Screenprinting in my past.


I’m just starting to print on fabric again after many years. I’ve missed it and often thought about how to find the space to print again. This has taken me back to being wistful about the years I worked at Plymouth College of Art and Design (from1985 -1991) as it was then, now just Plymouth College of Art. I took a short course there last year but found it frustrating not having the luxury of autonomy, that I had in the past.

I was almost tearful to see and use the 5 metre table I had in my print room at Wolsden Street, which was the ND Fashion Diploma annexe. I have printed hundreds of metres on that table – I was there six years and each 2nd year student printed at least 5 metres, 1st year students at least 3 metres about 30 students in all, so at least 240 metres a year, over six years, that’s around 1,040 metres of printed fabric at least as I printed the background screens to the fashion shows, held at the Theatre Royal in Plymouth and The Royal William Yard.

To think now why I ever left that work is hard to get in touch with, it wasn’t well paid and I worked very hard. The lecturer in Textile  Fashion Design was Louise Allcoat, who was the driving force behind the student’s work, her commitment to Fashion as an industry and to the students was legendary!

The rush to print so many students towards the end of their course but still allowing them enough time to make their garments out of the printed fabric in time for the fashion show in July,  was very pressurising for them and for me and I often worked many more hours than I was supposed to. There were set backs of massive importance like my darkroom, where I had a few screens drying after being coated with light sensitive photo emulsion, being exposed by students using the light-box to work on their kodatraces, when this happened it would mean I needed to strip those screens, re-stretch them, re-coat them and start again, this was at least a day’s work was lost at a very busy time.

At the same time it was part of the job to make enough photocopies of the design sheet of each student, sellotape them together to fit across the width of the screens so that the design would be printed across the whole width of the fabric. I would pin, (every couple of inches) each student’s chosen fabric the length of the print table and having produce their screen by laying the joined-up black photocopied design on the light-box and exposing the screen for the required minutes so that where the screen was protected by the design the light sensitive emulsion would not develop, so would be washed off in the next part of the process. Where the light hit the unprotected part of the screen, it would develop and be resistant to water and the water-based inks I used. Then I would hose down the screen and dry it, ready for printing.

The second year students produced at least three colour printed fabric so that was three screens that I had to produce and ensure the registration of the print fitted together perfectly. They would also produce another simpler print in a different fabric. First year student might print one or two colour prints, priority was given to second years as they were finishing their course. Each student would then spend a day with me in the print room, holding the other end of the screen as we would see their design come to life on the table.

This was achieved by measuring the length of the image on the screen, then marking that measurement on the registration bar which would be covered with masking tape anew for each student. A piece of card taped to the screen would line up with the marks on the registration bar; then the angle of the screen worked out to ensure the print was at right angles to the cloth on the table, this was done with screws on the frame of the screen adjusted so that all would print accurately. I would mix the inks (Sericol) reproducing the colours that the student had used in their design. There were several overhead heaters and once one ‘lay’ had been printed, the heaters would dry it as quickly as possible (but not dry the ink in the screen!) then the second ‘lay’ would be printed to fill in the alternate gaps – this was necessary as the screen would smudge the wet ink if the design was printed one after the other. This meant the measuring of the gap between ‘lays’ had to be very accurate other wise an under or over print would occur. This was a very scary part for me as I have to check numbers a few times at least ‘ cos I’m not good with them!

As time went by new print processes were developed such as 3D print and metallic print where the screen had to be washed out and dried between ‘lays’ as the particles in the ink easily blocked the screen if left even a short time. Each year I struggled to ensure all the student work was printed and often worked through lunch and stayed late until I was exhausted, my hand constantly covered with ink. With a new Head of Department, Irene  Brown, after Julie Jarvis who had been a wonderful HOD, came new ideas, I was doing more teaching, teachers from local schools came for two day workshops to learn how to screen print in their schools and groups of young people came for skill training.


Here are some of those young people printing their designs.

It was Irene who realised that during the time I worked one to one with each student, they very often used the time to talk about problems they were experiencing such as  homelessness, problems with parents or step parents, abuse, financial difficulties, these were National Diploma students so didn’t usually receive any financial support from their local authority and were often forced to live at home, whatever age they were or how supportive their parents were. Eileen suggested I enrol on a counselling course and over the next four years I completed an RSA Counselling in the Development of Learning course, two theory and practical Counselling Certificates, and a Diploma in Counselling Studies at Plymouth University, eventually a BA (Hons) degree through the Open University in Social Sciences.  Plymouth Art College was very supportive of this and I will always be grateful for that support. For a while I worked as a printer and as the College Counsellor. Finally I moved to the main college site and had to decide to commit to the counselling work as the demand grew involving more hours than I had available if I’d continued in the several part time jobs I was doing. I spent another twelve years working at PCAD as their counsellor and trained and supervised many counselling students during their courses. I was working four days at PCAD and one day and evenings at Dartington College of Arts, on The Dartington Hall estate which is where we now lived, as Tone was employed there as Welfare and Accommodation Officer.

Before this, my background had been teaching Art and Crafts at Kilworthy House, Tavistock, where my first husband, John was Director. It was a socio-therapeutic residential community for young people 13- 18 years old with Emotional and Behavioural Disorders. I lived and worked there from 1976-1983, then started at PCAD but was also, at first part time at Torbay Woman’s Refuge for Domestic Violence and worked as Vanessa Robertson,’s (the weaver) colourist. At the same time I was Pen Dalton’s print technician on the Art in a Social Context at Dartington College of Arts for a couple of days a week. So for a while I had several part time jobs, three days I drove in to Plymouth and two days in Totnes, where we had moved to from Ugborough. I often think how interesting it is that my work experiences came together to form the work one does! This was when Tone was a very mature student at Dartington on the four year Theatre course – I did lots of work to help with finances especially as two of my three children were also at college, Gin at Dartington, Sar at Laban, Jake soon to be at South Devon College – busy time!

Although I was only part time employed at Plymouth, it was for 52 weeks so for all the holidays I was there by my self. I spent the time cleaning screens and renewing stock, ordering paper, inks etc but one year I was approached by a designer to print fabrics for Jim Henson’s Mother Goose stories, this was for a video of around 39 short stories where Mother Goose tells her three goslings various nursery rhymes. The style of the production was based on Maxfield Parrish’s designs. He was an American painter and illustrator born in 1870, died in 1966. His work was known for its neo-classical imagery and use of saturated colour.

The fabrics I was given were beautiful, mainly silk and satin, not that easy to print on but… the designs were given to me on paper and in the size they wanted to have printed so I had to transfer them on to screens and print in the colour required. there were checks, fleur de lys, dots and other shapes in one colour prints, so fairly straight forward, after some of the student work I’d printed.

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Some of Maxfield Parrish’s brilliant illustrations and paintings that were the inspiration for the costumes in The Mother Goose Stories. I believe Maxfield Parrish was the illustrator for the original Frank Baum book of Mother Goose.


Unfortunately many of the stories have not been produced on DVD in the UK and have now been bought by The Disney Channel, so not very easy to play them here. Here are some of the stills from the videos showing glimpses of the fabrics I printed in I think 1989. You can see how Maxfield Parrish’s designs were used as inspiration for the sets.





1 thought on “Screenprinting in my past.

  1. rose cook

    That was so interesting to read, Sue, so full of your experiences and your work. What a rich time and how it informs your beautiful work now. Thank you, Rose x



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