The Art of Making: Screen Printing

Posted by Rebecca Atwood

Screen printing has been part of our process at Rebecca Atwood Designs since the very beginning. Rebecca printed pillows for her first collection in her Brooklyn apartment. It truly makes a difference when something is done by hand, even if you can’t quite put your finger on exactly what makes it special. We believe in using our hands whenever possible.

Rebecca screen printing

Screen printing is a process in which dye is pulled over a screen where ink is penetrable in certain areas and impenetrable in others, allowing the transfer of a design onto the fabric. It is best used for patterns that are simple, with few colors. As with most of Rebecca’s designs, the screen printed fabrics begin in her sketchbook. Here she focuses on simplicity. Beautiful shapes and marks that have an effortless quality. 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. 

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 true craftsmen when it comes to screen printing by hand, with the ability to print and finish fabrics in many ways. 

Screen printing 50-yard tables

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; it is also softer to the touch. We utilize ink when we want an opaque print that you can feel texturally on the fabric. 

To begin, the base 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, resulting in slight variations throughout the fabrics (we love this). They print the entire repeating pattern first, moving 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 Dashes 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.

As you can tell, it takes a lot of careful and time-consuming work to print by hand, even for just one yard of fabric. Because it is done by humans instead of machines, the results will be slightly different and unique every time we print. Our friend Peter Fasano has said “Screen printing is 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 the designs feel fresh and alive as they come off the printing table. 

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.