What does ‘Printed by Hand’ really mean?

Cotton & Flax is a line of handmade textiles, all of which are sewn and printed by hand. I take great pride in this fact, because I am all too familiar with the long hours and specialized skills required to complete a project like this without outsourcing any part of the production. But I find that people often ask me, “What does ‘printed by hand’ really mean?” I’d love to share some insights into what hand-printing textiles is all about.

My textiles begin their lives as simple, natural fabrics, like linen or cotton, which are all prewashed. The process of designing a pattern takes a long time, as my patterns often start in my sketch book, then go through several revisions before I land on the final design. Even my pattern designs are made by hand, often using pen and ink, or a hand carved stamp which I will use to create a repeat pattern.

After I finalize a pattern design, I use a transparency of that design to create a silkscreen, which I can use to reproduce larger repeat patterns onto my fabrics. In large textile factories, these screens can be big, sometimes up to 5 feet across (you can see some in the Marimekko factory video I featured a while back).  Since I work in a small studio space, I had to get a bit creative on how to print my fabrics. I don’t print the full width of the bolt of fabric, since that would require a much larger workspace. Rather, I print smaller sections cut to the exact size of my pillows and tea towels, so there is very little (often no) waste fabric when I begin the sewing process.

The printing itself is my favorite part of the process. I have so many fond memories of printing over the years, and have come to love the small details that are unique to this process: the smell of the ink; the squeak of the silkscreen squeegee as it pulls across the screen, flooding it with ink; the subtle pop of the screen as it pulls away from the fabric after a successful ink impression has been made. I hope to share more about the details of printmaking processes soon, I hope you’ll find them as charming as I do.

But the best part of hand-printed fabric is the tactile quality it provides, and the bold opaque quality that the ink imparts on the fabric. To date, I have yet to see a piece of digitally printed fabric that can compete with a silkscreen fabric’s boldness and quality of line. Hand-printed fabric requires a level of physical labor that isn’t required of digital printmaking, but I find that the extra effort creates a striking product that is rich in tradition and history.

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About Erin Dollar

Owner, maker, and designer behind Cotton & Flax. Since 2010, she has been creating modern screenprinted home goods, as well as fine art prints on paper, from her home studio in Los Angeles, California.
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14 Responses to What does ‘Printed by Hand’ really mean?

  1. Andrea says:

    Thank you for this beautiful post. It’s so nice to see to process behind a product coming to life. I only screenprinted on paper so far. But you really inspired me to try it on fabric too!

    Cheers
    Andrea

    • erin dollar says:

      Thanks, Andrea! I’ll be sharing my favorite DIY Books about printing on fabric in a couple weeks, maybe that would be of interest as well!

  2. I love that your deep admiration for your craft shines through in this post. Thank you for sharing, I didn’t know that I wanted to know about hand printed fabric, now I want to know more!
    Carson

    • erin dollar says:

      Thanks so much, Carson! I’ll be posting more about my printing process in the next two weeks, I hope you enjoy those posts as well!

  3. Iveth says:

    You are awesome, girl.

  4. Samantha says:

    Glad I found your blog – still not quite sure how I did! :)

  5. you have very lovely designs. Where do you find the linen for the pillows and napkins?

    • erin dollar says:

      Hi Jessa! If you live in LA, you can find lots of linen like the kind I use in the fabric district, I love to shop at Michael Levine. I buy my fabric wholesale, either from a shop in the fabric district, or from a local distributor.

  6. This is such a cool post. It really makes you appreciate the little quirks and irregularities as unique and beautiful to know the print was done entirely by hand. Lovely! Thanks for the glimpse into your process!

  7. cinthya says:

    what a great post, Erin. I am in love with your patterns and your wonderful work. it’s so nice to see the process behind it all.

  8. slpstanley says:

    i’m so happy to find your blog via creature comforts….i am so interested in learning to screen print (on a small scale!) so this was timely as well as delightful…you have a new fan.

  9. Megan says:

    Thanks for sharing your process and beautiful designs. So glad to discover your blog. Any tips on first steps for someone new to textile design?
    Meg

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