A history of fabric printing
Fabric printing has been dated back to the 4th Century BC. It is an ancient art which began with block printing. This technique is the process of dye being pressed onto a fabric from a carved material which was usually wood but other materials can be used.
From the 1660s British printers and dyers were beginning to print on to plain cotton and by the end of the 17th Century there were many dye houses in England. Over the years new techniques were developed and in the 18th Century roller or cylinder printing was created and during the 20th Century the process of screen printing became popular.
There are seven main methods of fabric printing which are hand block, perrotine, engraved copperplate, roller, stencil, screen and digital textile printing which are mostly used today. Fabric printing continues to be a popular and decorative textile craft.
Tools of the trade
The tools needed for fabric printing can vary depending on the printing method being used, but some common tools include:
Screen printing: Screen printing requires a screen, ink, a squeegee, a printing table, and a fabric to print on.
Block printing: Block printing requires wooden or linoleum blocks, a roller, fabric paint, and a fabric to print on.
Digital printing: Digital printing requires a digital printer, special fabric ink, and a fabric to print on.
Heat transfer printing: Heat transfer printing requires transfer paper, a heat press or iron, and a fabric to print on.
Regardless of the method, other tools such as fabric pens, stencils, or tracing paper may also be used to create the design before printing.
The quality and appearance of the final product can be greatly influenced by the type of material used for printing. Materials with a tight weave, such as 100% cotton and silk, are considered to be the best for printing as they provide a smooth surface for the printing process. The tight weave ensures that the colours do not fade or dull over time, and it is also easier to achieve finer details on these materials.
It is always recommended to carry out a sample test before printing onto a large piece of fabric. This allows you to assess the final outcome and make any necessary adjustments to the printing process, ensuring that the final product meets your expectations.
Its important to note that the type of printing technique used can also affect the final outcome. For example, screen printing and digital printing are both commonly used methods for fabric printing, but they each have their own advantages and disadvantages, and produce different results.
You should wash items that you intend printing on (do not use fabric softeners). This will reduce the risk of shrinkage after printing, which could distort printed patterns.
Iron fabric before printing on it. Wrinkles could distort the printed pattern.
It is easier to print onto fabric if you work on a padded surface. An old towel could be suitable.
A rubber stamp
Decide on the shape you want to use for your pattern. Using a craft knife you can then cut this from a rubber block. A rough surface on the stamp will add texture to the print.
Attach a handle such as a piece of wood to the rubber stamp. This will make the stamp easier to use.
An ink pad can be made using a piece of fabric in a dish. Add paint to the pad. Alternatively you could use a roller or a brush to apply paint to the stamp.
Applying the colour to the fabric
Apply the colour of paint that you have chosen onto the stamp. When printing on items such as T-shirts, place paper or card inside to ensure that the paint does not go through to the other side.
Heating the print
Heat the prints, following the manufacturers instructions for the paints that you have chosen to use. The application of a hot iron for a few minutes is usually all that is required.
Tips and tricks
Here are a few tips and tricks for fabric printing:
Choose the right fabric: Use a tight-weave fabric such as 100% cotton or silk for the best printing results. This will ensure that the colours remain vibrant and it is easier to achieve fine details.
Do a test print: Before printing onto a large piece of fabric, carry out a sample test. This will help you assess the final outcome and make any necessary adjustments to the printing process.
Consider the printing method: Different printing methods, such as screen printing and digital printing, produce different results. Choose the method that best suits your design and requirements.
Prepare the fabric: Wash and iron the fabric before printing to remove any dirt or sizing. This will also ensure that the fabric is flat and smooth for printing.
Choose the right ink: Make sure to use the correct type of ink for your chosen printing method. Some inks are better suited to certain fabrics, so always check the manufacturers recommendations.
Pay attention to the design: Consider the placement and size of your design on the fabric. Make sure that it is positioned correctly and is not too small or too large for the item you are printing.
Consider aftercare: Make sure to follow the correct aftercare instructions for the printed item. This will ensure that the colours remain vibrant and the design remains clear over time. Label your work accordingly.
Ideas and inspiration
Here are a few inspirational ideas for handmade fabric prints that could be sold at a craft fair:
Nature-inspired designs: Prints featuring British wildlife such as foxes, badgers, and hedgehogs are a popular choice.
Geometric patterns: Bright, graphic prints in a variety of colours are always sought after, and can be used to create striking and contemporary designs.
Abstract art: Create unique and imaginative abstract designs using a variety of printing techniques and colours.
Personalised prints: Personalise your fabric prints with names, dates, or special messages for a truly bespoke touch.
Animal prints: Designs featuring familiar British animals such as deer, squirrels, and rabbits are a fun and popular option.
Vintage-style prints: Create a nostalgic look with vintage-style prints featuring floral or paisley designs.
Map prints: Showcase your love of travel or your favourite British city with map-inspired fabric prints.
Mandala prints: Create beautiful and intricate mandala designs using a range of colours and printing techniques.
These are just a few ideas to get you started. The key is to find a design that resonates with you and that you enjoy creating, and then to let your creativity flourish.