Spot On

This shirt is my first attempt of painting with thickened dye on linen. To make the dots I used circular foam stamps like the ones below.

This stamping is ridiculously quick and easy. I used both perfect and imperfect stamp prints in three different shades of blue, and two sizes of stamps.

One major surprise has been the feel of the linen when the shirt was finished. For years I have been struggling to make my linen softer, torn between its beauty and comfort and its amazing capacity to wrinkle and look like a rag after carrying around small children or having them wriggling around on my lap.

But this shirt is really soft and buttery, and drapes like tencel, which I suspect is from the soda ash treatment. Soda ash is necessary to fix the dye, so I soaked the fabric in soda ash solution and dried it, leaving it for a week or thereabouts before I got round to cutting out and dye stamping. I sewed the shirt up before washing out the dye and soda ash, because I was worried about the raw garment pieces distorting in the wash. So the soda ash was in the fabric for quite some time, and it is said to break down the fibres somewhat as part of the bonding process with the dye (you are told not to use soda ash with silk as it is too harsh). But with the sturdier linen the feel of the fabric is amazing, like a garment that has been softened through many washings, almost lustrous and silky. I did iron the shirt after washing, so not sure if the linen will feel the same if you don’t iron. In my case the ironing was necessary, because I did not iron during the sewing process because the soda ash in the fabric will discolour if ironed at high temperature and I wasn’t sure it this would wash out. Fortunately I found that it does.

I am not sure if there will be a penalty to pay down the track, in that the soda ash will shorten the life of the linen in the long run, but short term the feel is absolutely luxurious. As I continue to paint on linen which entails putting it through a soda ash soak I will soon see if I will get the same effect reliably, or if this is some sort of miraculous aberration. Let’s hope not, I would love to have something up my sleeve that makes linen sit up and behave.

I used a new pattern, the Cap Sleeve Shirt by a Swedish company called The Assembly Line. The sewing details are on PatternReview.

Stamping notes:

  • Linen soaked in soda ash solution (1/2 to 1 cup of soda ash powder to 4L of water) and dried, left for a week or so before washing
  • Dye thickened with food grade sodium alginate. Blend sodium alginate powder with water ( 1-2 teaspoons per 250ml of water), then add dye powder to the gel.
  • Spread spoonfuls of the thickened dye on a flat surface such as a plastic plate to load the foam stamp with dye. The plate can be washed and re-used, the stamp too of course.
  • Cover the wet dye with plastic to stop it from drying too quickly and leave overnight. I use a sheet of corflute to paint my cut-out garment pieces on and a second to cover the wet paint
  • Wash in cold, then hot water with a little pH neutral detergent, such as Synthrapol. Dye left in the fabric should be inactive but if there is any active dye left a neutral pH stops back-dyeing of undyed parts of the fabric.

Here Kitty Kitty Kitty….

It is going to take a while to get this particular cat out of my system, I just love the minimalist shape. This is the second top I printed with it and it won’t be the last.

I used a midnight blue merino activewear blend that I picked up as a remnant from the Fabric Store in Sydney. It has a mostly man-made smooth outer layer with a merino loopback layer inside, a great weight for a sweatshirt and super comfortable to wear. The pattern used is my current go-to which can be varied easily for all kinds of tops, the Tessuti Mandy, with an added cowl for winter warmth. I often shorten the Mandy to high hip length, which suits both skirts and wide pants, but this time I left it the original length of the pattern. With a remnant the amount you get is pre-determined and I don’t like waste, plus it keeps most of my bum nice and warm too. 🙂

The printing was done using the same stencil I cut earlier for my first cat top, but this time I cut a smaller version of the cat as well and mixed the two sizes together. With stencils it is also possible to reverse them and get a mirror image, something impossible with blocks unless you want to cut two. The different sizes and mirror images make a nice visual mix.

