|Fabric printed with Thermofax screen.|
In February, I attended a workshop led by Maggie Weiss and sponsored by my quilt guild. We learned to print fabric using screens made by Maggie on her thermofax machine. A thermofax machine has nothing to do with contemporary faxing, or fascimile transmission, but was an early form of photocopying, predating the process perfected by Xerox.
Every public school used to have a thermofax machine, as they were used to make transparencies for overhead projectors. Today, textile and printmaking artists buy used machines and create screens. A high-contrast image, such as an ink toner photocopy, is run through the machine with a piece of Riso film. Riso film is a Japanese product composed of an emulsion bonded to a screen mesh. As the image and film are heated in the thermofax machine, the carbon-based ink of the image fuses to the emulsion of the Riso film. When the paper image is removed, the emulsion is peeled off, exposing the mesh. The film is mounted in a frame and then fabric paint can be applied with a squeegee. The image width is limited to 8 1/2", but the only limitation on length is manageability.
Maggie, who creates art textiles and quilts, has been using this process for some time, and has an instructive video about it on her website (click on the thermofax menu option.) Maggie will also make screens from your images.
|Ad for ThermoFax machine, from ebay.|
Fat quarters of plain fabric
Dishpan and rags
Spray bottle of water
2 Styrofoam trays (supermarket type)
Fat quarter-size felt
Fabric paint (I used opaque paints from Pro-Chem and Joann's)
Useful handout on image suitability
More fabric paint
Squeegees - auto body scrapers from Home Depot!
Needless to say, Maggie couldn't very well lug her Thermofax machine from suburban Chicago, so she had a selection of New England-themed, pre-made screens from which we could choose. The first screen was free and additional screens were available for purchase. Her prices are very reasonable. I chose a brig design, below. You can see the rippling where the black ink has bonded to the film after being processed in the thermofax machine.
|Brig thermofax screen, ready to frame for printing.|
The first step is to bind the edges with duct tape.
|Duct tape, thermofax and white plastic frame.|
|Duct tape binding, ready to be trimmed.|
|Taped screen next to black and white original.|
You can faintly see the image of the brig in the thermofax, now that the paper original has been removed, taking the emulsion with it. Next, we prepared our frames.
|Plastic frame, with double-sided tape at opening.|
|Tape should overlap opening just a bit.|
|Screen, with duct tape adhered to frame - ready to print!|
|From top: screen, fabric, felt and dropcloth.|
|Maggie pulling a squeegee across the inked screen.|
|Purple paint spread over screen, while rapt audience looks on.|
|My screen, printed and waiting in dishpan to be rinsed.|
The screen needs to be gently washed after every use. There was often a line at the sink in the workroom, so the dishpans came in handy while we waited our turn. With care, screens can last quite a while.
|Fabric with two impressions of brig design.|
By whatever process the screen is made, whether by more tradition serigraph processes or by thermofax, some of the challenges remain the same. It takes practice to use the correct amount of paint, and to squeegee it with the right amount of pressure while holding the squeegee at the correct angle.
|Ideal method for text.|
|Would have purchased this screen in a moment!|
|Children's workshop product - delightful!|
|Gretchen's printing at the workshop.|
|Chickadee screen ready to be printed.|
|Chickadee, with remnants of Jacquard-brand paint.|
|Fabrics printed with thermofax screens.|