The Art of Making: Hand-screen Printing

Posted by: Nellie Laskow

Like hand dyeing, hand-screen printing has been part of our process at Rebecca Atwood Designs since the very beginning. Rebecca printed some of the pillows in her first collection in her Brooklyn apartment.

What makes a simple one-color pattern sing comes down to the details. The base fabric, the color, and how it’s printed are all equally important. A bit of texture softens a pattern and when it’s printed with dye the color binds to the fiber instead of sitting on top like it does with pigment. Hand-done processes make a difference, even if you can’t quite put your finger one what makes it special. We believe in using our hands whenever possible.

Screen printing means pushing dye over a screen where ink is impenetrable in certain areas to transfer a design. It is best used for patterns that are simple with few colors. When Rebecca designs a pattern to be screen printed she thinks about how it will translate on the fabric. As with most of her designs, the screen-printed fabrics begin in her sketchbook. Here she focuses on simplicity. Beautiful shapes and marks that have an effortless quality.

After screen printing pillows for her first collection, Rebecca got in touch with our current screen printers in Rhode Island and a lasting partnership began. Our printers are a family owned and operated mill that has been around for over 75 years. They are truly craftsmen when it comes to hand-screen printing, with the ability to print and finish fabrics in many ways. Our printers can print with dye as well as ink. Dye lasts longer because it binds with fabric instead of sitting on top like ink, which can wear off over time.  On top of this, it leaves a softer hand feel. There are times we’ve used ink when we want an opaque print that you can feel on the fabric—like our Spots pattern in White on Natural.  While printing with ink is straightforward (what you see is what you get), dye requires a finishing process and there can be more color variation.


To begin fabric is rolled out on long 50 yard tables. A large screen and squeegee, operated by two people, is used to transfer the dye across the screen onto the fabric. This method of table or flat bed printing uses hand pressure as opposed to machine pressure which results in slight variations throughout the fabrics. They print every other repeat down the long table to allow for drying time, then they’ll go back and print again in between the repeat. Sometimes, as with our Waves pattern, we use two screens for what could be a 1-color print to mimic a bleeding quality similar to the results of Rebecca’s early printing techniques.

Rebecca Atwood Spots

As you can tell, it takes a lot of careful and time-consuming work to hand print even just one yard of our screen-printed fabrics. Because it is done by hand it will be slightly different and unique each time.

Our friend Peter Fasano has said “It’s sort of like cooking – the recipe is the same but it’s going to vary a little each time.” We couldn’t agree more--it's what makes it compelling each time. 

We hope you enjoyed hearing about our screen printing process. See more about how we produce our products on our The Art of Making series on The Fold.

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