I used a combination of Permaset screen printing ink and acrylic paint, mixing white screen printing ink with a small amount of black acrylic, having run out of black screen printing ink for the moment. It works fine, although the resulting paint had the curious property of showing the brush strokes quite distinctly. Or maybe it wasn’t the paint, but my brush was just too stiff or possibly it was the surface of the fabric? You can’t see it very well in the photo, but whatever the reason, it suits the cats quite well, looking a bit like fur. For the eyes I used a cotton stick again, like last time.

If anyone is interested, I described the stencilling process in detail in my post ‘One Cat Short of Crazy’. Below is the top featured in that post, the pattern was again the Mandy, that time without a cowl and high hip length.

The instructions on how to convert the Mandy pattern into a sweatshirt with a cowl can be found here on Pattern Review.

This post is linked to Me Made Mittwoch.

Fabric Painting With Thickened Dye

There are various ways to paint or print on fabric. For example, you can use screen printing ink, thinned down acrylic paint or thickened fabric dye. There are advantages and disadvantages with all of them, but this post is about painting with dye.

Although this is quite difficult technically, the result is very rewarding if large areas need to be painted, because it leaves a soft hand just like any commercially printed fabric. Small block prints or stencils with screen printing ink are ok, but large stencilled areas feel hard and plasticky. So for those the thickened dye technique is much better.

When using dye to paint, technique is important and I owe a lot to the info on Paula Burch’s website. When I first attempted painting with dye I made a couple of errors, that resulted in a disappointing outcome. The tee below was painted with black dye on white. But as you can see, the black has faded completely to green as soon as I washed it, and the white fabric has turned slightly grey, although it is not noticeable in the photo.

The problems were as follows:

  • I used xanthan as a thickening agent. Paula recommends sodium alginate, as starches and other seaweed agents can interfere with the dye bonding with the fibres
  • I did not keep the dye on the fabric wet for long enough, tried to dry it too fast. The bonding process between dye and fabric takes place only as long as the dye is wet and stops when dry. This means a lot of the dye washes out if the bonding process was too short, and the colour will be much lighter, or even change completely if the dye was a mix of different colours, like black would be. I could never understand why the dye deactivates so quickly when in contact with Soda ash (1 hour), and you can’t use it anymore to paint, and yet the deactivated dye needs to stay wet to bond to the fabric. If you paint deactivated dye on fabric, most or all of it will wash out. All I can think is that if the the dye was put on the fabric in an active state, it still keeps bonding to the fabric, even though it is deactivated. Don’t ask me how or why, but it works. Proof of the pudding…

What to do when painting with dye

I have updated these instructions, because some of it was wrong in light of later tests and insights. The changes are in bold type.

  • Make up thickening agent, sodium alginate 2-3 level teaspoons in 500ml of water, slug of metho, blend in blender. The metho is not strictly necessary, but it stops the mixture from going off and smelling bad due to bacterial growth. Do the blending well in advance, as the mixture frothes up and needs to settle to make a clear gel.
  • Dissolve 1/4-1/2 cup of Soda ash in 2 litres of warm water, then soak fabric in Soda ash solution for at least 5 minutes and wring out. Dye does run when fabric is too wet. It should be damp only. Fabric can also be dried with Soda ash staying in the fabric, which gives much better control over painting with the dye. My test of stencilling with the dye worked really well with a clearly defined outline, which is impossible when the fabric is sopping wet.
  • Mix alginate gel with dye powder to make paint. I use Drimarene K powder, but Procion MX is also good and cheaper.
  • You might like to try what you want to paint out on sketch pad or butchers paper, and adjust the effect if necessary. Fabric is more expensive than paper for experimenting.
  • After painting is finished I tried spraying more Soda ash on the fabric, fearing that not all of the thickened, gloopy dye would have been in contact with sufficient sod ash solution to deactivate it. You don’t want paint still active when the fabric is rinsed, because it will discolour the unpainted fabric. But spraying liquid onto the dye resulted in it running, so that is not a good idea. I am still experimenting with sod ash dried into the fabric and how dye will behave when it is washed.
  • Keep painted areas wet for as long as possible, at least 8 hours, to keep the bonding process between dye and fabric going. Covering with plastic is recommended. I use a corflute sheet as a base to paint on and experimented with covering the painted fabric with another sheet to delay drying. Result is pending.
  • Wash in cold, then hot water, finally with detergent
  • This process needs patience, because you can’t use the fabric until the next day at the earliest

But when you do all the right things technically, the colour is amazing, true to the colour of the paint I mixed up and really strong. Here are some of my samples on scrap fabric trying out the technique. I just painted blobs, this was all about colour and the hand of the fabric after being painted, not about shape. So soft to the touch, you can’t feel the paint at all. Now just watch me using this to stencil !


