Craft: Brighten up your fabrics

By Anna Subritzky

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Anna Subritzky (PhD in print making, or close to it) relishes the chance to share her wealth of knowledge in what is a genuine area of expertise

Fabric painted cushions. Photo / Supplied
Fabric painted cushions. Photo / Supplied

In the distant annals of time, when people wrote cheques on a daily basis and social media was reading the newspaper at the bus stop, I spent four years studying the fine art of print making, which these days is rather cynically referred to as "one of those useless degrees".

At the time, I gave no thought to future employment challenges and threw myself into art school life with boundless enthusiasm. What fun it was too, except for the bit when you graduated and were cut adrift, blinking in the cold, hard light of reality.

All of a sudden there was an expectation from well-meaning relatives that you'd find a real job instead of poncing (yes, that is a word) around in an apron, creating works on paper using printing techniques dating back to the 16th century. This wasn't the kind of employment you'd find advertised in the situations vacant columns, but I lived in hope.

Fast forward a couple of decades and the route to a creative lifestyle has been a series of misadventures through the more mundane aspects of existence, an exercise in making it up as I've gone along, peppered with healthy doses of faking it.

So, it is with great fanfare that I inform you that printing onto fabric is one thing I can honestly say I am over-qualified to advise you on. On this occasion you're getting your money's worth.


Step 1 - Make your blocks. Be adventurous and think outside the square. Wander around each room in your house and look at objects with their printability in mind; interesting textures, repetitive patterns, straight lines, random arrangements.

Favourites included spent bobby pins, icecream sticks, the end of a pencil, a pattern-marking wheel, the end of a skewer, a piece of stick, buttons, a series of jars and a doll's plastic hairbrush.

Try tying and wrapping some string around a block. To make your blocks, find a piece of wood a couple of centimetres thick and use a handsaw to cut to size. Simply glue your items to the blocks using Araldite or a similar adhesive. Some objects are substantial enough that they don't need to be glued to a block (such as cotton reels). Allow to dry.

Step 2 - Using a brush, apply a couple of thin layers of the fabric paint to your block. Have some clean rags handy and wipe up any excess or spills as you go. Some items need a couple of layers of paint applied and left to absorb before printing commences (such as wood).

Step 3 - Do a test run first. Be sure to have prepared your fabric in advance by washing and ironing it. Lye it flat on a tabletop and press your block onto the fabric, hold in position and apply a little pressure. Remove cleanly and repeat as necessary, reapplying paint as you go.

Try printing onto different fabrics thinking about textures and densities.

Experiment with different block placements, overlapping or repeating the same block or mixing blocks up in different configurations. Try regimented placement and random placements and, when you feel comfortable, approach the colour issue.

At the end of it all, don't forget to heat-fix your efforts with the iron for five minutes.


Materials/tools

• Setacolor fabric paint (available from Spotlight)
• Household detritus with suitable printable surface
• Piece of 2-3cm thick wood to cut into blocks
• Handsaw
• Araldite
• Paintbrush
• Material to print onto (tea towels, pillowcases etc)
• Iron

- Herald on Sunday

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