging. This left some paste on the acetate, so I tried to print that off.
At some stage I had the idea of screen printing onto stamps to get a spread of colour on them, so I was finally able to do some stamping too. There was a flurry of activity while I tried the two versions of the Tutankhamen stamps, getting images off the stamps and the screen. In the first photo below, top right are the original two stamps. Top left is the image taken from the paste remaining on the screen. That led me to create the bottom two rows of stamping, trying to apply the paste to the stamp through a different area of the screen each time. The second photo below is the print resulting from the screen – fabric on a printing pad of old newspaper, then the inky silkscreen, then a sheet of acetate, then roll a brayer over the acetate to get off as much colour as possible. Some paste gets onto the acetate in the process, and the third photo below is the print from that.
I also put a stencil under the screen, and did the same idea of a series to use up all the colour.
One thing that didn’t work so well was using the perspex squares. The idea was to get colour on them through the screen, then play around removing colour with a stamp and using both the stamp and the perspex to print. The paste went onto the perspex nicely, and dragging through the paint with a brush left an indistinct pattern, but it was very difficult to use a stamp – it kept sliding around on the pasted-up perspex, messing up the image, plus I wasn’t able to get enough colour onto the stamp.
Another disappointment was screen printing onto the thick loose-woven raw silk, using a stencil developed earlier in the course from a Tutankhamen design. The result is just uninteresting, with no interesting variation in the colour and losing the character of the fabric. I was hoping this would be the basis of the larger work required in the final stage of the project, but it’s not exciting me.
That was last Saturday and on Sunday I couldn’t wait (I usually leave a couple of days between each step when dyeing). I steamed the dried fabric, let it cool, washed it out in orvus paste and ironed it dry. There was virtually no run-off of colour. There is a slight stiffness in some of the thicker fabrics – a bit more patience in the washing could resolve that. The thinner fabrics have hand and sheen unchanged! The colour is grey not black – I could use more dye next time, but in fact I find the variation in tone very attractive.
With some finetuning I think there are possibilities for some very interesting, complex imagery with a nice mix of control vs serendipity. I’ve been thinking about themes of ageing and memory, and some of the partial, combined, changed, overlapping elements could work very well with that. In this final photo I’ve laid the last printoff of the tutankhamen stamp (on a light georgette) over the stamping on a Honan pongee tussah. I find the result complex and intriguing – definitely potential.
I’ve decided to call this “enough” for this stage of the project. The last batch of work was more focused on getting a technique that worked than developing my chosen design ideas, which isn’t ideal. Even so, it’s time to move on to the final stage of the project (and assignment), which is a larger sample.
Brito, K. (2002) Shibori: creating color & texture on silk, New York: Watson-Guptil Publications.