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Fabulous Florence - Behind the scenes at Signature Prints

15th September, 2010
Jenny Butler
Wednesday 15th September 2010

Following on from yesterdays impressive insight into Signature Prints, today offers a rare glimpse behind the scenes of the Signature Prints workshop. It's amazing to fathom that production of this scale is still done by hand! An extra thank you to Danielle Hooker for working with Helen in putting these posts together. - Jenny x

Above - A two colour print on black velvet

We’re always very busy here behind the scenes at Signature Prints, we have a great, hard working, creative team, using traditional techniques to create our beautiful designs. Here is an insight into what we do and how we do it!

Above left is our very own Signature Prints CEO David Lennie with one of the two screens from Florence Broadhurst’s The Cranes design. The Cranes is technically very difficult to print, it’s two screens are almost impossible to align and leave large gaps between the outlines and infill, these are inaccuracies which add to it's charm. In our collection we have 520 wooden framed, original Broadhurst Hand Prints screens, we re-shoot the most popular designs onto more substantial steel framed screens to preserve these momentous originals. Above right is our production manager Boyd McCallum printing the very well known Horses Stampede on wallpaper. Broadhurst loved Mylar, a strong polyester coated paper, which is a really strong paper with a shiny finish. We are proud to still be importing Mylar from the same suppler Broadhurst used, helping to preserve the aesthetics and quality of Broadhurst’s original prints.

This is David Orford (our ex production manager, Kiwi gone home) running one of Signature Prints hugely successful workshops offering classes to the public. Lots of people are really interested in learning about traditional forms of printing and production, often as a result of the ever increasing digital age of the 21st century. There really is nothing more refreshing than to learn a new hands on skill, especially one where there is visual evidence of the maker and the care that has been put into the work.

Above is one of Florence’s delicate, original wooden screens being used to make a print. To create a print, a screen is secured into position on the table by pushing it flush against a ‘Stop’. (This is a movable metal stopper which ensures an accurate repeat). Ink is then passed across the screen with a squeegee, this forces ink through the small holes within the mesh screen. The screen is then carefully lifted from the table from right to left to ensure the ink does not smudge as the screen is being removed. One of the most important things is to clean the screen properly afterwards, this makes sure there is no ink residue that may block the mesh screen once it has dried.

Above - Carefully filed and stored original wood frame screens.

Above - This is Florence Broadhurst’s intricate Spanish Tile print being used as research and development for the Russian market. Here we experimented by using an unusual metallic ink on black velvet.

Above left is Solar, a seventies disco classic printed in repeat at the Signature Prints workshop on one of our three, 30 meter tables. In this instance Solar has been printed in charcoal and deep red, Solar is a two screen design, the third colour is a result of over laying the other tones. Above right is Ikeda being carefully printed. Ikeda is a clean and stylised, repetitive pattern of two-dimensional fans.

A view from our office over looking the workshop. Here we have three 30 meter printing tables and two 10 meter tables. The two ten meter tables in this picture are currently being used to hold the many different rolls of paper we print on. Our 30 meter tables have a slightly sticky surface enabling us to secure our fabric to the table without any creasing. When we wish to print on paper, we simply cover the table with a base cloth and secure the paper 15 cm from the edge of the table.

Our workshop gets rather chilly in the winter, we have a very similar type of workspace to that of which Florence worked in. This was a large, tin space with a high roof. As Helen O’Neill, the author of the Florence Broadhurst book (Florence Broadhurst: Her Secret and Extraordinary lives) discovered, Broadhurst used a very powerful, portable kerosene heater to keep the factory warm enough to dry the printing inks. Apparently she also talked about it as if it were alive. Florence was a very eccentric woman, she would say “Oh my lovely salamander” and “Doesn’t it keep warm?"

This is our carefully stored collection of original, wooden framed Florence Broadhurst Hand Prints. We have a very talented artist who carefully restores and repairs our Broadhurst prints to ensure we can continue to use them to a great standard, and to enable them to be used by generations to come. We are proud to have the world wide rights to this collection and with that comes great responsibility.

This deep red print and is a prime example of Broadhurst’s confidence in eye-catching modernist design. The image above shows the this design being printed in two ten meter sections on one of our 30 meter tables. To dry our prints, so that they can be rolled up quickly, to free our tables for the next job, we use four very large fans on each table to ensure that all ink is even and completely dry.

Above - The naive Cats and Mice print being printed from Florence’s Children’s bedroom range.

This image shows the design Monsterio, which is a two colour print and here it is being printed on fabric. A separate frame is needed for each colour that is in a design, these screens must all ‘register’ perfectly with each other, if any of them are a millimetre out the repeat will not be consistent or hang properly. Creating more than one screen involves breaking up the original design and creating separate images on clear sheeting, this will be exposed onto a screen using a light sensitive permanent ink.

The design in this image is also waiting for its second repeat, but already has had it’s second colour applied. We print every other section of the substrate we are using to enable the ink to dry, this is because each frame extends over the edge of the first print. If we were to print on wet or damp ink imperfections would occur and spoil the whole piece we are working on.

This is a three colour design being printed on 30 meters of fabric. Fabric screens are a lot wider than wallpaper screens, this ensures that the print covers the standard width of a roll of fabric. Printing on fabric is a two person job which involves one person standing on either side of the table. Ink is passed across the screen with a squeegee just like in wallpaper printing. Although in this case the squeegee is pushed through from person to person at a central point on the screen. Here it is really important that both persons apply the same amount of pressure onto the screen, both keep the squeegee at the same angle and follow through when passing or receiving to the other. This ensures that the print has a consistent and even coverage on both sides of the fabric.

See you tomorrow!

- Helen

Above - Artwork for Rabbits and Poodles, a two dimensional playpen of birds, turtles, dachshunds, fish, mice, cats and poodles inspired by illustrations from 1950’s children’s books.

The Design Files acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers, and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files. Please email