Hope you’ve all enjoyed a relaxing and creative weekend. Because I’m so busy at the moment speaking to students and working on DMTV during the week, I’m finding that weekends are the best time to print. Today I’ve finished a couple of Bespoke orders that have to be delivered this week and also printed some Photo Textures for the Fingerprint online store. Last time I blogged I talked you through the first part of the digital print process. Once the fabric is printed there’s still lots to do. As we print with reactive dyes, we have to fix, rinse, wash and iron the fabrics before they’re ready to use.
The reactive dyes are fixed to the fabric by steaming. Here you can see the printed roll of fabric that’s been cut from the printer. I’m re-rolling it between layers of a plain cotton fabric. The purpose of this cloth is to prevent printed fabric from touching printed fabric during steaming and also to absorb any loose dye that may otherwise transfer to the print fabric.
Every so often we pin to ensure that the fabrics don’t slip from the roll during steaming.
The rolling continues until all of the printed fabric is sandwiched between plain cloth. With a few final pins to hold everything in place it ends up looking like this:
The rolled fabric sandwich is then steamed for the appropriate time for the dyes to fix permanently to the fabric. During this step, the colours become even more intense and saturated than they appeared before. As soon as the steaming is done, we can unroll the cloth to reveal the prints. You’ll see that when we’re printing, we fill the width with different images. If you’re considering a Be Bespoke order, then this is a great option as you can fill your fabric with images for a whole range of different projects and simply slice them apart when they arrive with you. It’s also a great option if you’re getting together with a friend to order fabric as we can print both of your images in a single job so you can share the savings.
Up until this stage we’ve had to handle the printed fabric with extreme care so as not to smudge the dyes, but now they’re fixed, the fabric can be popped into the washing machine for it’s first rinse. This is just to remove any loose dye that wasn’t fixed during steaming. When I talk to people about digital fabric printing, they sometimes think it’s a big leap from hand dyeing, but really there are a lot of parallels in the process and the way that the dyes work on the fabrics. Just as with hand dyeing the results can be unpredictable and it takes times to learn to control all of the many variables that affect the results. Just like when you hand dye with Procion MX at home, the type of fabric, the temperature and how long you leave the dyes to react all change how the fabric turns out. It’s been fun experimenting with all of this!
The machine rinse will deal with the loose dye in the fabric, but once that’s done, we also machine wash with detergent and fabric softener just to make sure. We wash the cotton fabrics at 40 degrees and the silks at 30 degrees. You’ll find that just like commercially printed fabrics you can wash Fingerprint fabrics in the machine, but obviously with lots and lots of washes and wear, just like any fabric, the colours may start to fade slightly. Once washed the fabrics are pressed. Ironing isn’t my favourite part of the process, but it’s a good opportunity to do a little quality control and make sure that every fabric is perfect before it goes into the store.
The final step is to trim away the selvedges and fold the fabrics ready to go!
I hope you’re all having a great weekend. I thought as we’ve been busy in the print room over the last few days it would be a good opportunity to tell you more about the printing process. First of all, here’s the most important thing – the printer!
It’s a wide format printer that’s specifically designed to print on fabrics. It can handle a very wide range of fabric types from fine voiles or chiffon right up to heavy canvas and velvet. This week we’ve been printing onto cotton poplin.
If you look carefully you’ll spot the plain fabric roll at the back of the machine near the floor. The fabric has already been treated with a special coating that will help with travel through the printer and be receptive to the dyes. From there it feeds up and around various tensioning guides before passing under the print head which is just behind the clear cover. Then as you can see, the printed fabric feeds out at the front and is taken up onto another roller.
As you can see, one of the most exciting aspects of digital print is that it’s possible to cover a fabric with many different designs all arranged side by side to fill the fabric. Here you can see we’re printing some butterflies and large images from the Photo Textures range. The blur that you can see just above the fabric is the print head moving from right to left across the fabric. Each part of the image is printed eight times building up the dye gradually.
I just love the level of detail and the crispness that digital printing offers. The image in the foreground of the photo above is one of my favourites we’ve done so far. It’s a gorgeous design created with a digital photograph of a hedge taken this winter. Isn’t the network of spiky shapes just great? I’m using this design and its coordinate in black in my latest series of quilts. As soon as I’ve got them past the stage of being a collection of fabrics I’ll be sure to show you how they’re taking shape!
Obviously it’s really important with any fabric printing process that the fabric remains soft. Rather than a pigment based system which sits on the surface of the fabric, we’ve chosen to run our printer using a dye based chemistry. You can see our reserve bottles of dyes in the photo above. They’re Reactive dyes which means that they make a permanent bond with the fibres. If you’ve ever done any hand dyeing then essentially, the dyes we print with work in the same way as Procion MX dyes that you use at home. When a fabric is printed with Reactive dyes then it remains just as beautifully soft and drapey as it was before. That means we can print onto even fine fabrics such as chiffon and silk georgette without any fear of stiffening the fibres. Our digitally printed fabrics are also fully washable, but more about that another time.
Once printed, the next stage is to steam the fabrics and I’ll show you how we do that next time.
Until then, hope you enjoy browsing the rest of the Fingerprint site.