Even if you don’t do all the right things technically and the outcome is disappointing, it is still almost impossible to make anything truly ugly with the brilliant colours of fibre-reactive dye. I painted these pillow slips, the dye ran because the fabric was too wet and I sprayed on even more sod ash solution afterwards. Also the fabric was heavily crinkled after I wrung it out and I did not try to smooth it before painting, so the paint pooled in the creases and the paint blobs look like wrinkled caterpillars. Not the effect I was going for!

But even though, sewn up into pillow slips it still looks pretty ok on my bed. Although the long, skinny pillows I covered with the fabric pictured above look much better. The reason the dye did not run as much on those although the fabric was just as wet is because it was much thicker and a denser weave.

Re-Upholstery for Beginners

One day, Mr Rivergum fell in love. No, thankfully it wasn’t with another woman, it was a chair. $10 secondhand on Gumtree and electric blue. What can I say? The colour isn’t even as virulent in the photo below as in real life, you need to look at the photos lower down the page to get the full effect.

I love him dearly, but the blue was just too much. If the chair was going to be allowed to stay, the colour would have to go. After a $1300 quote plus fabric from an upholsterer we decided to do it ourselves. It took roughly $120 for fabric and odds and ends, the best part of a lockdown weekend and a goodly portion of courage. But then, with a $10 investment, what’s there to lose?

Surprisingly, re-upholstering a lounge chair isn’t all that difficult. It can be, if you need to replace the inside padding or the supporting webbing, or even repair the woodwork. We watched some videos on YouTube, showing how to reconstruct every part of an antique arm chair in excruciating detail, which scared us silly. But recovering a chair that is still in good nick structurally with new fabric is absolutely doable, even for a pair of newbies.

Reupholstering is even easier than making a loose cover, as this needs to be sewn in such a way that the cover adapts snugly to all the contours of the chair or sofa, plus you can still get it on and off. Not easy! But most of an upholstered chair is not sewn, rather the fabric is stretched and folded into place, then stapled to the wooden frame. The cushions are an exception, but cushions are not that hard to sew either.

To get started you need to investigate how the chair was assembled, then reverse this process. We only needed to take the bottom cover and lower side and back panels off, which covered the staples of all the other panels. At this point, if all you want is a different look of your piece by changing the fabric, you can simply put the new fabric over the top of the old. We made the mistake of taking off some of the old fabric panels to use as a pattern for the new, but the shapes were so straightforward that that is hardly necessary. The fabric pieces are mostly rectangular and easy to measure, and whatever is shaped is done with the staples and the overhang cut off or just left inside the chair. We found that that was precisely what the original upholsterers had done!

Eeeew, look at that colour!
Extra fabric left inside the chair after stapling

With the rounded corners, we just followed the way the original fabric was folded around them and everything was fine.

However, while I only wanted the chair recovered, Mr Rivergum also wanted to increase the padding for extra luxury. We could have used Dacron, but I had some wool pads that came as insulation for our Hello Fresh meal boxes. I saved them, because throwing away perfectly good wool, well, that is a crime! I didn’t know what I wanted to do with it at the time, but sure enough, one day it came in handy. Just as I always say things will. 🙂

First arm done with wool padding
Wool padding on both arms
Wool padding covered with Dacron
Wool padding on back
Ready for Dacron to go on

The wool pads were different colours, but with our thick navy fabric that didn’t matter. We cut them to shape where necessary, glued them on and then slipstitched the joined edges together to stop them from separating. I also slipstitched the outer edge of the pads to the original upholstery fabric at stress points like the front edge of the arms, to stop it from moving around. A layer of Dacron was glued over the top and covered with the upholstery fabric.

