In past day jobs, I’ve run blogs for big online companies. Blogs that are listed in Google News; blogs that attract tens of thousands of visitors a day; blogs that get commended in newspapers.
I knew about search engine optimisation. I knew the rules of web writing. I knew all about sticky content. I knew the importance of social media for promoting your blog…
And then I started writing this blog and none of it really seemed to apply.
What was the point of going all out on optimising every single post, when it might be something I was only writing about once and was hardly central to my overall blog?
I didn’t like the look of my web accessible boring factual, descriptive titles – they weren’t inspirational, they wouldn’t make me want to read the articles (even if they were clear and easy to understand).
I felt a bit exposed starting on a really personal project, when I first began, and I didn’t want to promote it on Facebook or Twitter where all my friends could see it and judge. And, worst of all, I simply did not want to write short articles in short sentences and short paragraphs, with lots of white space on the page.
When it came to writing a blog of my own, I just couldn’t see the point in doing it if I wasn’t writing what I wanted to. I’m a waffler. An inveterate burbler. A serious fan of parentheses (perhaps an addict even…) Trying to write my own thoughts in a way that wasn’t natural to me just wasn’t that fun.
What’s more, when I started to pay closer attention to the blogs that I enjoyed reading myself, I saw that many of these broke all the blog rules too.
So I decided that since this was my own time, I might as well do what I want to do, not what know I should do.
I wouldn’t say I have a million readers now (because I don’t), where I used to when I wrote the travel blog for my old website, but I have seen my readership slowly and steadily increase.
But most importantly, while it’s obviously nice to have people reading your blog posts, I enjoy writing them.
So, the main thing I’ve learnt about blogging: don’t worry about any of the rules. Sure, it helps to have nice photos and clear headlines and good social media promotion and all that. But it’s most important to just write what you want to write, the way you want to write it. Somewhere, out there across the ether, there’ll be someone who wants to read exactly that.
Things I’ve learnt is an occasional series, where I talk about stuff I’ve picked up while trying to set up a new business of printed fabrics. I’m hoping that the information in these posts might be informative / interesting / amusing to anyone else setting up their own business.
Screen printing was the very first thing I wrote on my Things to Learn list, that lengthy tome of everything I need to do to get this fabric business started.
I want to print onto T-shirts, babygrows, bags, cushions… …you know, the usual old things. But I didn’t really have a clue how to go about it.
So, I was pretty excited as I went off to my first screen printing class a few weeks back. Excited and a little trepidatious too. I had a horrible feeling I was going to be the least “arty” person there. That everyone would turn up with amazing intricate images they’d drawn themselves and poke fun at me (or at the very least sneer behind my back) for my envelope stuffed full with vintage images that I had not lovingly drawn by hand, but downloaded from the internet.
Of course, I needn’t have worried. I was, most definitely, without a shadow of a doubt the least arty person there. In fact, I was the only person there who wasn’t a fine art student. (Okay, okay, it was only a class of two, but the tutor was also a fine art student as was the, erm, fine art student who was there using the studio…)
But, not a single one of them laughed at me. I know! It’s almost as if I’m not still at school anymore, but a functioning adult in the real world, isn’t it?
The screen printing process was actually a little more complicated than I was expecting. And used a lot of really big, impressive swanky machines, that I couldn’t possibly hope to get into my spare bedroom. (Yeah, that had been the plan before I set off…)
I’m certainly not about to give you a step-by-step of how to screen print, but this is what I did on the day…
First we drew out our designs on acetate.
This is mine:
I traced out a fish image I got from Old Book Illustrations and the F is from a free downloadable font called Coffee Tin. (I’d printed them out beforehand onto normal A4, but actually if I’d had some tracing paper that I could load into a printer, that would have been the easiest way of doing it…)
Screen printing works by building up layers of different colours on top of each other. The prints I made just had two colours.
For my base layer, I used red. So when it came to printing this layer, I just needed the block outlines of my design.
For the top layer, I used black ink. This was where the detail of the images were really going to show and this was more the more intricate design.
We then needed to get these designs onto the silk screen.
I’ve got no photos of this part, but a very brief overview is that we put emulsion on a screen, which, when exposed to light, sets hard. Our designs, put onto the top of the screens, prevent that part of the emulsion reaching the light, so you can wash off that area and the ink goes through later.
Clear as mud? Thought so.
Anyhoo, the end result is a screen through which you can push paint in certain parts.
