Kim Bennett on Silkscreen and Textiles workshops at Chats Palace

In the 1980s the workshop in the upstairs back room was set up to produce colourful silkscreen posters with a vacuum press and a home-made halogen lightbox to expose screens coated with photo-emulsion, plus a wash-out sink with power hose to develop the images and clean the screens.

All the Christmas shows and big events in the 1980’s and into the early 1990s were printed with multiple screens (one for each colour) using solvent based inks. Late night sessions printing poster runs with solvents filling the room (while people smoked in those days) were common at certain times of the year. By the early 90’s health & safety started to be an issue – with the introduction of water based inks and safer solvents, and smoking gradually banned in the building. Personally, I think the lustre of the solvent inks will always be superior to the water based alternatives, but at least they don’t dissolve your brain cells!

Becca Chester was based in the workshop, designing posters and flyers. She taught classes in silkscreen printing and facilitated other community organisations and individuals to produce posters and art work. The techniques used included making hand-cut stencils, cutting out the image and text, then printing through the stencils -painting designs on screens with photo-opaque screen filler, then making a ‘negative’ by coating it with ‘Dirasol’ photo- emulsion and exposing it on the lightbox, and making photoscreens with photocopied images onto transparencies & exposing them.

As Chats’ funding priorities shifted towards more educational provision the workshop expanded to include classes taught by new tutors in Batik, Asian Batik, and photography. New staff were recruited; among them was Kim Bennett who had experience of community screen-printing classes, and Ruth Burgess who joined Chats as workshop technician and also ran workshops in carnival costume making and installations of sculptures and set/prop making for shows.

During the early 1990s printing T-shirts for political causes, ‘Punk Picnics’, numerous bands & performers, as well as ‘Art’ T shirts were very popular. The workshop also produced banners for events, decorations, bunting etc., and even set up at events like the Hackney Show on Hackney Downs to allow members of the public to cut stencils and print their own T-shirts.

For T-shirts, we used water based textile inks and screen block/ blue filler reverse out to make hand painted style prints, photo-emulsion screens for text and images and a wide range of stencil making- using recycled sticky paper, wax (combining with batik), block printing on fabric, hand dyeing, tie-dyeing and making stamps. The old photocopier was a great asset for the workshop, as it tolerated all kinds of acetate, could print a dark enough toner to make photo screens and had few auto settings. As computers came into our lives, text was formatted on our Macs instead of Letraset, but that was the main change, although ‘cut and paste’ punk style remained the most popular.

Due to a change in funding priorities we were asked by Hackney Community College to apply for accreditation and went through the process of preparing to offer City and Guilds LOCN certificated courses and modules with Hackney 6th form college and Cordwainers. For several years we had groups of young people from these institutions coming to Chats for one term to print waistcoats and other textile projects as part of their A level textiles course or NVQ level 2 courses. As always, a change of funding priorities in 1997 meant that this was discontinued in favour of more community classes and the silkscreen workshop finally ended when Chats was restructured at the end of the 1990’s.