With Thanksgiving only a few days away, I thought you might like a unusual way to create a dramatic and elegant table setting, even if you are gathering your family and friends around several tables pushed into a long line, each concealed with a different tablecloth. One wonderful way to unify the place settings is to create coordinated linens, decorating all the place mats and napkins with the same beautiful illustration.
Beginning with a fabric place mat and napkin, both in a flat, even weave, you can print black-and-white (or full-color) illustrations using an easy photo transfer process.
I want to alert you to one factor in this project. It can get expensive, depending upon your choice of linen. Second, the transfer paper is also relatively pricey. Yet, all in all, it is worth the cost if you consider that you can transfer the finest engravings to linen using this process and simultaneously create heirlooms of unique and exceptional design.
That said, what is alluring about this process is that it's basically a technology begun with the T-shirt craze of the '80s. Images were printed on fabric using an iron-on transfer, a process that ultimately crossed over into home decorating when resourceful crafters discovered that you could buy iron-on transfer paper (without the funny sayings or faces), use your own art, and print the designs on any smooth-weave fabric using an ordinary iron.
For my place mats and napkins, I chose intricate line art that mimicked the steel-etched engravings so popular in the last century. You might also choose a child's drawing or a holiday letter written by a family member. The sources for line art are vast, especially in the library. Specifically, check out any of the Dover Books for copyright-free line art that is perfect for every taste. Available are collections of monograms, floral arrangements, birds, landscapes, holiday motifs and icons, including hobbies and vintage designs done in detailed line work.
I used images from "The Universal Penman" engraved by George Bickham, an out-of-print book from the Dover Pictorial Archive Series. I mention this special book so that you can keep an eye out for it. It was published in 1968, and is one in a genre of books that rely on the respected art of calligraphy. Call antique booksellers, visit flea markets that feature old books, or check your library to see if you can locate either this title or similar ones.
Iron-on transfer paper is the perfect material for this fabulous printing process, and you can gang up a few illustrations on one sheet to maximize the material. Look in the section of the store that caters to quilters.
Copying the chosen art onto the transfer paper requires a laser color copier. Call a large office supply chain in your area to find out if it will do this type of copying. Some small copying centers in my area were reluctant to use heat-sensitive transfer paper in their copier, but I was able to get the job done in one of the large chains. If you run into problems, you can call a local store that does printing on T-shirts.
One final note: I am researching using a special kind of iron-on transfer paper in my computer printer. When I have good results and more information, I will share them with you.
Estimated working time: 25 minutes
Estimated cost: $24.50 to $36.50
Sources: Place mat, $10; napkin, $4.50; line art, as desired; 2 sheets photo transfer paper (available at North End Fabric, 31 Harrison Ave., Boston, Mass. 02111), $6 ($15.95 for six sheets, each 8 1/2 by 11 inches); color copy process, $4 ($2 per sheet); optional: Teflon cookie sheet, $12.
To make one place mat and coordinated napkin, you will need:
1 place mat with flat weave
1 napkin with flat weave
Copyright-free line art:
1 image for place mat
1 image for napkin
Photo transfer paper, 2 sheets
Cookie sheet with press cloth lining (or Teflon cookie sheet)
To prepare photo transfer images:
1. Bring place mat, photo transfer paper and chosen line art to copy center with laser color copier.
2. Size line art to place mat and napkin by copying images on plain paper, enlarging as needed.
3. Lay copied images on place mat and napkin, positioning images as follows: Turn two copies of place mat art vertically and lay on opposite sides of short sides of place mat, leaving room in central area for plate; for napkin, open napkin and position napkin art at one corner.
4. When fit and size of copied images are as desired, print mirror image of all artwork on transfer paper, using laser color copier.
5. To prepare transfer images for application to linen, use scissors to carefully trim around perimeter of image, getting as close to lines as possible without cutting into them.
To transfer images to place mat:
1. Empty iron of any water and preheat iron to hot (linen setting), making certain steam feature is turned off.
2. Lay place mat face up on cookie sheet. Note: This will help transfer heat and accelerate adhesion.
3. Press place mat with hot iron, and while place mat is still hot, position transfers face down on opposite sides of place mat as shown in photograph, or as desired. Note: If place mat has sewn borders, position photo transfer images within central portion of place mat at sides, making room for plate in center, keeping images 1/4 inch away from border to avoid uneven printing.
4. Press transfer images lightly with iron for 20 to 30 seconds to set up adhesion.
5. Continue pressing transfer, using heavy, even pressure for 1 to 2 minutes, moving iron in circular motion. Note: Be sure to press down all sections of photo transfer paper for even printing.
6. To reveal line art, remove transfer paper by picking up one corner and peeling back, up and off. Note: If paper is hard to remove, reheat area by moving iron in little circles over that area, or start at another corner.
7. Continue heating and peeling off all paper from place mat until full line art image can be seen. Note: Do not put iron on newly printed linen.
8. To decorate napkin, follow Steps 2 through 6 (substituting "napkin" for "place mat") and positioning transfer image in one corner of napkin, or as desired.
9. Let linen cool; display as desired.