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Breakdown Screen Printing Party

Breakdown Screen Printing Party

Breakdown screen printing has been around in the surface design world for a while now. I have discussed it on my personal blog but thought everyone here might be interested in the process too. My local group got together yesterday for another session of breakdown screen printing.

Print Paste Powder

What you need to start is some print paste. Essentially, you use this to thicken fiber reactive dyes and you screen print with the thickened dyes. It only takes about a quarter cup of print paste powder to add to 2 cups of water. We used 4 cups of print paste for our “party”.

Making Print Paste

You can just stir the print paste into the water but it works really well if you use a blender because otherwise it gets lumpy. As Lyn told me, you don’t want to use the same blender that you make milkshakes in – use a blender that is just used for the studio.

Black Dye Added to Print Paste

Then you add dye powder to the print paste. This one has black dye in it. Then you squeegee some thickened dye on to the screen while you have the screen on something textured. You can use things like bubble wrap, texture plates or anything relatively flat that will press against the screen and give it different textures.

Screen with Dried Black Print Paste

This is one of the screens where I used the black dye over texture plates. The textured part that sticks up a bit, keeps the thickened dye from filling that part of the screen.

Close Up Dye Texture

So you get a textured screen that looks like this. Then you let the screen dry completely. I always do this step about a week ahead of time.

Carole and Louise

Here is Carole and Louise getting ready to print a screen. You can use clear print paste (with soda ash added) or you can use a colored print paste where you have added dye. The dried dye in the screen starts breaking down as you apply the print paste and you never know how it will turn out.

Screening with Print Paste

Louise is adding clear print paste and a little bit of blue print paste. She is using a squeegee to force it through the screen.

Louise's Screen

Using the fiber reactive dyes, you can print on cotton fabric or silk. The added soda ash causes the dye to set in the fabric. This screen that Louise is using is one she made using strips of Pellon Vinyl Fuse Matte. She fused the strips to the organza and then added green print paste to the screen.

Louise's Screen on Paper

This is one of my sketchbook pages that I printed with Louise’s screen.

Black Dyed Screen with Circles

Here is another screen that has black dye.

Circles Breakdown Screened

And the resulting print on yellow fabric. Each print is different from the next one as the dried print paste continues to break down. Bunny printed this one.

Breakdown Print on Paper


Here’s a sketchbook page printed from the same screen.



Embroidery Hoop with Organza

This is a screen that I made from a 6″ embroidery hoop, nylon organza and duct tape.

Circle Breakdowns

This is the print from the circle screen above. I used a fabric that was already dyed and clear print paste with this one.

Black and Green Dyed Screen

Here’s another screen that I mixed black and green dye and let it dry.

Breakdown Screen Printed Fabric

This isn’t a very good photo but here’s a portion of the printed cloth from the screen above.

Green Dyed Screen

This is another screen that I used green print paste and let it dry. The squiggly bits are just stains from a previous experiment with blue glue.

Orange Breakdown PrintThis is the resultant 4-5 prints from the green screen above. The green barely shows at all and just mixed in with the orange print paste. Most of my fabrics already had prior printing on them from previous experiments. Most were quite ugly so I thought I would try to improve them.

Another Breakdown Print on Paper

This is another sketchbook page from a screen that was mostly broken down. I did several of these and they reminded me of photo negatives.

Screening with Paper Scraps

This piece of fabric was printed over paper scraps out of a paper shredder. You just sprinkle the shredded paper over the fabric and then use a blank screen and screen colored print paste through it. You keep moving the screen and some of the paper bits move with the screen. These always look different after being washed out because there are still bits of paper stuck all over it. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get a photo of the finished fabric but it belongs to Carole so if I remember…

I have printed on wool before with this technique. You just need to use acid dyes and vinegar in place of the fiber reactive dyes and soda ash. You do have to steam the pieces afterwards but the process works well. Once I get these fabric and papers rinsed, I will post them on the forum. You do lose some color but they are always one of a kind prints. Breakdown screen printing is a fun process, messy but fun!


