Insley & Nash are a bespoke textile printing company based in Deptford. I took a trip to their studio to find out more about what they do
The studios of Gavin Insley & Mika Nash are a hive of creative activity that you wouldn’t really believe existed in the back streets of South London. Located down an alley that also houses scrap merchants and car mechanics, their two-floor workshop with corrugated metal walls may be reminiscent of a giant bomb shelter, but houses a business that prints fabrics for some of Britain’s top catwalk designers. And with only a couple of weeks to go before London Fashion Week you would have thought that they would be rushed off their feet when I visited. “The designers always leave everything to the last minute” Gavin tells me, “it’s not unheard of for some of them to ask us to start printing fabric two days before a show”.
Insley & Nash specialise in flat-bed screen printing in small quantities and often use special techniques such as foil printing and devoré. Designers come to them with a vision of the type of effect that they are looking to create and Gavin & Mika make it happen for them, suggesting ways that their design can be improved upon and pointing out what might not work so well. “We both studied fashion at Ravensbourne” says Gavin, “but enjoyed the technical side involved in printing. When we graduated we worked at the college as print technicians for a while. Later on, when we heard that much of the equipment was being sold off, we decided to buy it and set up our own studio.”
It is the fact that many design colleges in the UK no longer teach the technical side of textile design, instead concentrating on the more digital aspects, that means there is a massive need for studios like those of Insley & Nash. Students can come here on a placement and learn the whole process, from how the screens are made (it is done by creating a stencil using a giant light box and a special emulsion) to how foil is applied (a heat press is used). By understanding the techniques involved designers are much better placed to know the realities of what can be achieved, but for those designers that have less understanding about the process Insley & Nash are there to help.
Some might say that screen printing is a dying art, being labour intensive and somewhat messy compared to more modern techniques such as digital printing, yet Gavin believes there is still a place for both. “You get a very different look with digital printing compared to screen printing, and the former is certainly not without its challenges either.”
And he would know. Last year Insley & Nash invested in a second hand digital printing machine in order to be able to offer both options to their customers. Capable of printing an endless amount of colours at a time, as opposed to the limitations of screen printing where each colour has to be applied individually, the digital machine resembles a giant ink-jet printer like one of those you might use to print paper from your computer, and there lies the problem.
“The digital printer is a little temperamental” sighs Gavin “luckily I’m pretty good with machines as I’ve had to fix it quite a few times already”. Looking at the tangle of wires and cables coming out of the thing I can imagine that trying to do battle with them, especially when you have a deadline to hit for a customer, is not for the faint-hearted.
Digital printing is also more limiting than screen printing in that only certain fabric bases can be used in order to get consistent results, and it is generally more expensive than screen printing too if you want larger amounts. However, what digital printing can be used for is to print a single metre in a short space of time and for a reasonable price, making bespoke fabric designs accessible to a much wider audience. In the same way that you can now go online and upload an image to create your own cards and stationery, Insley & Nash hope to make it possible to create your own fabric. They have just launched their &Digital website which allows users to uploads their designs, choose their fabric base and receive their cloth in the post within a few days, something that would never be possible with screen printing.
All photographs (except for snapshot of Gavin & Mika) by the very talented Steve Lancefield