It helps to cut the fabric generously if there is plenty, but mostly we needed to measure, measure and measure again! Extra padding needs extra fabric to cover it, ask me how I know. When I bought the fabric I showed a pic of the chair to the very experienced sales person, and he was spot on with recommending the amount I needed. The upholsterer wanted more, but he was probably wanting to make life easy for himself.

I was pretty daunted by the seat cushion, with the piping going around all those tight curves, but applying the piping was surprisingly forgiving. It went around the curved bits easily and looked fine first time round. I did take the old cushion apart for a pattern, cutting a bit extra to allow for the extra padding, and recycled the piping cord. With the cushion you need a slippery layer under the upholstery fabric or it will cling to the foam insert and distort with the mechanical stretch of people sitting down and getting up. I used bits of net curtaining supplemented with apricot coloured lining which I don’t anticipate ever wanting again for garments. I no longer wear apricot coloured business suits. 🙂

I know, I know: the chair is not the latest fashion, but too bad! Mr Rivergum wants a comfy chair to sit in, not the low-slung, spare look that is current trendy and much better for looking at than sitting on. This way Mr Rivergum is happy and the offensive colour has been pacified. The chair will henceforth be quietly unobtrusive and blend in nicely with our other furniture. What more could you want?

Must make some better cushions to dress it up!

In the Trenches

I don’t know what it is about lockdowns that makes me want to make coats and jackets. It must be all that extra time on my hands and a pathological fear of boredom. Last winter I made a jacket version of the Tessuti Jac shirt, 3 versions of the Vogue 9135 jacket and a Vogue 8934 wool coat. So far this year I have only made this trench coat plus a boiled wool coat for DSIL, but give me time. This lockdown will go for months, and I have a black cashmere melton and a mustard boiled wool in my stash, apart from at least one more printed nylon taffeta, so who knows?

This is a light trans-seasonal coat, made from a sturdy nylon taffeta, which will keep out the wind and possibly a bit of rain too. It was part of my huge and happy haul the last time I could get to a Stoffmarkt Holland (now only a distant memory, sigh). I fear Australians will be locked up in our island prison until next year, if not for longer. There will be a humongous fabric buying orgy once I can get back on a plane to Europe!

The pattern is the Tessuti Melbourne Trench Coat. This is a very streamlined, easy coat pattern and ideal for a statement coat in a dramatic print.

My print is not that dramatic, but I have seen some doozies on Pinterest that will make you stand out in any crowd. So I might be tempted to give this pattern another outing one of these days, just watch this space!

The sewing details are on PatternReview and this is linked to Me made Mittwoch.

Forest with Trees

This fabric, used by Grainline Studio for their Willow dress, rather intrigued me and I thought it would work nicely for one of my stencils.

So I zoomed in and copied some of those trees.

The motif is a straight copy, I am embarrassed to say, but at least the colour scheme and garment are my own. I had an olive green sweatshirt in mind, with black trees and a nice big cowl to keep me warm in July temps that have finally dipped into the single digits early in the morning. Thankfully they go up a bit higher later in the day.

The pattern of the motifs is a departure from my usual rather rigid grid, which makes the result a bit more interesting. You can also see that each stencil print isn’t perfect, as a matter of fact some of the trees look rather clumsy and childish because the ink has leaked a bit under the stencil. I should be using spray-on adhesive, but when you move and re-place the stencil many times to build up a pattern over a whole garment, that isn’t very effective. I use the end of a brush or a chopstick to press the stencil down tightly to the fabric, but with all those fiddly little bits where the branches join the trunks that doesn’t always work either. Plus I get impatient and just slap on the ink. The solution would be screen printing, stupid woman, but I am still prevaricating.

The imperfect nature of the prints always frustrates me greatly while I am stencilling, and it isn’t until a garment piece is finished and I take a step back that I can see that the whole is much better than each individual part.

