Hand Printed Topical Fabrics

Bahama Hand Prints has been designing and hand printing tropical fabrics for over 40 years. A small company nestled in The Bahamas, they have purposely averted the modern technologies that make fabric production more commercially viable in preference for traditional hand printing practices that offer a more unique and exclusive product. The end result is a range of fabulous fun fabrics suitable for tropical décor themes, resort wear apparels and accessories, quilting, drapery or upholstery renovations that add ‘wow’ to any project you might think of.

I visited the fabric factory in Nassau to see what all the buzz was about and found out some interesting facts about the hand printing fabric business, and the charms of this little cottage industry.

My time at Bahama Hand Prints headquarters was spent with head printer, Les Williams, who prides himself in a product 100% created and manufactured by hand in The Bahamas:

“we do everything from beginning to end, right here in The Bahamas, and the end result is a true representation of our local life, our culture and our beautiful environment”

Hard at work in the “fabrics” room Les and his apprentice lay out 30 yard rolls of fabric at a time to be hand printed with customized, mixed inks, of specially chosen designs for one client at a time. It only takes 4 pushes and pulls of the squeegee and the first colour of the design is in place, a quick shift to the right, and the process is repeated. Eventually the two printers reach the end of the 90 foot table and go back to the beginning to lay the second colour of the design. The fabric is then rolled and dried in an industrial dryer.

“this is the crux of the process” says Les “its all about the drying. If we don’t cure the fabric properly, the ink won’t set and the fabric will not be colourfast”

From what I see, the unique tropical designs and vivid colours at Bahama Hand Prints is about much more than the curing stage…from what I see it’s about the elegant and sophisticated interpretation of tropical nature in an exciting variety of over 50 prints, it’s also about the tiniest difference in design on every yard that makes each bolt of fabric unique in its own right. These are the things that make Bahama Hand Prints incomparable, extraordinary, exceptional and treasured in today’s world of highly automated textile manufacturing and printing.

Les takes me through the 5 crucial steps to the screen-printing process which remain largely unchanged since he started with the company over 30 years ago:

1. Creation of the screens – the screens are made by tightly stretching a finely women Dacron mesh fabric over a stainless steel frame. The Dacron is coated with a light sensitive emulsion, this is laid on top of a drawing, created from opaque black ink, which is then exposed to light to produce a “negative’ image. The result is a screen, that when covered with ink, will only allow ink to penetrate according to the drawing.
2. Mixing and application of the ink.
3. Pinning of the fabric to the printing table.
4. Printing of the fabric – the screen is laid over the substrate material and ink is squeegied across the screen so that the ink permeates.
5. Drying of the fabric

Although the process would seem unduly arduous, Les is confident that the end result is as unique as the Bahama islands themselves and therefore worth all of the hard work and dedication from his team. He let me in on some of the more secret advantages of the hand printing process:

“hand printing allows flexibility which in turn creates an unusual interpretation of the design. Also, by hand mixing the dyes we are able to offer a wider range of colour choices and possibilities to our clients”

Add to this the fact that Bahama Hand Prints offers their clients the possibility of customizing colours on orders over 30 yards and this island-style product is as exclusive as it is unique.

Its no wonder that international interior designers Jack Fhillips and Mario Buatta (affectionately known as “Prince of Chintz”) are capitalising on this advantage to incorporate Bahama Hand Prints fabrics into the interiors of their client’s multi-million dollar estates. It’s also no surprise that the media is touting the qualities of this small, but distinctive company nestled in The Bahamas – Southern Boating, Architectural Digest, Bon Appetite, Town and Country, Elle Décor, and Coastal Living are all but a few.

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