It was amazingly good fun doing the actual printing and I got a bit carried away and made ten copies of my design. I’m not actually planning on using this on paper (otherwise I would have given it a background colour too) but I thought about doing an alphabet like this on the front of babygrows…
So this was the finished result:
I’m really pleased with the way the F turned out. The way the paint’s come through the design looks pleasingly aged…
The fish was less successful, however. The middle fins have turned out really well. The tail is pretty good too:
But the face hasn’t taken as much detail as I would have hoped, nor has the cross hatching on the main part of his body.
See, this is how the face looked on my transfer paper:
Compared to the end result:
This is because I didn’t go over the black lines on the tracing paper enough times, so they’ve let a bit of light get through when we were exposing the screens. I’ve still got the design though, so I plan on going over a little more and trying again.
Still, imperfections aside, it’s not a bad first attempt is it?
My main disappointment was that the open access studio is going to cost a lot more than I had hoped.
However, and hold onto your hats people, because here is the first really useful bit of info I’m sharing in this post… …I have found an absolutely brilliant tutorial on screen printing at home from the ever-amusing blog The Art of Doing Stuff.
I need to look into buying the supplies, but it might be, it just might be, that I could set it all up in my spare bedroom after all.
If screen printing sounds like a bit too much (and I certainly haven’t made it sound simple, have I?!) then have a go at ironing printed images onto fabric. It’s really, really simple. See my step by step tutorial and take a look at a few more tips and hints for getting a really great result. (The last one was another Things I’ve Learnt post!)
There are various other projects and ideas I’ve made with vintage images in the vintage images category, if you feel like a browse…
And this lovely fish (a smelt, apparently) shows up again in the fabric designs I made on Spoonflower.
You can head over to my tutorials page for more projects to make.
My only other article sharing things I’ve learnt was about photography. But I warn you in advance, the main point is that I’ve not learnt enough… Ah well. One day.
Small print disclaimer:
The title of this post is a little misleading. The premise for my things I’ve learnt series, is that I discuss things I have genuinely learnt as I embark on this whole fabric business project. Learnt to the point – dare I say it – of being good at them.
It was a great idea when I first thought of it, right back at the very beginning of this blog. I would share information and tips that would hopefully be useful to others, all about setting up a craft business.
But, of the 62 blog posts I’ve written since then, only two of them have been for this series. Why? Because I haven’t yet learnt that much, ha ha.
So I realised that if I’m going to wait until I’m properly really, really good at things, this series is never going to get going.
That, then, is the disclaimer: I have only “learnt” screen printing to the point that I technically know how it works and I have made one, just one, print. I am certainly not an expert. Not even an amateur yet, really. Definitely not “good”… Just someone who has tried it out.
I started this blog with all the best intentions. As I wrote, in my first ever post four months ago, I was planning on “building a fabric empire” – creating new fabric designs, making beautiful things from the newly-printed fabric and, oh yes, actually starting up a business to sell said fabrics and gorgeous artefacts. And this blog had a high purpose: I was going to record all my trials and tribulations along the way in these pages…
I had visions of small business people around the world (that’s people from small businesses, not business people who are small) chatting in my comments sections, sharing information about how they’d mastered marketing their business, or selling on Etsy, or turning their initial ideas into business plans. Oh, it was going to be great! And inspirational, for me and for all my readers (short or otherwise).
What can I say? It’s been winter, I’ve not felt like leaving the sofa for too long.
However, in my articles over the past four months there has arguably been one post that actually included something I might do in this nascent company and that was my tutorial for transferring printed images onto fabric.
Though I didn’t explicitly state it in the original article, I was toying with this method for getting images onto knit fabrics like T-shirts as a possible venture for the company. I love the idea of producing a range of T-shirts or baby-grows with attractive designs printed onto the front (it is ridiculously hard, I think, to find nice baby-grows, especially…)
So when I stumbled across the possibility of just printing out a computer image onto some paper and then ironing it on to your fabric it seemed just too good to be true. Which, of course, it was.
That’s not to say this isn’t a brilliant thing to do at home, but it definitely doesn’t create an end result with durability that would be good enough to sell for cold hard cash. (In my opinion, anyway…)
That said, I am still a bit obsessed with the process and I made quite a few T-shirts for friends’ children as Christmas presents, as well as finishing off another one for my partner.
So I thought I might share a few extra pointers from my experience using transfer paper for putting images onto T-shirts (and kid myself, at the same time, that I’m getting that one little bit closer to starting the dratted fabric business of my dreams).
If you’d like a step-by-step tutorial, return to my original post as well.
This is the most crucial part, as the finished product will only look as nice as the image you’ve selected. So:
If you’re looking for copyright-free images, there are some amazing sites on the internet. My three favourites, which I return to time and again, are the Graphics Fairy, which has all sorts of vintage ephemera, cleaned up and ready to use, the New York Public Library Digital Gallery, particularly good for scientific stuff, I’ve found, like old drawings of animals and so on, and Clip Art Etc, which has loads of black and white illustrations of just about anything you can think of.
