We have been busy learning a new craft this summer in the Life of Ryrie. As it has been almost six months since T attended actual school and J has been properly finished since mid-July I figured a little challenge, just like a new blog post, might be rather timely…

We have been learning how to screen print.  Properly, with a frame and ink and a squeegee (warning – I will be repeating this word LOTS because, well, why wouldn’t you repeat the word ‘squeegee’ lots?) and everything! We have even been creating our own designs and making our own stencils.

I have to say that I do recall attempting screen printing during my school days – I think this was during the same term that we also undertook a tie-dye project, both of which achieved varying degrees of success.  I remembered seeming to enjoy the project and felt that there was no reason why T and J wouldn’t also derive some pleasure from the craft. In fact J has been banging on about designing t-shirts for quite some time and this would be a great opportunity for him to bring some of his drawings to life by using an alternative medium to boring old plain white paper.  However, weirdly, we didn’t happen to have any screen printing equipment hiding the in cobwebby crannies of the garage (I know bizarre huh?), so, I did a bit of research and found a great, reasonably priced starter kit which included a frame, ink and a squeegee by a company called ‘Hunt the Moon’. I also purchased a job lot of white t-shirts for the envisaged production line.

You can purchase ready made stencils or equally download all kinds of designs for stencils, but, in true Life of Ryrie fashion that would make this project far too easy and so I decided we would have to come up with our unique designs AND make the stencils before any squeegeeing (what a word!) would occur. Both T and J approached this project with encouraging amounts of enthusiasm and within 24 hours they had presented their designs: T’s was feet en pointe, whilst J’s was a drawing of ‘Dave’ with a moustache. The next step was creating the stencil, or stencils, of course you need one stencil for each colour you want to print, in T’s case this was just 3 but in J’s this ended up being 4 (we had to add an additional stencil because of some jiggery pokery with the design which had caused holes where we didn’t want holes). The stencils were made by tracing the design onto a sheet of freezer paper and then cutting out the relevant areas with a craft knife so the ink would squeegee through the screen and onto the t-shirt and into the correct places.  Slightly more tricky than it sounds and it took me a few goes to one of the stencils correct. By the time all the stencils were cut we’d all had enough of the project for the day so everything went back into the box until the next day.

Not wanting to loose our momentum from the day before we started the next day by covering the kitchen table with newspaper, got some empty cereal boxes from the recycling and placed them inside the t-shirts to prevent colour transference from the front to the back, and we got our frame in place on the first t-shirt. We had decided that we were going to do a couple of prints of each design in the hope that T and J would be able to sell their finished t-shirts to friends/family and raise a bit of extra pocket money. Having got to the stage when we were actually going to squeegee and apply ink to an actual real t-shirt I think we were all feeling a bit apprehensive. Consequently I think the first squeegee run could have done with a little more ink, it was by no means a disaster though.  The ink had gone through the screen in all the places we wanted it to and not in the places we didn’t.  We loaded up with more ink and went for the second application and success once again.  The only problem with screen printing, especially if you only have one frame in your possession, is the length of time you have to wait until you can safely carry out the next colour application. You have to wait for the ink to dry on the t-shirt before you can lay another stencil over the top and go again with a different section. If you go too quickly you would risk smudging or bleeding the drying the ink and I reckon each layer of ink needs at least an hour to dry to be safe.  This meant there was a lot of hanging round and we ended up resorting to using the hairdryer to try and speed the process up a little.

Screen printing, in terms of applying ink to a fabric is a relatively easy process.  We obviously made it slightly harder by creating our own stencils and using multiple colours on each design, but using ready made stencils and just one or two colours per design does make it much more straightforward. I would totally recommend investing in a solid squeegee, the last thing you need is one that bends or breaks midway through a colour application. Also clean the screen gently after each application.

If you decide to give it a go we’d really love to see your efforts so please share.

NB: Whilst we are all rather pleased with our finished t-shirts we have ended up with excess quantities of each design.  Rather than waste an opportunity, and ever the entrepreneur, J has established an online shop to sell them!  They are only available in t-shirts to fit age 11-12. They are all ‘unique’ designs and there may be slight variances in colour, and we have noticed that there is some colour fade after the first wash.  You can take a gander at:  merchandice.bigcartel.com.