Surprisingly Satisfying Results from Humble Origins

This past weekend I cleaned up my studio.  It had gotten into such a state that it was hampering creativity.  So I packed up some gear to sell on ebay, carted off some yarn to a charity yarn drive, and in general tried to apply the idea “if you haven’t used it in a year, it should go.”

One of the things I had acquired and not gotten around to using was a made-for-kids screen printing kit.  My orthodontist gives out “good patient” tokens if you wear your retainer, show up on time for appointments, etc.  This was put in place no doubt to inspire the kids and teens she normally deals with.  But ya know, some of the toys in the rewards cabinet were pretty darn cool, and she agreed that an adult could earn tokens if they wished.

Kai was the lucky recipient of most of my orthodontic booty, but when I cashed in my last tokens on the day my braces came off, I “bought” the screen printing kit for myself.

And it sat on the top shelf for six months.  Twice I almost used it as an emergency present for a kid’s birthday party, but each time my inner eight-year-old put her foot down and I kept it for myself.

This week is Kai’s spring break.  And we have a lot of hours in the day to fill together.  So with the idea of using what I’ve got and having fun, I pulled it down off the top shelf and just dove in.  No plan, no project, no goal in mind other than using this kit up.

It was entirely as cheezy as you’d imagine from the package.  Everything was made of plastic or foam.  Designs were precut stencils in girly themes of flowers and hearts.  The screen was a loose mesh that degraded quickly and was only held in place at the top and bottom, which mean that you had to fiddle with it constantly to keep it taut.

I’ve taken screen-printing classes at college, and briefly in my twenties designed and sold T-shirts.  (In my twenties, I made and tried to sell a lot of stuff.  Once I even anodized aluminum using a car battery so I could dye it and make electric-blue chainmail.)

Anyway, I recognized this kit as a cheaply made thing that would quickly convince any reasonable child that screen printing was a pain and a bother. Which was exactly Kai’s reaction.  He got one perfect print, then a whole bunch of smeary ones, got frustrated and called it a day.  (He talked me into cutting up the pillowcase with his one perfect print and sewing it into a treasures bag, so the experience wasn’t a total loss from his point of view.)

Me, I was entranced.  There was one design among the hearts and flowers that Kai and I both gasped when we saw it.  A pattern of stars and spirals.  We’re big into stars and spirals around here.  That was the only design we used all day.

Because I didn’t have a plan, or any expectations, I started goofing around and mixing up colors when I did a print.

The way the colors merged together during the printing reminded me of a painted warp.  So I set aside the pillowcase I’d been experimenting on, and ran to my studio to grab up some painted-warp cloth I’d woven a while ago and never gotten around to making anything with.

I didn’t give myself time to think “but this is my precious handwoven, what if I muck it up?” I just dove in and started screening on top of it.  (Channeling my inner Mollie Freeman, who does some beautiful embellishments on top of her handwovens.)

And you know what, the handpainted, handwoven cloth was the perfect background.  The two layers of merging colors spoke volumes to each other, and also served to hide any irregular borders in the printing.

If you look closely at the picture above, you’ll see that one star didn’t fill in, and the borders smeared a little, but that the overall affect is still gorgeous!

Printing a block design on top of the cloth brought out a whole new dimension in it, and has me excited about making something out of it.  A jacket?  A tote bag?  I don’t know, but it’s to lovely now to sit in a drawer.

I even used a tip from Mollie Freeman and carried the printing off the edge of the cloth so the design wouldn’t seem crowded around the middle of the fabric.

(For Twitter followers, the tarantula that was field-stripped and fixed is in the upper-left of the picture above.)

I had so much fun, I printed the whole seven yards.

(Coming home from a trip and finding this drying in the kitchen is why Eric often wins the “my wife’s weirder than yours” talks around the office water cooler.)

I used up all the ink, completing my only goal of using up the toy so I could get rid of it.  But dang, I had so much fun, I might have to see if they’ll sell me a refill pack!

Huzzah for not overthinking and just going with it.  Sometimes diving in without a plan (or expectations) is exactly the right thing to do.

Triva note: I just realized that the fabric I printed on in this post is the same fabric I photographed for the WeaveZine header.  I guess that’s appropriate.  WeaveZine gets a new look, and so does the textile!  I may just have to make myself a WeaveZine-themed jacket.  Wouldn’t that be fun to wear to a conference?

Please share your thoughts: I enjoy your comments and feedback!