I’m putting my first t-shirt art project to bed. Yesterday was the last day for orders. I’ve only got a handful of shirts left and I’m feeling pretty good about the whole thing. Though, while I was in the research and development phase I kept wondering if I really ought to do this at all. On the horizon, the whole production loomed pretty large and seemed unwieldy.
From the start, I had some unique feasibility issues to work out; like how little room I have for the storing of materials, tools, or stock. Then the roaming factor means that I will always be seeking out new suppliers because I prefer to buy local wherever I go. And, for a short while, I was stuck on how to sell product that is made in batches by pre-order; but then I found an online store-front with the perfect configuration.
This t-shirt situation began over a year ago, in conversation with a couple of friends. The first incarnation had me using a place like Cafe Press but online print shops, while fitting my production limitations, are a little too industrial to fit my ethic, so I skipped away from that.
Next idea, I visited local screen printers and a DIY print shop. They were cool, with much information to share, but for me to make the shirts reasonably priced I’d have to make a large, up front order. Which led back to hauling and storing product. Okay, next idea in the lineup was printing the shirts myself, however even the smallest, portable silk screen set-up was too bulky to truck around in my mini-van-home.
A whole new door of creativity opened when I decided to go pre-silkscreen printing (China, 960-1279 AD): hand painting with stencils. I found non-toxic, water-based inks that mix pretty true to color and can be easily heatset with a hair dryer and iron. And, stencils can be made out of almost anything.
So, it seemed reasonable to start out making stencils from old plastic and vinyl placemats. They’ve worked pretty well, though the plastic mats tend to rip after about ten or twelve uses and I have to cut new ones. I might have to find another stencil material if I ever decide to raise the number of pieces per run.
I have always enjoyed gift wrapping; the opportunity to embellish papers and play with presentation. I love that I get to decorate each piece that I mail, with artful wraps and personalized tags, before I send them to their new owners. Again, reusing and recycling what I can.
These shirts gave me my first business, bulk mailing experience. I was so nervous about shipping my product. I had tons of concerns; how to pre-determine the cost of shipping, the best packaging, keeping my fingers crossed that nothing got damaged or lost in transit. Thankfully, there were plenty of folks who shared their great wisdom on the interwebs. I went on my first trip to the post office with only minor trepidation.
I’m liking the notion of doing quarterly, limited run, t-shirt prints with seasonally inspired and nature-centric designs. For the winter solstice I already have a number of ideas to sort through, but my spring design is set, much to the joy of many friends, on the elusive and delicious Morel.
As daunting as this project felt at times, especially in the beginning, I’m glad I hung on. This has been a great, creative experience. Which included a fun, impromptu t-shirt painting party with friends, making gifts for other friends. Additionally, I’ve taken in a few custom orders and made a handful of unique pieces for my Patreon rewards.
This could lead to much fun.