Patterns and Screens

For the latest addition to my ever busy life I decided to learn something new. As part of the latest brief I have been looking at surface pattern – the vast designs and endless applications have taken a little narrowing down, but I have experimented with processes to achieve images as a baseline for new pattern design. This proved harder than I thought.

Although I had an idea of the difficulties involved in first designing and then constructing, repeating and matching a swatch to a repeat pattern, what I hadn’t quite really been prepared for was my unending research (when do you stop!?) and for it to take the ‘wind out of my sails’ with a combination of awe turning to inadequacy and finding that a lot of subjects and ideas had already been produced and what looked like extensively exhausted.

But then – reality check- luckily, I’m a student. My job doesn’t (yet) depend on this and I’m not under any pressure to produce an entirely new range of patterns. I should turn it on its head and find inspiration from awe.

So, my next step took me to the Bluecoat Screen Printing studio in Liverpool. A great resource available to hire for local students, printers, artists and designers. Screens, check. Inks, check. Textile medium, check. Squeegee check. … I took my favourite and probably simplest pattern so far (‘Honesty’ brick repeat). Original design comes from an ink and pipette sketch I made, scanned in and made into a repeat, matching the edges to make sure it tiles well.


So. It was a very educational visit. I learned the problems of printing on acetate (with an unhappy computer). Which side is the ‘right’ side to print on (after first finding the ‘wrong’ side). How to edit Photoshop images into greyscale and bitmap to achieve the right quality for exposure. How to prepare a screen with emulsion (and how important it is to do this evenly and thinly). Which screens are used for textiles and why (45 -60T). The difference between yellow and white mesh and the effect on UV exposure time. How to do an exposure test. How to know if screen is under exposed and what to do (deep breath and start again). How to clean and degrease a screen and exactly how soaked you get using a pressure washer to do it.

So with the screen exposed again and washed-out I was able to mask off, mix ink and textile medium and print. I discovered multiple passes are needed depending on the absorbency of the fabric. I used a backboard behind the cloth, but still ran into problems with the fabric moving slightly between passes (argh).

Exact pattern matching was difficult. I now know this has to be reflected in my pattern which should ideally ‘absorb’ and slight mismatches. The ‘honesty’ did this quite well, and particularly since I was just using a single colour design.  Also with fabric you can’t print 2 patterns adjacent to each other straight away- one needs to be touch dry to avoid the screen smudging the just printed pattern. For this reason the repeat should be as large as possible and ideally the width of the fabric – since found out that in industry manufacturers use massive yardage screens.

So I left with a little bundle of printed tea-towels and fabric offcuts. It felt good to try something new. Admittedly the print quality was’t great but it was an experiment with a production method and perhaps the main lesson learnt was to think about how the pattern is going to be produced (i.e. printing method), what it is going to be printed onto, and how it is going to be used right at the beginning and you can make it a little easier.

I feel it a bit like back to the drawing board/mac, but overall my designs should be better as a result of what I discovered at the screen printing session. I’m still working on more digital patterns developed from collaged acrylic cutouts and want to explore linoblock handprinted designs.





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