Images that will work best with transfer paper are ones that have no “blank space” in them. You want to choose whole pictures, or silhouettes you can cut out, rather than line drawings. Any blank space shows up as a shiny bit on your finished fabric. (See my original post for an example of what I mean…)
Print out the image onto plain paper first and put it onto your T-shirt. Make sure the colours work together. Sounds obvious, I know, but it makes life easier to realise it doesn’t work at this point, rather than once you’ve ironed it on.
Preparing the images
The easiest shape of image to use is a square, to make it easiest to cut, but don’t be put off doing a more complicated shape.
Silhouettes can look really great, but just take care with the cutting stage. It’s easiest to use a scalpel on a special surface (such as self-healing board for sewing). If in doubt, cut slightly within your silhouette, rather than outside. Anything you have left outside the outline will show up shiny and clear and won’t look so great.
Before you start with the iron, check a few times that the image is in the right place. Is it horizontal? Is it positioned where you want it? Again, this sounds obvious, but I’ve often got a bit carried away and wanted to start the exciting part, only to realise afterwards I haven’t put the picture in the optimum place…
Using the transfer paper
The transfer paper I’ve used has worked in slightly different ways so be sure you check the correct method first.
For images that are being ironed onto light fabrics, you will need to reverse the picture first (choose mirror image on your printer setting), as you put the image face down and iron it on from there.
For images that are being ironed onto dark fabric, you print it out as is, remove the backing (rather than the front) of the paper and iron it straight on. Double check before you print, so you don’t end up with writing the wrong way round…
Not all transfer papers are equal. Shop around, check reviews, try out a few different brands to settle on one that gives the finish you’re happiest with.
I’ve not found that my T-shirts wash as well as I would like. It’s best to put them inside out in the washing machine and wash them on a lower heat.
Don’t iron the image again, as it will start to come off and stick to everything. Yeah. I tried.
And I think that covers it! If you’ve used this method of transferring images onto fabric, do drop me a comment and let me know if there are other tips you think I’ve missed off.
If you share my love of vintage images and are looking for a different project that uses them, take a look at my homemade paperweight tutorial. For more images, including the ones I’ve used for these T-shirts, check out my Pinterest board Free graphics.
Things I’ve learnt is an occasional series, where I talk about stuff I’ve picked up while trying to set up a new business of printed fabrics. I’m hoping that the information in these posts might be informative / interesting / amusing to anyone else setting up their own craft business. If you’ve any suggestions for other topics for this series, or any thoughts on what I’ve written about, please do post a comment at the end of the piece…
The short version of this post would be: not enough.
If you’ve seen any of my other blog posts (if not, why not? Go and take a look now…) you’ll have seen I am far from the most proficient photographer. I was asking my other half what he thought of my blog photos just last night and he said “I love the fact you can tell they’re not marketing shots…” Which, a little passive-aggressive questioning later, led to him confessing that, as I feared, my photos all look a bit amateur.
I got my lovely Canon DSLR about a year ago now and I’m still mastering all of its functions. I’m definitely better but I still spend huge chunks of time getting frustrated that I can see a lovely photo in front of me, but when I shoot it the scene turns a different colour, or looks washed out, or I failed to notice a huge wire trailing across the foreground.
I took a short camera course back in Hong Kong which helped me master the basics, but I’m really keen to do another one soon, ideally in macro photography, so I can take better product and food photos to share with you lovely readers. The London School of Photography has a really appealing selection.
So, once I have actually learnt something useful about photography I promise I’ll come back and share it with you. In the meantime, I thought I’d just show you some of my best shots from my Hong Kong photo course. These are the ones I’m quite proud of. I show some promise, right?!
By the way, to see what I aspire to, check out the gorgeous photos on the blog of my real life friends at Nimble Fingers & Steady Eyebrows and my in-no-way-real-life-friend-but-someone-I-think-looks-super-cool-from-reading-her-blog-all-the-time Delia Creates.
And if you too are a frustrated budding photographer like me, check out my Photography board on Pinterest for loads of hints and tips from people who know what they’re doing.
Things I’ve learnt is an occasional series, where I talk about stuff I’ve picked up while trying to set up a new business of printed fabrics. I’m hoping that the information in these posts might be informative / interesting / amusing to anyone else setting up their own business. If you’ve any suggestions for other topics for this series, or any thoughts on what I’ve written about, please do post a comment at the end of the piece…