Fashion Fun Friday: DIY Silk Screening

Tramp Stamp Tees
If you haven’t figured this out yet, I have my hands in many pots. Many interesting and fun pots. One of these is a clothing company that I started in the spring called SugarLand Clothing. Right now we offer Galaxy leggings and Tramp Stamp Tees.

After working in marketing and promotions for over ten years I suddenly found myself out of job last year. So I launched SugarLand Media. (Seeing a theme here?)  But being a creative “artsy” person, I wanted to get my hands dirty and make something. After all, we are in the midst of the Maker Movement!  But since I don’t own a 3D printer, I went low-tech and taught myself to silk screen.

While a lot of fun, silk screening in your basement is a little tougher than YouTube would have you believe. That said, I suggest you give it a shot as once you get the hang of it, it’s a great way to express yourself. To get started, I bought a fabric screen printing starter kit and set up shop in my basement. It came with a screen (mesh count unknown), a hard plastic squeegee, photo emulsion, three fabric inks (black, blue and red), and a how-to booklet. Armed with that booklet and many YouTube videos under my belt, I decided to dive in.

Step 1: In the dark, evenly coat your screen with photo emulsion and let dry on a flat raised surface. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. Right? Wrong.  I used too much emulsion, didn’t spread it as evenly as I thought AND got dried drip marks. Despite this, I forged ahead.

Step 2: Print your design onto a piece of transparency paper. A: Do you know how hard it is to find transparency paper these days?? B: My little ink jet does not like transparency paper. So after a few attempts with streaks and ink that just wouldn’t dry, I headed to Staples to get them printed.  “That was easy.” (Insert snickering here for my clever use of the Staples marketing slogan.)

Step 3: Make the contact print to “burn the screen”. Basically put your transparency on the screen, put a piece of glass on top to hold it there and expose it to light. I invested in a $5 UV bulb from Henry’s and an aluminum cylinder lamp thingy from Home Depot ($15) which drastically cut down the exposure time. This part went smoothly. Whew!

Step 4: After exposed, wash the unexposed emulsion away using a pressure hose and, ta-da!, there’s your image ready to screen. This step took way long than shown. Until I decided to go outside and use my garden hose sprayer. Success.

Step 5: After the screen has dried, put it on the shirt, flood the screen with the ink, then press and drag the squeegee across to transfer the ink to your shirt. Remove the screen to see your masterpiece… IN THEORY! In reality there was nothing on my shirt.  So I did it again, and again, and again…. Finally after running the ink over my screen about 20 times pressing crazy hard, I got a print! Lesson here, screens have mesh counts. Whatever the mesh count was, it was obviously too high, and therefore too fine, making it tough to push the ink through. Stupid starter kit. But I finally had a shirt and I was hooked!

Shortly thereafter, I found a local screen printing supplier who took the time to educate me on mesh counts, the value of a flexible squeegee, how investing in a “scoop-coater” makes applying emulsion a breeze. Now my process looks closer to those video tutorials; and I have some cheeky tees shirts!

The lesson here? If I can do this. You can definitely do this. Now go make something!

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