The Heat Press: A Love Story

Did you know that the Textile Arts Center has a heat press? Neither did I.

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Despite the fact that this behemoth of a machine takes up a decent portion of our precious studio counter space here in Brooklyn, I spent the first few weeks of my internship totally oblivious to the existence of a heat press. When I finally noticed it, it became clear that since being donated to TAC a few months prior, the thing had not seen a lot of action yet.

At the time this wasn’t a surprise to me as the only things I could think to do with it weren’t very exciting. I vaguely recalled the process of applying tacky iron-on transfers to t-shirts, and I knew about using it as a way to heat set other projects to completion. What I didn’t consider was its potential to function on its own as a very fun and easy creative medium.

My affinity for the heat press began like all great love stories do: while completing my daily tasks as an intern at TAC. I had been asked to read and simplify the instruction manual and safety handbook for the press so that studio guests might feel inclined to explore the machine with more fervor and frequency. Lucky for me, it appeared as though a previous intern had already begun the task and had even left behind some documents regarding a variety of techniques to play around with. Foil transferring? Disperse dyeing? What are these things? I wondered. Immediately I asked my supervisor if we had a sample book at the center of any of these heat-press-friendly techniques and when we came up short, we agreed it would be an excellent undertaking.

What follows is a collection of samples that I have been working on since this whole thing started, a heat press teaser if you will. While I won’t get into the nitty gritty How-To details here (you’ll have to come to TAC for that!), I have included some basic knowledge and images with accompanying information on the presented technique and my own personal approach to it.

What you need:

1. Heat Press

2. Disperse dye, iDye Poly, or RIT synthetic dye (for disperse dyeing)

3. Synthetic fabric i.e. polyester, chiffon, faux-silk (for disperse dyeing)

4. Standard copy paper, water, paintbrushes (for disperse dyeing)

5. Plastisol or any foil specific adhesive and roll of transfer foil (for foil printing)

What you need to know:

1. The heat press is really really hot.

 

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A little bit about Disperse Dyeing…

When I found out that one could simply paint an image onto paper like they would a watercolor (but using disperse or poly dye only), let it dry, and subsequently transfer it permanently to a synthetic fabric in under 30 seconds, I literally didn’t believe it. I had to see it to believe it. Although I have now made over a dozen samples with this technique, it feels like magic every single time.

Disperse dyeing, also referred to as dye sublimation printing, is

“a printing method for transferring colors or images onto a synthetic substrate (usually a polyester, nylon or plastic). Once the ink and transfer material are in a gas state, they permeate the fibers of the substrate material. When the heat is removed from the transfer paper and substrate, the ink that has permeated the substrate fibers solidifies and is locked permanently into place in the fiber.”

(source: Jacquard Products)

It is important to note that disperse dyeing only works on synthetic fibers or fabrics that are more than 60% synthetic (i.e. chiffon, faux-silks, and polyester).

How does this translate in real life you might be wondering? Well…

 

Using RIT synthetic Dye More and iDye poly, I painted multiple sheets of copy paper entirely and allowed them to dry. Afterwards, I cut my desired shapes out of the dyed paper and placed them right side down onto the synthetic fabric. For a resist dye effect I simply placed blank paper shapes down on the fabric and the dyed paper on top of them.  Press at 300 degrees for 90 seconds and you’re done!

 

A little bit about Foil Transferring…

While the process of applying foil to fabric requires a heat press, it is a world away from the disperse dyeing process I described above and requires a complete shift in gears. The heat press isn’t just really hot- it’s dynamic too!

Foil Transfer

In the sample above, I screen printed the plastisol onto a cotton fabric. The great thing about foil transferring is that it can be done on both natural and synthetic fabrics. I allowed the glue to dry and then moved my fabric over to the heat press. I carefully placed the copper toned foil right-side-up over the fabric and let the heat press set it for 15 seconds. When it was done and cool enough to handle, I carefully peeled the foil away to reveal the neat design! Keep in mind that one doesn’t need an exposed screen to create a design for foil applications. Using a brush and the foil adhesive, one can paint an image by hand onto fabric and allow to dry (it’s important to note that most plastisol or any foil adhesive is incredibly sticky). Furthermore, this activity can be done at home with a regular iron!

I think what I’ve loved most about exploring the heat press is how playful it has enabled me to be with my art. As a weaver, there isn’t much wiggle room for errors or even happy accidents, especially not during the initial phase of making a warp and dressing the loom. There’s nothing messy about it and there isn’t a way around any of these steps. Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE to weave, but at times parts of the process can feel rigid, tedious, and even too mathematical for people who also need to color outside the lines sometimes (me).

Discovering the heat press as a medium was a game changer for me, the perfect break in my flow that I was craving. I’ve realized that there can be a beautiful sense of liberation in briefly stepping away from the artistic medium you usually practice, the thing that you “say” you “are” (i.e. “I’m a weaver” or “I’m a painter”), the thing that you may even put pressure on yourself to be successful at, and instead stepping in to something totally random. Maybe even something seemingly unexciting or “tacky.”

This concept and approach to art making in general occurred to me pre-heat press, but it is still a pretty recent revelation for me nonetheless. I wonder if I crave and allow myself these creative breaks more and more the older I get because perhaps I know subconsciously the importance of staying connected to my inner child: playful, ego-less, pressure-free, and finger painting on the walls when nobody’s looking.

You can use the heat press at the Textile Arts Center or any of our other resources by signing up for our open studio hours here or taking a class!

 

 Source: “Support: Glossary.” Jacquard Products. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 May 2016.

 

5 Comments

  1. Deborah Viscariello

    This is the second post I have enjoyed by Anna Fusco. She has a remarkable talent to inform and yet entertain, a woman who is curious AND creative. Whether it’s recycling textiles or using a heat press, she is engaged in the process while learning something about herself as an artist, and a person. WE SHOULD ALL BE “… finger painting on the walls when nobody’s looking.” Anna, write more!

  2. Dan

    Hey there, great article. Totally agree with you about the space a heat press takes up – at least I don’t live in space poor Brooklyn! It’s great to read you;re enjoying using the heat press. There are such a cool machine to use and create with.

  3. I just read “The Heat Press: A Love Story”. I would LOVE to come and do some teaching at your center. I have experimented with a variety of surface design techniques but the one that I have been using the most is disperse dye! I have been making and selling things using disperse dye and – truth be told – have been in love with my press for more than a decade!

    I could send you photos of my work and/or visit your Center and bring a bunch of things. I had a web site but took it down and will be getting a new one up soon. Meanwhile, I would be more than willing to come to Brooklyn.

    Please contact me so we can make this happen! Thanks so much!

    Miriam Jacobs

  4. I agree that heat presses take up a fair amount of space. However, we have the Cricut Easy Press, and it does a very professional job, and isn’t as big as the commercial heat press machines! It makes my projects super easy!

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