The pattern used (modified) was the Tessuti Mandy boat neck tee and the sewing details are on PatternReview.

Stencilling Notes

  • Acetate mixed media stencil, cut with fine point soldering iron
  • Thick, stubby pencil brush (Aldi kids art materials)
  • Permaset screen printing ink, super cover black, thinned with 5-10% water
  • Heat set in dryer 30 mins on high, also ironed
  • Not washed yet
  • Printed on brushed sweatshirt knit, cotton

Linked to Me Made Mittwoch.

The Things we do in Lockdown…

Sticks have a magic attraction, and not only for little boys. I have been so much more sensitive to the beauty of nature since a daily walk is pretty much the only outing to be had. Many of our gum trees have such gorgeous rough-hewn trunks and twisted branches, with a slew of subtle colours all blending into each other as you follow along with your eyes.

Driftwood can be magical. I have been gathering bits from around our bay, drying them out before they get washed away again. Nothing as spectacular as this, unfortunately. Wouldn’t I just love this in my garden, but it looks so much better in its natural environment.

And there are sticks everywhere on my walks, just begging to be picked up as they tickle my creative imagination. I have come across sailboats and mythical creatures are all over the internet, made from driftwood and other materials supplied absolutely free by Mother Nature.

Nothing adds interest to a walk like looking out for beautiful bits of something that could be the start of a fun project.

Not that I am anything but a complete beginner at making a sculpture, with pretty much non-existent skills. But I do like sculptures and have played with the idea of putting together cast-off bits of ironmongery to make some weird Mad Max creation.

But sticks are better! Not nearly as heavy, easier to come by and no welding skills required, which is fortunate as I have none.

So here it is, my first attempt, driftwood and other sticks, held together with linen thread. You can tell that I love minimalism, can’t you?

It fills an empty space above our stairs very nicely, where two lonely hooks were left behind when the previous owner of the house moved out. We would have had a terrible time to put a picture there as it is a long way up from where you stand on the stairs. I only wish I had thought of some way to hide the hooks, but they sort of blend in, and I must say that Mr Rivergum did a sterling job of placing two bits of wire just at the right distance to latch neatly onto the hooks. A prince amongst men, what can I say!

Not bad for a first attempt, even if I say so myself. But where it is with all that white around it, a bit more ‘presence’ would be good. So I might add some more sticks or other elements to it down the track to make it look less whispy and delicate.

Maybe. It will do for now. 🙂

Blue Cake

It is one thing to print fabric by building up a pattern motif by motif, but I have wanted to spread my wings into an all-over pattern that isn’t repetitive. It would have to be printed as a whole, as it could not be built up from single motifs. While I was in the throws of Lagenlook, where I was mostly making very oversized tunics, that was impractical. The main garment pieces were just too big. But now that I have moved on to a different look with less voluminous tops it is a possibility. The main pieces of the Mandy tee are about 70x60cm, a little less if I leave the hem unprinted, and the largest acetate stencil blanks I can buy will just about cover this. A stencil that size is not that easy to handle, but then I only need to place it on the fabric once for front and back, and the sleeves can be done in one go together. Not exactly a doddle but still totally doable.

The push I needed to tackle this idea came in the form of a Diane von Furstenberg fabric I saw when visiting a fabric shop, which triggered a lightbulb moment remembering a cake decorating stencil I had seen posted by Sheyne Cooking on Pinterest.

I only have the very vaguest of ideas of what you would do with a cake decorating stencil, but I sure know what to do with a stencil on fabric! The DVF fabric was a silk knit which was $$$, but they also had a lovely plain viscose in a similar blue which I thought I could experiment on without giving myself a heart attack.

I enlarged the graphic in Photoshop to the size I needed, printed it out in sections and assembled these into the whole graphic again. Then I traced the outlines onto the acetate sheet with a marker and finally cut out the printing areas with a fine point soldering iron. You want to be careful to cut out the right bits, but fortunately, unlike with carved rubber blocks, if you make a mistake it can be fixed relatively easily with a bit of sticky tape.