Edit: See final results here.



Ice Dyeing – A Quick How To

Ice Dyeing – A Quick How To

My local fiber art group did some ice dyeing yesterday and I thought you might like to try it. It’s a simple process, doesn’t take long and gets great results.



The supplies needed are ice, cotton or silk fabrics, fiber reactive dye powders, soda ash, water, a container for the soda ash liquid, a container about gallon (3785 grams) sized to dye in, dust mask, gloves and a spoon to apply dyes. I have not tried this method with acid dyes but it would probably work. You would just need to steam the fabric before rinsing it out.

The first step is to mix 1 cup of soda ash with a gallon of water, stir until dissolved. Place all your fabric in the soda ash water and soak for at least 30 minutes. Take your gallon container, glass jars work really well for this, and place a layer of ice on the bottom of the jar. Put one piece of fabric on top of the ice and just squash it down into the jar. Put more ice on top of the fabric. With your gloves and dust mask on, sprinkle about 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of dye powder over the ice. We used 2-3 colors per layer.

ice dyeing 4


Place another piece of fabric on top of the dye powder layer. Put more ice on top of that fabric and sprinkle more dye powder on top. Keep layering fabric, ice and dye powder until the jar is full. I used reds, blues and blacks in the jar seen in the photo above. You can use any colors that you wish.

ice dyeing 3


You can see Carole layering her fabric, ice and dye powders.

ice dyeing 2


Bunny used a large dye pot to work in and it worked just as well as the glass jars. Plus it holds more fabric so you could do larger pieces easily this way.

ice dyeing 7


Once your jar is filled to the top, do a last layer of ice and dye powder and then close with a lid. If you don’t have a lid, use plastic wrap over the top. Then set the container aside for 24 hours. The ice will melt and the dye powders will mix with the melting ice and dye the fabric with fantastic patterns.



Here are my two jars after melting for 24 hours. The hardest part is not disturbing the fabric. Pour out the excess dye liquid and then rinse the fabric. I rinsed three times in cold water in the sink and then put the fabric in the washing machine with a small amount of Synthropol and washed with a regular wash cycle. Then iron the fabric. 



This is one of the pieces of fabric that was at the very bottom of the red and blue glass jar. It’s very dark but I think it will be really nice with stitching using a light-colored thread on top.



I used a variety of small pieces of cotton of various weights that I had handy. 

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAThis is 90# cheesecloth and this is just a small portion of it. It dyed beautifully. You could also put cotton thread in the dyeing jar but I didn’t have any white thread to try. You can also over dye fabrics this way so if you have a fabric that you don’t particularly like, try over dyeing it with this method.



I loved this one. It was on the very top of the red/blue jar.



This was some cotton muslin that was stitched together prior to dyeing. It reminds me of sunlight through the tree tops.



The ice melting really gets different reactions of the dye with the fabric than you can get in other methods. This works with snow too but for those of you that rarely get snow, ice is simple and gives good results.

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAThe colors will be lighter if you use less dye powder and darker with more dye powder. You can mix a variety of colors or not. The results will always be different and you won’t be able to duplicate your results but that to me is the best thing about this method. Each piece of fabric will be unique. I didn’t have any silk but this will work with silk as well. I think this method would be really good to use on silk that will then be nuno felted. 

If you try out ice dyeing, please post photos on the forum or on our Flickr group, we’d love to see how it worked for you.



Dyeing for Class

Dyeing for Class

This weekend and next I am teaching nuno felt scarves. I had to dye silk for bases and wool so there would be a good variety to work with.

