There are lots of pelicans on the Central Coast of NSW where I live. This is what it looks like at our local fish shop around 3pm, when it’s time for one of the staff to come out and feed the scraps to an appreciative local crowd.

Aren’t they gorgeous?

I am still catching up with my blog posts with all the stuff I made during lockdown, and this is an attempt to turn the beauty of those pelicans into abstract shapes for fabric printing.

Not too bad, if rather pedestrian, maybe the pelicans are too small and also too static? Whatever it is, it looks a bit pathetic compared with this wonderfully dynamic painting by Ophelia Pang.

But you have to start somewhere and in any case, the stencilling technique remains much the same, whatever the shapes. One of those days I will try and bounce off Ophelia’s genius with a better version of my own.

Regarding technique, this project was unsuitable for dye as you cannot print or stencil white on a darker background, and the pink would probably have been murky too.

So it had to be screen printing ink, and it was the first time I used three colours. I quite like freezer paper for my smaller stencils because you can iron this on the fabric and it seals the edges of the stencil. It peels off afterwards without leaving a residue. The freezer paper that works is the American kind sold as Reynold’s in supermarkets in the US or generic paper marketed to quilters in craft shops, not our freezer paper here in Australia, which is entirely useless for stencils.

I copied the whole bird onto the freezer paper but only cut out the section for each colour. See the stencilling of the white bodies below.

I had to do three of the stencils for each bird, one for each colour. I also had birds in different sizes, so each one had to have three stencils. Not as bad as it sounds, they are quite quick to copy and cut out. Fortunately you can re-use the freezer paper stencils over and over, so you don’t have to cut too many. This is an advantage when working with screen printing ink, as you can apply the colour, touch dry with a hairdryer for a few seconds, then peel off the stencil and do the next bird. After that you do the next colour. With dye this MO would be very precarious to impossible, as the dye needs to stay wet. You would have to do one colour, cure, dry, then do the next. It would take days, which is too much for this impatient person.

A light board helps to trace the shapes onto the freezer paper from a print. I am not game to print directly onto freezer paper with my laser printer, as I am worried the plastic side will stick to the print roller and ruin it. As we all know a new roller will cost more than a new printer and I hate the waste.

Example of light board

Once the white shapes have been stencilled, I added the black wings.

And lastly I stencilled the pink beaks and feet. I had to touch those up a bit with a brush. I didn’t bother with the eyes. Maybe I should have? I still can, but the lack of eyes hasn’t bothered me so far.

Placing each of the white pelican bodies onto the fabric was a bit tricky, because the beaks add so much to each overall bird shape and it is hard to achieve a nice even scattering of birds. But nobody but me is going to notice, so I wont even mention it. 🙂

Two more shots after the top was worn for a day. The linen was soaked in soda ash and is quite drapey, with less wrinkling than you would expect. The first photo is the back, where I have been leaning against the back of chairs and possibly perspiring a bit too, but it is still not too bad.

The second shot is the front. A little wrinkled from the seat belt, but I would be happy to wear this again without ironing. I don’t think it will get any worse wearing a the second time. Shock revelation: I use deodorant and don’t wash loose tops every time I wear them if they are not dirty or smelly. Easier on the planet as well as on me.

Stencilling notes

  • 100% linen in light grey (Ikea curtain), soaked in soda ash and dried, left for 2 weeks before printing.
  • Permaset screen printing ink in white and black. The pink is white ink with a small amount of red acrylic paint.
  • Freezer paper stencils
  • Heat set with iron and in dryer.