Printing on t-shirts

In previous posts I’ve described different printing methods on fabric. My main faves being plain weave cottons for quilting and linen for tea towels. Different textures and weaves produce different prints. I also like to print on t-shirts which is quite different again.

T-shirts are made from a knit fabric unlike the fabric I usually print on which is woven. Knit fabric is generally made up of a single yarn, looped continuously (interloped or knitted) and woven fabric usually uses multiple yarns to cross each other, interlacing two or more threads at right angles to one another. Knits stretch and generally won’t fray – one way to easily tell them apart!

So, with printing on t-shirts, a little care is needed to prevent too much stretch and thus distorting the print. Smoothing the t-shirt vertically helps with this.

Due to the nature of the fabric being ‘knitted’ unevenness can also result with the ink being heavier in parts as the fabric absorbs the ink. I’ve found that placing a piece of blockout curtain lining inside the t-shirt before printing actually keeps the surface from stretching too much. I imagine the thicker surface holds it in place and the rubbery side facing the back also prevents any ink coming through to the other side of the t-shirt.

For these t-shirt prints I used papercut letters as a mask, creating a negative image by blocking the ink from being applied to the surface (the opposite of a stencil). This project was for a lady who’d seen some of my stencil and mask prints in the studio window. Now there will be four happy little girls next play day at Granny’s!

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