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Back to school skills - How to print fabric

The ‘back to school’ feeling is in the air and as children head off to school to learn something new, September naturally becomes a time for us to think about our own learning and what exciting creative endeavours we might try this Autumn.

For many of our customers lampshade making is their business or side hustle involving printing designs onto fabrics and wallpapers, which are then lovingly turned into a beautiful range of handmade products, including lampshades. Often admired from afar we thought we’d explore what it takes to print your own fabric and learn the know-how involved for our ‘Back to school skills’ project.

A great starting point on our new skills was reading How to Print Fabric by Zeena Shah. Well known for her can do approach to printing, she first fell in love with the craft when studying at Art School and has never looked back since. For this book, Zeena wanted to offer a stepping off point for anyone who’d like to the know how to print their own fabric – exactly what we were looking for!

After reading through the introduction to each type of printing - mark marking, relief printing (where you carve out from an object to create gaps), screen printing, dyes and inks - Zeena shares her advice on which fabrics to use. Who knew that choosing a tightly woven natural fabric, such as cotton or linen could make such a difference? After a quick explanation on ‘Understanding Print Design’, which is pitched just right for the beginner, it’s straight into printing, printing, printing!

Different types of printing techniques are neatly divided up with an accompanying sewing projects, ranging from easy, accessible beginners printing skills, to one or two more advanced methods towards the back of the book. The beginners techniques need very minimal equipment and bar the inks (Zeena uses fabric block printing inks) there are plenty of household objects put to good use, with everything from chopsticks to foam to chopped up cardboard tubes used to create varied printing marks and effects. It was great to also have instructions for a useful project for your printing showing you the potential of what you can make and achieve.

We loved that Zenna includes a lo-fi embroidery ring screen printing technique, that literally anyone could have a go at without investing in any pricey printing equipment, but also shows ‘easy to get to grips with’ full on screen printing tuition too.

In the spirit of learning something new (and wanting to experiment to make a new lampshade) we tried the 'String Printing Tutorial', using – you guessed it – string and milk bottle.

Here's what we learnt ...

  • Using double sided tape that's included in our Lampshade Making Kits to attach the tape to the bottle, worked well to create a clean, linear wrap around the milk bottle.

  • Taking advice from our printing expert, Rachel below, we used a towel under our fabric to create a better print.

  • We used an Acrylic Block Printing Medium to mix with our range of Acrylic paints LINK to create the equivalent of Fabric block printing inks, using material we already had.

  • Taking advice from the book we did a practise run, to get our eye in and then printed the real thing!

  • Using a wooden metre rule laid on the fabric as a guide, kept our printing level.

  • Our printing kit was made up a few more household objects including a kitchen spatula, plastic placemat and cocktail stirrer!

Super pleased with our results, and the subsequent lampshade, we’re itching to try some more of the techniques in How to Print Fabric - we’re thinking printed presents all round for Xmas - and to round off Zeena’s wisdom, the book has a good glossary of sewing techniques and plenty of templates in the back for inspiration.

The Print Professional

Having just got started on our printing journey, we thought we’d turn to one of our professional lampshade and print makers, Rachel from Winsper Design, to see what advice she could offer when printing fabric for lampshades.

What’s your favourite printing medium?

I love to block print onto fabrics using lino blocks, backed by thin pieces of wood. I like to mix my own colours to print with, I use a fabric printing binder, mixed with small amounts of pigment colours. I use a lot of light and pastel colours in my designs so I often use an opaque binder.

What do you need to consider when designing a printed fabric for lampshades?

It helps to know the size of the finished fabric required for the shade, so you can plan out your design. If you want something to be symmetrical or you are looking for a well-balanced design you may want to start from the middle and work outwards.

Consider the final use of a shade will e.g. will it be used with a pendant light or a table lamp or even a wall light? How much of the design will you see at eye level, does your design have a direction, think about the pattern direction.

Also consider the shape of the shade, a drum shade requires a rectangle of fabric, printing in grid format is straight forward. A coolie or an empire shaped shade curves around, you will need to consider the placement of motifs and the repeat of the pattern – all part of the fun of printing your own shade!

Any tips for new lampshade makers wanting to print their own lampshade fabrics?

Natural fabrics tend to take printing mediums best, a plain cotton or linen is a good choice, wash and iron it before you start. Mark out the required amount of fabric using tailors chalk, using the shade as a template. Marking out centre lines or guide lines might also help depending on your design.

If you are using a table to print on, put an old towel or blanket underneath the fabric. A softer surface will help you get a good print, then pin your fabric onto it using dress making pins. It’s best to print a little more fabric than you need, just in case you need to adjust the placement of the design. If you are mixing your own colours make sure you have enough for the whole project. I really recommend makers have a look at, there are lots of tutorials on hand printing and you can purchase all of your materials from them.

Find Rachel's beautifully crafted printed product range using the links below:


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