Printing collagraphs onto textiles
This post was inspired by an enquiry about printing collagraphs onto fabric – so thanks to Sinclair Ashman for asking me the question! I know that lots of people who make collagraphs also enjoy textiles and this is a lovely way to combine the two very directly.
I have run quite a few collagraph workshops for textile and embroidery groups, the idea being to create collagraph prints on fabric as a starting point for new textile work. Students are always inspired by the idea of combining prints with embroidery, applique and other textile techniques. On courses in my studio the fabric sample box frequently comes out so students can experiment with printing onto textiles, alongside the more conventional printmaking paper.
A new approach to fabric printing
Traditional fabric printing is usually a relief process (think potato prints or block prints) or else it is screen printed. For collagraphs we will be using intaglio and relief methods combined to produce complex detailed and textured prints.
There are loads of exciting possibilities once you start printing collagraphs on textiles, I hope this post will encourage you to and add another dimension to your printmaking and give it a go.
What to do and what to avoid
In this post I will show you the best fabrics I have found for printing collagraphs, and share some tips and tricks to make the process easier, and advice on what not to do too!
Don’t do this!
For some reason I started thinking I needed to seal the fabric so did lots of test pieces with gesso, emulsion paint and pva on the fabric before printing. Its not worth it – the results are inferior to plain untreated fabric. Sealing it makes the surface stiffer and less absorbent so the details of your plate don’t show so well. I also found that sometimes the printing ink cracked and peeled off the smooth surface when it flexed.
Just use the fabric in its natural state – different fibres have differing absorbencies and this will make things interesting.
Which fabrics work best for printing collagraphs?
1. Light and plain
I generally go for light coloured plain fabrics. If it’s too dark your print won’t show, although light opaque ink on a dark ground is always a possibility. (see below)
2. A coarse woven texture
If you use coarse fabric the weave will become part of the image; muslin, cotton linen, furnishing fabric etc will all take prints and contribute something of their own texture to the finished thing.
This example is printed on stiffened roller-blind fabric.
3. A fine smooth woven texture
The smoother the fabric the more detail will show. Cheap acetate lining material works very well and means you can experiment freely without worrying too much about the cost. You could always gravitate onto silk if you want something more exotic.
Any fabric with a satin weave is really good for showing up all the detail of tone and texture, I like the really shiny satin synthetic fabrics because the fabric bounces the light back under the ink giving a gorgeous rich impression.
Basic cotton curtain lining with a satin weave is a good one to use too.
By using see-through fabrics you can add an intruiging 3d element to your prints. Either synthetic or natural organzas and chiffon are fun to experiment with, as the image alters when it moves, and the angle of the light in front or behind affects what you see.
The print at the top of the post was done onto metallic silver textile – as well as being reflective this is also a bit transparent.
I saved the best till last; suedette is synthetic suede and this is my favourite textile for collagraph printing. Its surface is like vellum, soft and absorbent. It holds the ink beautifully, showing every tiny detail and variation in tone. As it is robust and doesn’t fray you can just hang it on the wall, but cutting it up and sewing it into new arrangements is also easy.
I get my interesting fabrics from Fabworks in Dewsbury. If you live anywhere near this fantastic West Yorkshire treasure trove I hope you will visit as soon as you can to stock up on interesting and unusual fabrics at bargain prices. (Of course you can get suedette on line too, but its more fun to browse around in Fabworks….)
This image shows a close up of the collagaph print on suedette; all the fine detail is picked up.
Other things to try
In this example I sewed the fabric before printing in on it. The thread masks the fabric, leaving fine white lines. I also gathered the material so it was partially folded before printing. The creases remained white and the image shows in a distorted way.
Applique and embroidery
You can of course cut up the collagraphs on fabric, and rearrange them, or use for applique or other textile projects.
This example is suedette cut up and machine sewn.
What type of printing plate can I use?
The fabric texture introduces a new variable into the printing process and some plates may print more successfully on particular fabrics so be sure to make time for some experimental test pieces before you start printing on expensive satin!
If your plate has very deep contours you may get patches of plain fabric showing where it didn’t reach the ink. As most woven fabrics will not be stretchy they don’t always mould themselves round the contours of the plate like damp printing paper does (link). The fabric can become stretched tightly over the plate, so give it a bit of ‘ease’ as you lower it down onto the plate, however most fabrics are flexible enough to cover all the highs and reach the lows.
I have printed drypoint plates, etched lino plates, carborundum plates, and collagraphs made with gels and tile cement as well as glued on textures. Mono prints also work well. My conclusion is that if you can print it as intaglio on paper, you can print it as intaglio on fabric. So the answer to the question is ‘any type of printing plate’ and my advice is ‘just try it’!
Which printing inks work best for collagraphs on textiles?
As you will know I like Hawthorn printmaking inks and I tried these first. Their stay open etching inks worked so well on fabric that I didn’t bother testing out any other inks. If you try other brands I hope you will leave a comment on this post so we can collectively expand our knowledge.
Once the ink is dry it seems very permanent; I tried vigorously handwashing, (scrubbing) the textile print in very hot water with detergent, and nothing shifted. I haven’t tested out repeated machine washing though.
Surprisingly fabric doesn’t pick up as much ink as damp printing paper. Be generous with your inking and a bit mean with your intaglio wiping to make sure there is enough ink on the plate. Have some printing paper prepared, and you can take a very effective ghost print onto paper afterwards. This image shows a plate inked up in opaque colour and printed on black cotton. The last image is a ghost print from the plate, with the impression of the cotton weave showing.
Printing your plates
Use dry fabric. The main difficulty is laying the fabric flat onto the plate as it is so floppy. I taped two pieces of card together to make long ‘handles’ which helped manipulate the fabric, holding it straight when lowering it onto the inky plate. Alternatively if you are working larger ask a friend to help.
Use a registration sheet to keep your print straight on the fabric. Always lay a piece of backing paper over the fabric as ink may squeeze through in the press and get onto the blankets.
Have a plan for drying your fabric prints as you don’t want them folding in on themselves and smudging the image while you are sorting out what to do with them. A clothes drier with racks, or a washing line can be helpful here. It doesn’t take long to dry but I’d suggest leaving it for a few days before doing anything else with it.
What are you waiting for?
Its time to start building up a collection of plain light fabrics! Gather as many different types of fibre and weave as you can, and keep sample pieces handy near the press to test out with your collagraph prints.
Please do send in images of your collagraph printing on textile experiments, and add comments to this post as I feel sure there is a lot to share and learn.