For all this talk about the possibility of a New Aesthetic in fashion – digital glitch patterns, superior digital printing, video projections on garments – there's no taking away from the fact that there's the inevitable counter-digital movement.  Digital print has come a long way with people like Mary Katrantzou and Peter Pilotto really paving the way and setting an example for vivid and brilliant prints that are almost iconic.  However in their blazing trail, they've also inspired a whole host of very poor examples of digital print by people who thought that bunging a lazily Photoshopped file through a printer on to a silk scarf was innovative.  For every fine example of digital printing, there's probably about twenty very rubbish prints that prove digital print's escalated popularity.

Gavin Insley and Mika Nash five years ago noticed a gap where traditional lo-fi screen printing could play a role within London's fashion scene.  They wanted to provide short run screenprinting for designers to try out interesting textiles techniques that involved devore, flocking, metallic foil or printing bright neon or special effects inks.  Gavin and Mika were Ravensbourne fashion graduates and went on to specialise in textiles and then became screenprint technicians.  Mika then worked  with Zandra Rhodes and Gavin became a trend forecaster.  Throughout that time, they accumulated their equipment to then start up Insley & Nash.  Initially they moved to an artist's studio in Greenwich and late last year, they found their tunnel hole in the depths of Deptford which I visited last week to see their screen printing set-up.  

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There really aren't that many screenprinters based in London that specialise in fashion and Insley & Nash are also specifically doing small runs that would service the London fashion designer community with catwalk samples.  That's what makes their portfolio of work so exciting because they can afford to be extremely experimental as exemplified here.  "We have a creative approach to the way we work and it would really ring true with designers," explains Gavin.  

In particular, they've been working with fashion students to help realise their screenprinting needs in their final collections because screenprinting equipment is slowly being fazed out at universities up and down the country, replaced by digital printing facilities.  Gavin spoke of a legendary screenprinting technician at Ravensbourne college who had to switch to becoming a digital printing technician instead, just to keep his job.  It's likely that the new generation of fashion and textiles graduates won't really get to learn and understand the process of screenprinting.

This quiet and contemplative video illustrates the hands-on joy that Gavin and Mika experience on a daily basis.  

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Still, the current crop of designers in London are definitely showing an interest in creating prints that aren't necessarily digital.  There may even be some sort of a digital backlash when suddenly their skills become in demand again.  Take J.W. Anderson's resort 2013 and menswear S/S 13 collection, which features Insley & Nash's screenprinting paint dab pattern in both solid colour and a clear foil that results in this subtle shimmer bouncing off the white silk.  

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New menswear designer Joseph Turvey, who made quite an impact with his printed face MA collection from London College of Fashion also turned to Insley & Nash for his S/S 13 collection, which features palm tree leaves that are screenprinted over his digitally printed faces.  Look closely as the leaves also disappear and fade away as the ink reacts with heat, something that Insley & Nash are super excited about designers getting into since the Hyper Global colour days of the nineties.

It's this combined prowess of digital and analogue that intrigues Gavin and Mika.  "We're not anti-digital printing.  Digital has had such a boom and that is completely understandable.  The amount of print that is happening at the moment is because it is so easy to take a photo and get it printed straight away.  Then they might be thinking 'What's the next thing we can do?' and so they might come to us and see if we can add foils, do different things and add a different texture."

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Whilst digital printing is restricted to non-stretch fabrics like silks and cottons, screenprinting has a bit more flexibility and Kit Neale's latex printed t-shirts here prove that as well as demonstrating the high intricacy of pattern that can be achieved.

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Insley & Nash have also worked with Giles Deacon for a while, providing a hand dyeing service which they've applied to feathers in a few of Giles' last collections.  Mika is a dab hand at hand dyeing and again underlines the experimental nature of this textiles duo especially when showpieces in catwalk collections are concerned.    

Giles

You can see what I mean by texture via printing as here are a few samples that they also produced for Richard Nicoll but they never made it into any final collections.  A piece of PVC printed with flocking looked quite exciting.  That's a call out to Simone Rocha there if she wants to reuse clear PVC again.  They also experimented with gradiated coloured flocking that also looked really interesting.

