Guest Author: Sarah Abernathy
Ah, scrim… So magical, so useful, so scary if you don’t know what you’re doing.
The very first step is often the most important hurdle to cross – squaring up this stretchy mesh so it won’t warp on stage. You can’t have your painted portrait distorting unnaturally, or your straight-across lettering tilting down at one end! Squaring a scrim that has already been hemmed (like for a drop) can be tricky enough, but what if you are working with a piece that isn’t hemmed and has raw edges? Lucky for you, Rachel Keebler of Cobalt Studios has developed a tried and true method for squaring up these raw scrim edges, and I’m here to relay that information!
This method works on any un-hemmed scrim from a full stage drop down to a little window insert.
- A skinny felt-tip marker
- 17/32″ staples – they have pointed tips instead of squared tips and will not cut up the threads when you staple
- 1″ masking tape
Before you begin decide which side of your scrim you want to paint. Feel each side; one side is basically flat, and the other side has raised ribs that run parallel to the selvage edge. The flat side is easier to paint because your tools won’t catch on the ribs, but some people believe the ribs pick up more light and make the image more apparent when lit. If you choose to paint on the ribbed side, orient your scrim so that the ribs are parallel to the stage lights – horizontal for most purposes, vertical for strong side lighting.
Please note: The following directions are for the continental method of painting drops on the ground, and will not work if you are using a vertical paint frame.
Step 1: Drawing your Boxes.
Start with creating a proper square. (directions to this can be found here) Next draw your desired image on the floor, or on a piece of bogus paper that is then taped to the floor. Bogus paper is thick and absorbent, and won’t warp or crumble under your painting. You could also draw in chalk on top of a black floor, or an old black velour drop; a black background would help you accurately preview the effect of your colors. If using paper, ink your drawing, including its box, and flog away the charcoal to keep your scrim clean. Then, draw and ink a second, outer box that is 3″ larger than your image’s box on each side.
Step 2: Cutting the Scrim to Size
When you cut out your scrim, it is not important to cut along the grain – just eyeball it straight. It is helpful to use a selvage edge, as this helps keep the fabric square. Your piece of scrim should be 3″ bigger than your outer box on each side (therefore, it should be 6″ bigger than your image box on every side).
Tear off a 1″ square of tape. If you are using a piece of scrim with a selvage edge, stick this tape to that selvage edge, about 1″ in from the corner. If you’re not using selvage, stick the tape about 1″ from each side.
Staple this tape square just outside the corner of the outer box. If using the selvage edge, place it as it is pictured here: butted up to the outside of the vertical edge, riding along the horizontal edge.
Step 4: Drawing lines, times 4
Where the tape square touches the outer box, start drawing a line with your thin felt-tipped marker along the knit thread of the scrim, heading towards another corner. It’s okay if this line wanders a little, but try to keep it consistently within the knit lines you started on. Tip: don’t let yourself get distracted by the ink line below the scrim. You are NOT following the outer box line, you are following the knit grid of the scrim. It helps to use your free hand to pull the scrim taut as you draw.
If this ink line eventually gets less than about 1/2″ from the edge, go back to the corner, move the tape square in from that edge another inch (or however much you think you need), re-staple, then start the ink line again. Your goal is to ink this line all the way along this edge of the fabric without falling off. This provides you with enough excess to staple through, and it creates a straight edge so your image will not warp when the scrim is pulled off the floor and hung.
When you have reached the end of this edge, lay your scrim flat and roughly line up the marker line on the scrim to the outer box line below it. You can give it a little tension, but try not to stretch it. Put another square of tape on the scrim at the outer box corner you just reached, catty-corner, and staple. It’s okay if this isn’t pulled taut yet – that will happen later.
Turn your ink line at this corner and repeat the ink line steps, pulling the line all the way across the scrim again. Repeat until you have markered your way all the way around your scrim. All 4 corners should be taped and stapled, and all 4 sides should have a straight ink line.
Step 5: Stretching it All Out.
Gather some extra hands and spread out around the entire perimeter. All at once, pull the edges of the scrim until the inked lines meet up with the outer box lines on the floor below. The scrim will scallop a lot between hands, but as long as the pulled points can all reach the box line, that is ok.
Feel how tight the scrim is at this point. If you are using bleached or FR scrim, it will not shrink up when you paint it, so at this stage you must pull it as tight as you can. Natural/Painters Scrim will shrink a little, so it can have some give at this stage. If it feels too loose or too tight, pull the corner staples out, re-draw your rectangle a little bigger or a little smaller, and re-staple the corners. Pull the edges again to see if you like the new position.
Place a strip of 1″ masking tape around your ink lines and burnish to stick it down well. This will prevent scalloping and tearing as you staple.
Step 6 : Stapling
Pull the center of each line to meet the outer box and staple through the tape. Continue pulling centers between staples until the entire box is thoroughly stapled. Don’t do one whole side and then another whole side – keep moving around the box to keep the tension spread evenly.
Step 7: Trim and Size
Trim off any excess scrim around the tape. If you used natural (painter’s) scrim, spray it with a thin size of your choice, but do NOT try to brush the size in – it will just fill all the holes.
Rachel’s suggested size recipes:
1 part Elmer’s glue to 10 parts water,
0r – 1 part hot animal glue concentrate to 18 parts water,
or – 1 part latex to 5 parts water.
Now you are ready to paint!
From here, you can use many of the same paint applications used on muslin drops, including stencils, frisket paper, sprays and masking, brushing (both dry and regular), large texture and pattern rollers, etc. The most important thing is to keep your paint thin enough that it will not fill holes!
Sarah Abernathy is a Scenic-In-Training at Cobalt Studios, graduating in May 2017. Upon graduation, she is relocating to sunny Florida. You can see examples of Sarah’s work at abernathysj.wixsite.com/scenic.
Most photographs in this post are credited to Emily Barnhill. Examples of Emily’s work can be found at inabucket.wixsite.com/emilybarnhill. Shannon Komlofske was pictured at top.
Do you have another method for squaring unhemmed scrim? Any other tips, tricks or hints? We would love to see them in the comments below!