Have you heard of the site Letters of Note? It’s basically what it sounds like, interesting letters, some of them to or from people you might have heard of. Some are funny, others are poignant or sad, but they’re a pretty fascinating bunch for the most part. When I saw these literary napkins from Anthropologie, I was inspired to make my own version. Rather than silkscreening them, I decided to try to replicate them using solvent transfer. I learned that you can’t really expect your transfer to be perfect with this technique, but I think the imperfections work for the subject matter of old letters.
Laser copy printouts (I printed mine at Kinko’s)
100% acetone nailpolish remover
1. To do this project you need letters printed out or copied on a laser printer or copy machine. Inkjet printers (what most people have at home) won’t work! You’ll need to save the images of the letters you want to transfer, scale them to the size you need, then REVERSE THE IMAGES. If you don’t reverse them they’ll come out backwards!
2. Cut out a 12-inch square piece of fabric, and tape the reversed letter centered and face-down onto it. Make sure to secure it well so it won’t move.
3. Wet your cotton ball with the nailpolish remover, and wipe it across a small area of your letter. With the back of your spoon, quickly burnish the area you just wet until the acetone evaporates. Make sure to press hard and go over the area from many directions. It helps to practice this with extra copies on scrap fabric before you attempt your “real” transfers. A couple of things I learned are that you need to do small areas at a time (about an inch square) and press really hard (make sure you’re working on a hard, even surface).
A close-up of one of the transfers. This one is a letter from Harper Lee.
4. After you’ve transferred your images, iron the fabric to help set the ink and then hem the edges. Here is a letter to Marilyn Monroe and one from Kurt Vonnegut:
This letter to Marilyn Monroe made me laugh. It reads:
The New York Times
May 23, 1960
Dear (I think) Marilyn:
I write to the President of the United States and I get a prompt reply.
I write to the Vice President of the United States and I get a prompt reply.
I write to Sir Laurence Olivier and I get a prompt reply.
I write to Jayne Mansfield and I get a prompt reply.
I write to you and three weeks go by without even an acknowledgement of an important enclosure.
Who do you think you are — Marilyn Monroe?
In any case, would you please return the script of that speech? I need it.
Yours, in sorrow and bewilderment,
Here are the reversed image files for the napkins I made, in case anyone wants to use them.
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