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Gavin and Mika took me through the process of screenprinting by first taking the screen and getting the pattern exposed on to it in an exposing unit that looked like a Mr Freeze cabinet.  Once the screen is painted with light sensitive emulsion, it's laid down onto the sheet of acetate printed with the pattern and then UV light exposes the print on to the screen.  

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The emulsion is then washed off in this wash out bay leaving the nylon mesh screen with the pattern ready for screen printing.  

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Back upstairs, I had to photograph all the fun stuff that shows us how hands-on a screen printing process is… the magic inks and potions…  

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The roils of metallic foils that can result in some brilliant effects…

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The handwhisk used to mix up inks and solutions splattered with colour.  I noticed that Gavin and Mika's set-up at the studio was actually surprisingly low-key.  "Screenprinting is lo-fi!" says Mika and Gavin as they point out the hand heaters they installed on rails to use as a dryer, the laundry racks used to dry the fabrics and then this kitchen whisk used to mix up solutions.  It goes to show that expensive equipment does not necessarily faciliate the process and tinkering with process.  

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Paint splattered aprons and workwear are fascinating all by themselves and Mika's apron here is from Japan and is one of her favourites.  

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You can just about see J.W. Anderson's resort paint dab pattern on the acetates here… 

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Gavin and Mika showed me the process of devore which is where a silk viscose is burnt through with a pattern using an aluminium sulphate solution.  The solution is spread all over the screen using the screenprinting squeegee back and ford.  Does anyone else think this is a ridulous word?  Sadly there is no other technical term for this bit of apparatus, so squeegee motion it is.   

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The fabric is then left to dry and then placed under the heat press.  The parts with the solution on it are therefore burnt through and once washed off leave behind the thinned-out silk and the parts where the solution weren't applied are raised and retain the texture of the viscose.  This is a lovely tactile technique that is especially effective with velvet where the velvet provides a more raised surface.  

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Gavin and Mika also gave me the opportunity to have a go having set up a grey cotton jersey scarf Blue Peter style.  They said I was in for a surprise and once I had perfected my back-and-forth squeegee technique and the seemingly blue ink was on and drying underneath the heat, the colour miraculously started fading away.  This was a heat reactive ink that Gavin and Mika had made up.  The possibilities are endless as you can get inks that react under different temperatures and different speeds as well as being water reactive as well.  For a performance-inspired designer such as Christopher Raeburn, these type of special effect printing techniques could be extremely effective.  Plus, I love the fact that heat reactive inks, after getting a bit of a bad rep in the nineties with the Hyper Global fad, could potentially make a comeback.   

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Unlike my crap Hyper Colour tee, these inks will survive washes and once the heat was off the scarf, the colour quickly returned.  

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We finished up the afternoon flicking through a book of Insley & Nash's samples showcasing even more possibilities that really get you excited.  I looked at the rainbow gradiated patterns, devore and metallic foiling and thought of Louise Gray and what she could do with these effects.  Mary Katrantzou could create some amazing textures with the puff effects which could add some raised surfaces to her digital print.  Brightly coloured flocking and matte coloured and clear foils for a designer like Christopher Kane would be like letting a kid loose in a candy shop.  These techniques do exist elsewhere of course but Insley & Nash's experimental and positive way of working certainly means the process of developing interesting samples would be a lot more fun and varied.  Digital printing may be dominant now but thinking of how bespoke screenprinting and photo quality prints can be combined is a mind boggling prospect, one that London's equally experimental set of designers could benefit from.   

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Comments (38)

  1. walda.m says:

    The textures, the colours, the prints all great look it.
    My blog:http://be-you-do-fashion.blogspot.co.uk/
    xoxo

  2. Annie says:

    Really interesting post, the prints are so beautiful! Fingers crossed more designers catch on to utilising Insley and Nash’s talents.

