visit the


breakdown screen printing

sign my




fabric dyeing


studio and


gallery of

past work

I rarely take classes or workshops, but a few years ago while attending the SDA Conference I took a workshop with Claire Benn, from England. It was in something called breakdown silkscreen printing. Silkscreen has never appealed to me much; it seems too hard-edged. But this technique is a whole different kettle of fish!

First, I paint (very) thickened dye on a silkscreen, and let that dry. (Note that this is a multi-day process.) Then I squeeze thickened dye through the prepared screen. Because the colors I put on the screen and the ones I'm pushing through are all water-based, the stuff on the screen dissolves as I go along, starting to deposit itself on the cloth along with what I'm putting through the screen. As a result, each pull of the screen produces a different image. This is all the more dramatic as I squeeze through multiple colors.

An alternative to simply painting on the screen is to spread a layer of very thick dye over the whole screen, and then press objects into the goop. After the screen is dry, I remove the objects which have left patterns in the screen's design. The first few pulls of new dye will be mostly masked by what's on the screen, but eventually more and more color will come through. The fabric on the right was printed using a screen that had been prepared in this way, pressing a piece of large bubble wrap into the thick dye on the screen.


The two pieces to the left and the one above are all done by painting or dripping the thickened dye on the screen, and then squeegeeing more color through.


For the piece on the left, I prepared the screen with a couple different colors, simply dripping the thickened dye on and letting it dry. When I printed through the screen, I used no dye, but just the thickened clear goop (sodium alginate mixed with water) which is usually the medium in which the dyes are suspended. After printing through the screen, I scraped the cloth with a credit card, mixing and spreading the bits of color deposited by the screen.

And then there's the piece on the right, which got progressively uglier as I worked on it, until I had a deep brown mess that seemed irredeemable. But there's always hope...


In this case, I prepared a screen with thickened goop (no dye), and when it was dry I squeezed through a thickened discharge agent (like bleach or thiox, but in this case I think we used Formosul). Discharging the ugly brown brought all sorts of wonderful colors shining through!


The patterning is a result of dripping the thickener on in dots, and making lines into which I pressed round flattened glass "stones" purchased at a florist's shop.


go back to main fabrics page