I then placed the stencil on my cut out fabric, and coloured in the black areas with acrylic paint, thinned down with textile medium, and a stubby stencil brush. Doing this with a screen and squeegee would definitely be a lot faster, but after my last screen printing disaster I am a bit gunshy. I will try screen printing again for sure, but for the moment I am avoiding it if I can. An hour of colouring in with a brush seems easier to take than 5 seconds of potentially ruining a project with one fell swoop.

So here is the result, black acrylic paint on a blue viscose knit, using a cake stencil graphic. I am calling it Blue Cake. 🙂

I am less than thrilled with photos of myself right now, because I am growing my hair long again and it is at a particularly ratty stage. But here are a couple anyway.

Stencilling Notes

  • Wet mixed media acetate sheet for stencil, largest size
  • Acrylic paint from Aldi with Jo Sonja fabric medium, 1:1
  • Stencil brush
  • Spray on adhesive did not work, I could not lay stencil flat as the stencil is not rigid and dangly bits were sticking in the wrong places before I could lay the whole lot down flat
  • Used back of small brush or chopstick to press stencil against fabric when applying paint, to stop running under stencil edge
  • Heat set in dryer for 30 mins, also ironed
  • Not washed yet
  • Pretty happy with the print quality

Encore Matisse

Matisse’s cut outs are the gift that keeps on giving, at least when it comes to new shapes for my fabric printing.

It is hard to imagine that you couldn’t just doodle this up yourself, but the devil is in the detail and this is where genius matters. In any case, I don’t see myself as an artist, more like a DJ, who doesn’t write, play or sing the music, but modifies and combines elements of existing pieces to make something new.

I picked this shape because I wanted to print the Tessuti Hazelwood top which has a curved hem, and I thought a more squat shape would lend itself better to this than a long-ish, tall-ish one. I have had trouble with curved hems before, you follow the hem line and the first row is ok, the second almost ok, but as the rows get narrower, sooner or later you get into trouble with placements and end up with a hole in the pattern somewhere.

Line drawing of Tessuti Hazelwood top

This time I thought I would make a stencil with a whole row of the motifs, curved to reflect the hem, then just move this up row for row, offset each time to put the motifs in the new row between the existing ones in the previous row for a chequerboard pattern.


That worked really well, no holes in the regular pattern of motifs. You need to be a little bit careful if the edge of your stencil touches or overlaps the wet motifs of the previous row. I keep my hairdryer handy and give each row a quick dry before stencilling the next one. It doesn’t take long to make the ink dry enough so it doesn’t rub off onto the stencil, although drying thoroughly takes much longer.

I had some off-white, fairly thick cotton knit and thought a light milk-coffee brown would be a good combination. To try this out I mocked it up in Photoshop, using the pattern line drawing.

Mock up

Unfortunately in the real world I could not make the colours work, the knit was too yellow-y and I didn’t manage to hit the right brown tone mixing my colours when I tried it out on a scrap. So I pivoted to navy, an easier combo and I need more tops to go with my navy pants anyway.

To get navy blue I mixed my ink 4 parts primary blue to 1 part black, and although all the motifs looked completely black when dry., after washing they were indeed navy, and even quite a light navy on the wrong side where the paint had seeped through. Alas, they look black again in the photos, so you will need to use your imagination. Or maybe they will be navy on your screen.

I like to think the top came out with a bit of a Marimekko vibe. 🙂

Stencilling notes:

  • Acetate mixed media stencil cut with scissors and craft knife (hard going, use soldering iron next time!)
  • Acrylic paints (Aldi), mixed 4:1 blue to black
  • Textile medium, commercial, Jo Sonja brand, maybe used 1:2 with ink
  • Did not wash fabric before printing (naughty, it shrank, so sleeves are three-quarter length now))
  • Heat treated printed fabric with iron before washing
  • Lightened up a lot after washing
  • No seepage under stencil lines during stencilling despite ink being quite thin, but some shadow bleeding in a few places after washing, probably were paint was insufficiently cured
  • Some stiffness of printed areas, comparable with screen printing ink

Recipe for home-made textile medium (to replace the commercial one used in this project): one part vinegar, one part glycerine, two parts water

One Cat Short of Crazy

Quite a while ago I came across this lovely t-shirt on Pinterest.

