In the second part of MTM’s little series on the awesome agency Designers/Makers, I interviewed Sarah Waterhouse – an amazing print designer based in Sheffield who is a part of the D/M collective. Whilst at first glance her prints may look relatively simple, once you’ve read about the process involved you will see just how much work goes into each metre of fabric. I was blown away by the time involved – I wish I had this much patience for anything.
Please can you introduce yourself and your work?
Hello, I’m Sarah a fabric designer and screen printer living in Sheffield, Yorkshire. I run a rather cramped print studio at a studio complex called Yorkshire Artspace which houses over 70 artists and craftspeople. I specialise in hand printed sustainable fabrics, all designed and printed by me. I love designing for interiors so my own range of fabrics are for soft furnishings and upholstery, I also make a range of items to compliment the fabrics such as fabrics and cushions.
I’m really impressed by your focus on working as much as possible within the UK and in an environmentally conscious manner. In your experience, how difficult/easy is it to run a company this way?
I was always determined that my business would be run in this way from the onset and when I started in 2007 it was much harder than it is now as businesses are encouraged more to be environmentally friendly. Even sourcing base cloth fabrics and inks was difficult when I started but I now have a great range of hemp and organic cotton fabrics and organic inks which means I can be as green as I possibly can be. There are also a lot of other factors to take into consideration such as reusing water, having no waste from the inks and treating all your equipment and tools well so that they last. My ultimate goal is to have all of my base cloth fabrics woven in this country.
Lampshade DIY kit – yup, you can make this yourself! £25
Can you give me a quick intro to the hand-printing process? How long does it take to print a 1m piece of fabric?
All printing starts with the set up which is the lengthiest part of the process. The fabric has to be unrolled, aligned and stuck to the printing table to make the surface as flat as possible. The screen is then chosen and placed on the table at which point a placement bolt is set on the rail of my table to mark the start position. The screen is then removed and a gauge stick with measurements is set to mark the screen repeat. We then use that gauge stick to align all the bolts down the length of the table until we have measured out enough bolts for the fabric. All of my ink colours are mixed to my own colour formulas and usually prepared in advance of the set up process, this is so we don’t have to get all the pigments out just as we’re setting up fabric. So next we give the pre mixed ink a good mix to make sure it’s got a good consistency and is ready for printing. We place the screen at the first marker and ink up the screen, the printing process can then start. We then pass the squeegee back and forth between me and my printing partner at an even rate and pressure so we get equal coverage, this is done a number of times until we’re sure of a good print. Most of my screens have repeats from around 50-80cm so to print 1 metre of fabric we have to print one screen, scrape off all the ink back into the pot (so no ink is wasted) and wash out the screen with the pressure washer and leave the screen to dry. We then repeat the whole printing process but this time at the second measuring bolt on the rail so that our second print is printed right next to our first. This process can only be achieved once the first print has dried, the same process is used for printing any length of fabric. At the end of the second print the screen is then scraped to remove all traces of ink and washed again. When printing full tables of 8 metres we print all even numbered bolts first so that no print is next door to another. We then clean up and repeat the process but this time with the odd numbered bolts when the first print run is dry.
On a typical printing day, I print about 24 – 32 metres of fabric
Are there any particular blogs, magazines, books or makers that you regularly rely on when searching for inspiration?
I read a lot of magazines and blogs, not really for inspiration as that tends to come from the outside world, but so that I know what’s happening in the world of pattern, fabric, interiors and fashion. My favourite magazine that I couldn’t do without is Selvedge and my most read blog is Print Pattern.
‘Waves’ fabric // From £21
If you were to think about a typical day in terms of percentages, what % would you spend on different activities?
My days are often very varied as I find myself printing, mixing inks, shipping orders, doing admin, sewing and much more. On a typical printing day about 50% of the day is spent printing and cleaning up from printing, that’s usually in about 6-8 print sessions throughout the day which prints about 24-32 metres of fabric. In between whilst I’m waiting for fabric and screens to dry I’m usually doing about 10% social media, 20% preparing and packing orders and about 20% admin.
What has been the a) biggest challenge and b) greatest moment so far since starting your own business?
The biggest challenge over the past few years has been having enough space in which to work. I’ve been in the studio complex I currently work in for about 5 years and I just keep moving into larger studios, unfortunately I’ve hit the biggest now and I’m still struggling for space as my table runs from wall to wall with just enough space to get around. Also as my design collection grows I need more and more space to store screens and fabrics. In the next few years I hope to be able to find a space where I can increase the size of my printing table, my ideal would be a 20 metre table.
Any advice for aspiring designer-makers?
My best advice is be prepared to work very hard and don’t give up. I work 50-60 hours a week and love every minute of it. I’ve come up against a few brick walls in the past 7 years and you just have to either find a way around them or break through them and carry on. Running your own business is not an easy thing but that’s what makes it so rewarding.
Sarah’s workspace. Love the ‘Pugs not drugs’ print