22 January 2012

Deconstructed Screen Printing Tutorial

 First let me tell you that I am NO where near an expert just a beginner learning about surface design. I basically only “think” I know what the experts in the field are trying to explain to me. 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 that has NOT been prepared in advance with soda ash by adding soda ash to the print paste – see below. Silk does not like soda ash so limit exposure to it by using it in the print paste not a soak.

First I want to talk about “printpaste”. 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. You get more bang for your buck. If you want regular 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.
*My water is from a deep aquifer and is filtered through a very expensive water filter which removes all chemicals and minerals. Use a Brita if you don’t have a water filter.
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 an hour for the print paste to “set-up”.
  • Print paste will last longer than the time it will take you to use it up (over 6 months in the refrigerator). ALSO thickened dye will last a LONG time. I've used mine months later. Keep refrigerated.
A few ways to use print paste.

  • Use it to mix with powdered MX dye to create thickened dye.
  • Use it “as is” to wet a constructed screen on cotton that has been pre-soaked in soda ash.
  • Use it mixed with soda ash (powdered) to deconstruct a screen onto cotton* that has NOT been prepared with soda ash ahead of time.
  • I will also discuss another use for print paste later which is a discovery/experiment done by Judith.

Soda Ash* – three ways

  • Make a gallon of soda ash (one gallon of filtered water with one cup of soda ash). I use no other chemicals because my water is very soft (mineral free). If you have hard water you might want to add Calgon water softener per instruction on container.
  • Print paste with soda ash added is 1 cup of print paste with one Tablespoon of soda ash. Don’t ever skimp on the soda ash*.
  • Preparing the cloth ahead of time. Soak your fabric in a gallon of soda ash/water 5 minutes and either wring out or spin. A spinner will help you recover MUCH more of the soda ash water and helps your fabric line dry faster. DO NOT ever put soda soaked fabric in a dryer – LINE DRY. Fold when dry and keep where air circulates (not a plastic bag)

*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.

                                                                   My Spinner

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: 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 dye to construct the screens. If you do use too much dye, make sure to get all the remaining 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.

                                                  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 *(optional).
Allow to dry – very dry.  I need to go get my spacers and these will be dry in the morning. Did I mention Maine is VERY dry? I stack them 3 X 3 and slide them under my counter which have  legs.

Stay tuned for part 2 tomorrow.





  1. Thanks for sharing, Beth! Very interesting. Those screens look beautifull themselves.

  2. mucas gracias hace años que quiero hacer esta tecnica y como no entiendo ingles no me puedo enterar que era esa pastas que sacaba la pintura y por fin la encuentro ..soda ash


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