A quick guide to building a fabric yardage print table.

I’ve had several requests recently from people interested in how to build a fabric printing table. I was a master printer at The Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia for 6 years. After leaving in May of 2015 I built myself a table and have been using it since. I grew up on a ranch so have been building and tinkering with things most of my life.

The general idea is pretty simple. Basically you need a flat surface to pin fabric and lay your screens to print. This can be as wide and long as you like depending on what size of fabric you’ll be printing. My table is roughly 65″ wide and 16′ long so I can easily pin and print 60″ wide fabric that’s 5 yards long. The materials you choose to build your table out of can be found at most hardware stores. The most complicated part for people will be setting up the rail and finding stops. The rail is the straight, usually metal bit you rest your screen against to print. It must be perfectly straight for your repeats to work.

Here’s what my table looks like:

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The first step is to build the table top. I’ve used 2″x 6″ x 16′ pieces for most of the frame with 2″ x 4″ x 8′. This size can change based on what you are printing and how much space you have to put a giant table.

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Now the legs. The height of the legs can change depending on what you like. Mine is about 34″ high, but some people like their table taller. My legs are bolted in place. You can use long screws, too, but must be secure.

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Now it’s time to flip the table and put in place. You can see how the legs are bolted to the table in this image.P1030646 (1)

Once in place you need to attach the top. I used particle board for my top, but you can also use MDF, or good plywood that’s at least 3/4″ thick. This is one of the most important parts as it’s the base for the top. If there are inconsistencies in the wood or the seams aren’t flat this might affect your print. Do not cut corners to save money here. It won’t be worth it in the long run.

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The next layer is homasote. This can also be found at a hardware store, but I couldn’t find a direct link. It’s pretty cheap. Basically it’s compacted paper used as insulation, etc. Unfortunately my camera died during this step so I can’t show you images. Basically, you put an entire layer of homasote, then 1/2″ foam found at an upholstery store or felt. If you intend on using the table for other things I would recommend spending the money on the felt. I will only be printing on it so I used foam. Whatever you use try to have as few seams as possible to mitigate issues.

Here’s a diagram of the layering:

So it’s: Particle board, homasote, 1/2″ foam, #10 canvas, muslin. The foam is stapled to the sides of the table (not the top). The canvas is then stretched over the edge and stapled. The muslin should be pinned (with T-pins) so it’s easy to remove. It’s a protective layer in case something happens you can replace it. I pinned it after putting on the rail. This will allow easy removal of the muslin, if necessary.

Layer-diagram

Now it’s time to put on the rail. This is typically a piece of 1.5″ x 1.5″ angle iron (1/8″ thick) Note: This goes on the very top layer and not the bottom as indicated in this image. Holes are drilled to secure it to the top of the table, drilling through all layers.

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Here’s a photo of the Fabric Workshop table. You can see the layering.

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The last thing you need are your “stops.” These are pieces of metal that slide over the rail and move based on your repeat distance. A friend of mine fabricated them from 1″ round stock and tapped a set screw in one side. Another option is to use conduit beam clamps. They’re not the best option, but will work.

If interested you can download my original sketch-up model and .jpg here. Final dimensions changed a bit once I started building it, but it’s a good guide.

I’ve also put together a youtube playlist of fabric yardage printing that I’ve found helpful.

And finally two books that are useful: Mastering the Art of Fabric Printing and Design by Laurie Wisburn and Design and Practice for Printed Textiles by Andrea McNamara and Patrick Snelling.

I know this isn’t the most thorough step-by-step guide, but if you found it helpful send a few bucks my way via paypal. Suggested donation is $10.

I’m also happy to answer any questions you have. Thank you.