  3. EUGENIA says:

    WHAT A GOOD ARTICLE! ITS INTERESTING TO SEE HOW THIS WHOLE PRINTING WORKS, THANK YOU!
    http://diamondsandspikes.com/
    http://www.facebook.com/diamondsandspikes

  4. Rhoda says:

    i love working with prints, especially silkscreening. you can watch the print slowly come together, its such an accomplishing feeling!
    http://www.styleandshades.blogspot.com

  5. Tara says:

    This such a wonderfully informative post! I love the new wave of digital prints out there, but you are right – there are some truely terrible examples that slightly tarnish the name of digital printing.
    It’s amazing to see how much product and effort goes into creating even the smallest items and, personally, I absolutely love the word “squeegee”! Though – I have to concede – it is a tad ridiculous!
    Best Wishes,
    Tara
    http://dandelionden.blogspot.co.uk/

  6. Serdane says:

    Screenprinting is the future. I think that more and more people will like wearing those prints because flowers and all the bla bla bla of traditional prints just need to be replace by something more … Actual.
    http://www.younglington.wordpress.com

  7. NJ Scullion says:

    Brilliant post. While I love all the outfit posts, it’s great to see the blog content deepening to include information about the processes behind fashion. I have personally worked with Insley and Nash and have found them to be one of the best in their field.xx

  8. Anon says:

    If anyone interested in makeup http://www.dianamua.com/blog/

  9. Audrey says:

    Thank you so much for this post! I’m currently a fashion student and I was looking for a studio to possibly do some flocking, devore, etc. The love and care that they put into their work along with all the various techniques used is really inspiring. This is an wonderful resource and I will definitely refer to this post again.
    Also, do you happen to have any recommendations for any independent London based places that could publish a short run of lookbooks? Would love to support an independent shop rather than just using a commercial website to print. Thanks!

  10. Constance says:

    The work they are doing is unbelievable!!!

  11. sgh says:

    This was a very interesting post to read.Its nice to be inspired by fabrics, to think about the possibilities of techniques available and to know who to search for if in need for inovative screenprinting. Thanx

  12. Lovely blog :) how are u today?? Please check out my model blog in New york City & London
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  13. This is so cool! I love the process pictures and the explanations. The prints are so unique!

  14. mobb says:

    traditional printing rocks!

  15. sue says:

    I have just found you lovely blog and was delighted to see your post on hopefully a revival in the amazing art of screenprinting.
    I have been a lecturer in Textiles in Australia for the last 8 years focusing heavily on teaching my students to screen print. Unfortunately as you mentioned my uni decided this year to also no longer include screen printing on its program. A sad day as we were one of the very few colleges left teaching it. I taught in many other areas of fashion design as well and have to say I loved the screen printing the most because of seeing my students enjoy so much the creating fabric/teeshirt designs and then putting them so easily onto items. Hopefully one day we will see a return to this wonderful joyous process, cant wait!
    Sorry about the long rave but you just happened to hit on my very favourite subject.
    Mad for screen printing, Sue

  16. sagajagads says:

    Thanks for sharing this post loved it very much keep posting …mood ringcolormeanings

  17. Good writing. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed my Google News Reader..

  18. Paige says:

    Great artical! i really love screen printing and its something im going to explore more in uni! you can see some of my screen printing work on my blog!
    http://paige-eager.tumblr.com/

  19. The Provoker says:

    awwww this looks like so much fun. Yep it’s pretty much like the print studio in CSM, bet the smell was intoxicating at first when you enter right? Oh I’m doing my first ever giveaway which is an Alexander McQueen silk-chiffon skull print scarf, check it out.
    xx nathan.niche
    http://www.the-provoker.com/2012/08/alexander-mcqueen-giveaway.html
    ALEXANDER MCQUEEN GIVEAWAY
    ALEXANDER MCQUEEN GIVEAWAY

