Hull Traders: Revolutionary Fabrics
The hand screen-printing process
Hull Traders’ were committed to hand screen-printing, while most other manufacturers switched to automatic printing during the 1960s. From 1961 onwards, Hull Traders’ printing took place in Trawden, near Colne, Lancashire with fabrics bought from local weaving mills.
Screens are wooden frames over which is stretched a fine polyester mesh. Images on transparent acetate sheets, known as Kodatraces, were transferred onto the screens through a photographic process. A different screen was needed for each colour in the design.
Printers worked in pairs, one either side of a printing table. Screens were placed on the fabric, held in position by metal rails. Dye was poured in at one side and pressed through the mesh of the screen using a stiff rubber blade (squeegee). The image, which had been transferred photographically onto the screen, acts as a barrier to the ink, and so creates a one-colour pattern on the fabric. The screen was then moved down the rails to the next set of stops to repeat the pattern print. After one colour had been printed, the whole process was repeated using the next screen with a different colour. The cloth was then baked to ‘fasten’ the colours.
Because their patterns were so large, Hull Traders’ designs appealed to architects and suited large public spaces such as hotels, schools and hospitals. Modern buildings with big windows and extra light sprung up during the post-war years, to which Hull Traders’ simple designs and strong, clear colours were ideally suited. The use of pigment dyes – vibrant colours that sit on the surface, like paint on canvas – also account for the richness and depth of Hull Traders’ designs. The floor to ceiling lengths of fabrics have the same visual impact today and show the vibrancy which could be achieved with the hand screen-printing process.