The Pillow That Started It All - Suzanne Harrison Home
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Inspirational Pillow - Actions - by Suzanne Harrison Home

The Pillow That Started It All

So, how did this whole thing get started? Well, I guess it started with a pillow. But of course there were other things that led up to that pillow…

First, the (way) back story

I have always loved fabric. In high school I worked in a fabric store with my mom and I loved it there. I especially loved it when the sales-guys came in from New York to show us their latest and greatest. Or when “interior decorators” pulled fabrics together for their clients’ fancy houses. I always wanted to buy up all of that beautiful fabric in the store (lots of big pastel florals back then!) to make curtains for my room, or a duvet cover, or pillows, or something – anything!

Later, when I worked for “corporate America” and got frustrated with my job, I would often say, “Forget this! I’m going to quit and open a fabric store!” In fact on the day I actually did quit, my friend Jane gave me a big hug and said, “I’m so happy you’re finally going to open that fabric store!”

Well, I didn’t open a fabric store. But I did take a fabric design class that was totally fun, and I sent some of my designs to Spoonflower (an on-line store that will print your custom designs onto fabric and other materials) and then used the fabric to sew up some pillows. So cool! But expensive, and some of my designs faded quite a bit after washing. Hmmm…

So I thought: How could I print my designs cheaper and better?  That’s when I decided to try screen printing.

Octoflake Pillow

I love the Octo-flake pillow that I had custom printed at Spoonflower. Some day I’ll figure out a screen-printed version.

Getting started with silk-screening

How does one get started with silk-screening? Lucky for me there is a silk-screening studio at the Seattle Center called the Vera Project. I had taken a class there and been screen printing my Christmas cards for a few years, but it was set up more for t-shirts and paper printing, not so much for fabric. But I could use it to set up my screens, and then do the fabric printing at home. Right?

So I got some books that explained how to set up a work-space. Space is at a premium in our tiny house, so I gave away the couch that was in our back room that nobody ever sat on (although Miles argued, “Mom, you can’t get rid of that couch, that’s were Dad and I like to drink our tea sometimes!”) and now I had a work nook. Then I stole the large plywood board that was under our mattress, padded it with felt, covered it with canvas, propped it up on a small table, put it in my nook, and it was good.

This book is full of amazing information to get you started with fabric design, including screen printing.

Screen Printing and Sewing Studio Nook

This is what my studio/nook looked like when I was just starting out. Now there are at least 20 screens under the table, and that hanging plant in the window has taken over.

Deciding what to make

But what should I make? I decided to expand on a design I had used on a Christmas card the previous year – a list of words that represented my New Year’s resolutions. It wasn’t a huge list, just big enough to fit on the back of the Christmas card, but I liked it. So I pulled it up in PhotoShop and added more words until it filled up a nice big square. It was really fun coming up with all of those words – verbs/actions that I think are important for living a good life. I truly love those words.

The process

Next I took my design to the print shop to have it printed with black ink onto a transparency, then I went to the Vera project with a large screen I had just purchased. There I coated the screen with photo emulsion, then after 30 minutes of heat-setting the emulsion, I burned the screen. Burning a screen means putting the transparency on a light box, putting the screen on top of the transparency, weighing down the screen with some big books, covering it all with black velvet fabric, then turning on the light box for two minutes. What happens is that the black ink on the transparency blocks the light from the photo-emulsion on the screen, and in those places the emulsion doesn’t set. But where the light hits the emulsion, it does set. So when I remove the screen from the light box and take it to the sink to hose it off,  the emulsion that didn’t get set rinses off. That is where the ink goes through. Make sense? (Boring to read about sorry, but it’s a cool process, although it can be a bit finicky.)

Next I bought some cotton fabric in a variety of colors, washed it, ironed it, cut it up into 19×19″ squares, screen-printed the design onto the fabric, sewed them up into pillows with some contrasting piping and a zipper, and I was pleased.

Screen Printing Pillows

I love the screen printing process. I get excited every time I lift up the screen to see my printed design.

Words to Live By Pillows - Original

This is what the first pillows looked like.

The evolution of that first pillow

I still like the original design, but I really love what it’s evolved into. I have moved away from printing on cotton to printing everything on 100% natural linen, my most favorite fabric for so many reasons. I also decided to make the pillows bigger so that the words were easier to read. I felt that the bigger sized pillow needed a stronger border, so instead of the piping I used a flat half-inch boarder. Oh, and I decided to slightly bolden the word “Love” – the most important word, obviously. Then I found the most amazing pillow inserts that have such a nice weight and squishiness to them. I truly love the look and feel of these pillows. I hope other people do too.

So, there you have it. My origin story.

Words to Live By Screen Printed Linen Pilliows

This what they look like now, with the addition of an adjectives/qualities pillow. I’m in love with the linen, the font, the border material, and most of all, the words.

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