I just loved those cats! But being a minimalist I thought less could be more, so I enlarged the motif and used it more sparingly. Not that I don’t like the all-over effect of the original, and I will probably do a tee with smaller cats all over at some point, but for now let’s stick to one cat short of crazy!

To get there, I first enlarged the cat motif in photoshop, trying out a couple of sizes. Around the size of my hand seemed good, so I printed this out and then traced over the outline with a sharpie to transfer the image to an A4 size acetate stencil.

Put the motif under a transparent acetate stencil and trace, then cut out

I cut out my stencils with scissors whenever possible because it is so much quicker and easier than my blunt craft knife, and less fuss than setting up the hotknife. Fortunately my motifs are often very simple, but if you like intricate designs, scissors will probably not work for you.

Once I had my stencil cut out I started to think about where to place my prints. Because I printed on a t-shirt that was already sewn up, an all over pattern was no longer possible, not unless I wanted to take the shirt apart again. Normally I cut out and then print, but this time I had got ahead of myself with the sewing.

I mocked up the placement of the motifs in Photoshop, but you could just as easily wing it. I did both, mocking up first and then placing them freehand after I had got some idea of what I wanted. I moved the top right cat higher up and onto the sleeve to make a more irregular pattern. Still ended up with a cat’s bum under my chin!

Mock up

With a big motif it is easy to use a single motif stencil and then place it repeatedly for printing. You can see below where I placed the stencil, then masked off the rest of the shirt with newspaper and placed my button box on top to keep the spine of the newspaper I placed inside the shirt from sticking up too much under the stencil. You need the stencil flat on the fabric and the paper inside to stop any paint seepage from the front to the back of the shirt, or vice versa.

Masked with newspaper, stencil in middle, ready to apply ink

I dry each print with my hairdryer, to stop wet paint getting where it is not wanted, probably the number one problem with this technique. Achieving good paint coverage is not hard.

Drying after inking, with stencil and newspaper removed, or they will flap around

If I used smaller motifs and printed them all over like my inspiration tee, I would probably do a larger stencil with several motifs at once and tessellate. A larger stencil will need some adhesive, either spray-on or sticky tape, as the stencil will otherwise move. You can also use freezer paper, which will stick after being ironed on, but I only have A4 sized sheets. They are suitable for a small area such as a child’s tee, and you can re-use the stencil a couple of times, but not 10 times like I needed to with this shirt. Horses for courses, as they say.

But the exciting discovery I made this time was that a brush is a lot easier to use than a sponge to apply the ink! Duh! I don’t know where I got the sponge idea from in the first place, probably from using a sponge roller to ink blocks. But for the large, flat areas I like (no colour variation in the motif), a sponge does not do this efficiently, neither a sponge roller nor a piece of sponge. What works much better is a stiff, stubby brush, and you brush from the edge of the stencil inwards to get a nice sharp edge. Then I fill in the middle, making sure I get good coverage. You can spend ridiculous amounts of money on an artist’s brush, but mine cost next to nothing from Aldi.

I used screen printing ink for this shirt, but I could also have used acrylic paint, with or without a fabric medium. I tested both and there wasn’t a lot of difference in stiffness between both applications. The coverage was not as good as with the screen printing ink, but then the base fabric was lighter and I only did one coat. I could easily do two or use more paint. Both versions, with or without fabric medium, washed up the same. Any stiffness doesn’t bother me, as screen printing ink also stiffens fabric, so I’m used to that and don’t really mind.

Sample of acrylic paint with and without fabric medium

Once I had finished printing the motifs on my shirt I added the eyes with a cotton stick.

Cotton stick makes nice small round spots for eyes

And here is the completed shirt.

Motif printed across sleeve seam

The prints don’t look completely and evenly black, especially the last pic, but that is an artefact of the photos. I am pretty happy with the quality, which is the first time in ages.