For the scarves I used the scrunch method in mason jars. To do this you use fiber reactive dyes. You have to pack you scarf blanks tightly into a container. Next use 2 colours, pouring one then the other over the silk so that it is covered. After 10 min to an hour you pour the sodium carbonate over the whole thing.  Then leave it for at least an hour but really can leave it till tomorrow if you need to. When you rinse you get great mixed patterns. For complete instructions go to Paula Burch’s amazing dye site.

scarves 1 scarves 2 scarves 3

I also renewed dyed wool supply. I spent 2 days with a large pot dying in 100 gram lots.  this is two thirds. of the wool I split one third off each ball and fluffed them out for the students to use.

dyed wool

There are a couple of colours that are from using up the dye left in the pot after doing a colour. I hope my student like the colours I picked.

Fiber Reactive vs Acid Dyes

Fiber Reactive vs Acid Dyes

I have always used acid dyes for wool and silk because the results are good, the colors are strong and the dye is fairly light and wash fast. Since I need to use fiber reactive dyes for my stitch class, I decided to see if fiber reactive dyes (Procion MX) would work on wool.

In class, while we were dyeing cotton threads, I decided to try some wool thread. With fiber reactive dye, you use soda ash as a fixative. So that’s what I used on the wool thread. The results were very disappointing. The colors didn’t hold at all and the resultant thread was not the color expected at all especially with blue dye.

Ann then suggested that I try using an acid as the fixative with the fiber reactive dyes. So my next trial was wool thread soaked in vinegar water and then dyed. These results were much better. Still not as strong as the acid dyes but the colors held much better, even the blue.

I discussed my findings with Gail Harker (my stitch class instructor) and she questioned whether these results would be light and wash fast. So more experiments to try. I decided to take the thread I had already dyed and put it outside in the sun and rain for a month and see what happened. The photo above shows the results. The threads on the left are the control threads which I did not put outside. The threads on the right were exposed to rain, weather and sunlight for one month. I just attached them to a card and stapled them to my picnic table outside which is in full sun all day.

The top three threads are wool dyed with Procion Mx and vinegar. The second set of three are wool dyed with acid dyes and vinegar. The third set of threads (only two) were wool dyed with Procion MX and soda ash. The last set of threads is cotton dyed with Procion MX and soda ash.

I’m not sure you can see this in the photo but the wool threads dyed with Procion and vinegar faded a moderate amount. The acid dyed wool held very well and had little fading. The wool dyed with Procion and soda ash faded significantly from the color that was already really off from the original dye color. The cotton threads faded slightly.

I also sent an e-mail to the good people at Dharma Trading to see if they had some input about the use of fiber reactive dyes with wool. I learned a lot from Sharon’s (Dharma) response. She said that fiber reactive dyes were originally developed to dye wool fabric in the 1950’s. The manufacturers were disappointed with the results but accidentally discovered how well they dyed plant fibers and happily marketed the fiber reactive dyes for that use.

Sharon also said that the blue fiber reactive dyes do not strike well on wool or silk and tends to come out half strength or less. Therefore, any mixtures with blue dye will have a shift in color for example, purple may come out magenta and black shifts to brown or maroon. Blue is also the slowest dye to strike on cotton or other plant based fibers.

Sharon recommended to treat the fiber reactive dyes just like acid dyes when dying wool Therefore, use acid as your fixative such as vinegar or acetic acid and steam the fiber for 30 minutes to help fix the dyes. She also states that rinsing with higher temperature water will rinse more of the dye out so you will always need to wash/rinse the dyed wool with cool water or dry clean it. She also reports that the fiber reactive dyes will not exhaust like the acid dyes so there will be more fiber reactive dye rinsed out at the end of the dyeing process than with acid dyes.

My next experiment will be with fiber reactive dyes, acid and heat. I’ll see if that helps set the dyes in the wool better than just the acid. The nice thing about fiber reactive dyes is that you don’t have to set the dye with heat in plant fibers. But if I only had to have one type of dye, that would be better so I’ll let you know the results the next time I dye.

I’d love to hear about any experiments you’ve done using fiber reactive dyes and wool and see photos of your results. Feel free to post them on Flickr or join us on the forum and start a discussion about dyeing results.

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