  20. Gemma Greig says:

    Dear Susie,
    I am writing to you from Intellect publishers an independent academic publisher. We have an interest in creative practice and popular culture and we are now looking to explore a fashion portfolio.
    I thought you and your readers might be excited to hear about some of the titles we have due for publication this year, in particular ‘Shanghai Street Style’, the debut book in the new street style series. This series aims to explore the relationship between culture, city and street fashion and we will be seeking talented individuals with in depth knowledge of cities with a unique/particular style to edit future volumes. With the landscape of global fashion rapidly changing, centres such as Shanghai are joining other cities such as Milan, Paris and Mumbai as fashion capitals. ‘The Critical Studies in Fashion & Beauty’ journal is the first from Intellect dedicated to the critical examination of fashion, an area of recent scholarly interest. Please see our website http://www.intellectbooks.co.uk for more information.
    I emailed you recently about these titles and to ask if you wished to receive a sample copy of ‘Critical Studies in Fashion & Beauty’. It is possible my email filtered into your junk mail. Please contact me with your preferred mailing address if you would like to receive a copy or if you have any further questions.
    With best wishes,
    Gemma Greig

  21. OMG I worked with the male model, Caleb ! I am so loving these prints x
    louana-carron.blogspot.fr

  22. Kiara Moon says:

    Its such a shame that so many schools have stopped teaching it. Im all for the advancement of technology but this is the true joy of printing where the designer can really get involved and it would be awful it was lost.
    Ive also had the pleasure of working with Insley and Nash – they are a great team and it would be great if more and more designers got back involved with screen printing. Great post Susie :)

  23. Anne-Marie says:

    Great post, very informative.
    I did a one-month internship in a screenprint worshop in Paris, it’s a fun technic, you just don’t have to be scared of getting your hands dirty :) (and handle toxic products)
    Hope to follow your adventures in a digital print studio as well, I’m curious to see how it works.

  24. Allan says:

    Great piece, as usual. I do think it’s best to think of digital printing as an additional medium and not to view it as any form of replacement to traditional screen printing methods, hence the combination ideas people are embracing that you speak of in this piece. When utilised for its advantages, digital printing is not just about taking a photograph or taking an image that would be better off screen printed for a finer finish, it is about producing images that could never be screen printed and embrace the multitude of tones digital allows for. Digital has allowed original art to be produced for print without having any limitations to the brief as is the case with screen printing. Combining art and fashion is an age old tradition; digital has been sympathetic to this and simply lifted the barriers of screen printing to give the artist pure freedom. To produce a digital collection can see a designer work through many stages in the same way they did with screen and invest not just a lot of time, but a lot of money too. Think about the time and effort to produce original art, the art worker that converts the original work into digital format, let alone digital manipulation for final layout for each design. I think the way forward is to utilise screen printing when a print is truly designed for/lends itself to the traditional method, digital printing for all its innovations physically impossible by way of screen printing and experimentation/combinations for modern development as with Insley and Nash.

  25. Kat says:

    Thanx to that post I got to know Insley & Nash and realized there are people in London who still appreciate traditional methods of printing… and without your blog I wouldn’t be working for them now! Many thanx again!

  26. Thanks for this post can you help me…. I am an artist wishing to expand my images into the ladies scarf area. I scan my artwork and then put it together on Photoshop before having the digital image produced for framing. I want to print digitally onto viscose or similar to create scarves. Ideally I am looking for somewhere in Somerset certainly as near as possible. I live in Bath my business name is Canvasbutterfly I draw and paint Butterflies, Dragonflies and bees!(I also use my photos and artwork combined).
    many thanks
    Colette

  27. ELSKcom says:

    Great to see the industry is slowly start to move many of the manufacturing steps back to the UK again…Just hope the mass market will start to appreciate remarkable products soon instead of everythin being about cutting corners and getting the cheapest product.

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  31. Daniel Bevis says:

    Gorgeous print and pattern designs…!

    I am a budding UK Graphic & T-Shirt Designer, who mainly works in digital [vectors], but would like to learn how to do screen-printing and digital press [be more hands-on in the whole process] – how do you think I should go about finding such an internship / job?

    Many thanks for any response.

    ~ Dan

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