DIY screen printing: screen-printed tote

I’ve been so bogged down with stuff lately that I haven’t really had any time for making. Since I really love to sit down and make things, I decided that my sister’s birthday was the perfect excuse to force the issue. I stalked her Pinterest boards (which, for the record, is the best idea ever) and noticed a running theme of black cats. More specifically, there were a whole lot of screen printed black cats.

My daughters have been taking art classes at a local art lab and Samantha literally just had a class where they did screen printing. Deal = sealed.

DIY screen printing: screen-printed toteAt first, I wanted to make a screen-printed t-shirt. But after some trouble deciding on the layout and some wonky placement (I’m talking to you, cat boobs), I decided to make things slightly easier for myself and attempt to screen print a tote bag instead. Now I want to make about a million of them.

Here’s what you’ll need:

DIY screen printing: screen-printed tote supplies

  • tote bag (derp)
  • embroidery hoop
  • pantyhose
  • duck tape
  • fabric paint
  • X-Acto knife
  • card stock
  • template (I used this cat head outline)

Not shown: scissors, cardboard or magazine, old gift card or store rewards card

First, you need to prep your pieces. Read the instructions on your tote bag and see what your fabric paint says about prepping. I didn’t need to do any prep work (score!), so I just rolled up my sleeves and got to it.

I printed my template on card stock, cut the page down a bit and then used the X-Acto knife to cut out the cat head so that it left an empty space in the middle of the card. (see above).

DIY screen printing: "screening" the embroidery hoopNext, it’s time to make your screen. Snip off a piece of pantyhose and pull it tight (this is key!) across your embroidery hoop. Use the duck tape to secure it around the edges of the hoop. Make sure you take your time and do this step well or it won’t work like you want it to!

embroidery hoop with pantyhose for DIY screen printingYour finished screen should look like this (above). The flat side is the side you’ll put on your tote bag. Make sure the area where your template goes is totally clear of tape.

Now you’re ready to dip into the paint (first put some cardboard or an old magazine inside the tote in case any paint bleeds through). I poured a little on a paper plate and scooped it up with an old gift card. Next, I used the gift card to spread the paint over the template, being careful to hold the hoop and template down firmly so that no paint could get through the edges and mess up my shape.

DIY screen printing: tote in progressIt’s a good idea to map out placement before you get started. I decided I wanted to go with a sort of polka dot effect. Instead of going all willy nilly (which tends to turn out kind of amateur looking—there’s a difference between being an amateur and creating something that looks amateurish 😉 ), I decided to do a pattern of offset lines.

Once my pattern on the front side was complete, I set my project aside until it was completely dry. The next morning, I flipped it over and did the same pattern on the back. To be extra safe, I draped the straps over a hanger and hung the drying tote from my shower rod.

DIY screen printing: screen-printed tote

And voila! A totally adorable little tote that my sister squealed over.

Lessons learned:

  • Make sure your pantyhose are pulled tight otherwise things get funky (think ridges from sagging fabric and empty spaces).
  • Also, make sure the pantyhose are secure. You know what sucks? Being in the middle of screen printing something and having your screen fall apart.
  • I had a small paintbrush on hand for touch-ups. There may be times you don’t like the amount of coverage in a certain area or when you weren’t careful enough when holding down the hoop and template. I used the brush to fix any mistakes.
  • Don’t get cheap like me and decide to reuse your screen for the second side of the bag (unless you rinse it thoroughly). When the first side of my bag was dry and I went to work on the second side, I couldn’t figure out why one of the cat’s ears wasn’t printing—until I realized that there were clumps of dried paint in the way.
  • It doesn’t need to be perfect! Imperfections add charm. Instead of getting totally frustrated and scrapping the project all together (like I almost did), see it through. Your end result may surprise you.

Have you ever attempted DIY screen printing? It’s not nearly as intimidating as I expected!

Linking up with Not Just a Housewife, A Bowl Full of Lemons, Coastal Charm, Homework, and Sugar Bee Crafts.

Written by Jennifer Garry
Jen is a freelance writer and girl mom from New York. When she's not knee-deep in glittery crafts and girl talk, you can probably find her sprawled across her couch in the middle of a Netflix marathon with dark chocolate smeared on her face. The struggle is real.