T-shirts in every color of the rainbow filled plastic bins stacked all over the workroom at Roo Tees screen printing shop in Carnegie.
A group of Freedom Area High School students looked at the bins, trying to decide which colored inks they wanted to apply to the blank shirts as part of a field trip where they would design and print T-shirts as a class assignment.
The 13 students and their teacher, Kristen Milanovich, were at the shop last Thursday to learn how to silk-screen print on T-shirts, stickers and decals. It is part of their Freedom Fortune 500 class.
The students have silk-screen printing equipment at their school, but they visited the company to gain the expertise of shop owner Bobby Gracie and his staff.
In their high school classroom and in Mr. Gracie’s shop, students do more than silk-screen designs on shirts. “Students are learning the whole process,” from taking orders to packing and shipping the finished merchandise, Mr. Gracie said. He has made a number of trips to the high school, and expects to make more. But last Thursday was the first visit by students to his shop.
Some of the students in the class plan to continue on to higher education, including college, Ms. Milanovich said. Others plan to find jobs after graduation, and some have expressed an interest in starting and running their own businesses some day.
Ms. Milanovich has learned how to operate the school’s silk-screening equipment with some training from the company that sold the equipment, but help and tips from Mr. Gracie and his staff are "invaluable,” she said.
Mr. Gracie is not an artist, but some of the high school students are, and that’s a big advantage in producing original designs, he noted.
Students watched raptly as employee Judah Lamey printed a green Carlynton Cougars tee with blue, tan, white and black ink. The students had never done a four-color shirt at school. They admired the crisp colors of tan cougar claws on a green shirt.
Asked for his title, Mr. Lamey joked that he’s “grand prince of printing.”
“What kinds of problems are you having with your printing?” he asked students.
“The ink washes off” as soon as the T-shirt is washed, one girl lamented.
Mr. Lamey told students “perhaps you need a heat gun. It’s the handiest tool” and can be purchased at any hardware store.
After ink has been screened onto cotton shirts, the shirts must be heated to 360 to 380 degrees as they come through the dryer. Though machines have temperature settings, “on a day like today when it’s so cold outside, they may not be hot enough” if cold air from outside is seeping into the room, Mr. Lamey said. Point a heat gun at the shirts to see if they are the right temperature.
In the summer, the shop is not air conditioned because the shirts would not be hot enough, Mr. Gracie said.
“In the summer, I’m literally running a sweatshop,” Mr. Gracie joked.
The ink on designs and printing should not crack, said Mr. Lamey who showed them how to prevent that.
Nevin Sprecher, 17, of New Sewickley, is an artist who hopes to learn the silk screen process so he can put his original designs onto T-shirts and other merchandise. He showed samples of his artwork on his smartphone.
“I like pencil” as a medium “more than anything,” Nevin said. “I’m into characters, including monsters.”
After a pizza lunch, the female students designed shirts with the logo Freedom Girls Basketball.
The school colors are red and white. They picked gray or white shirts for their background and picked red, black and tan for the design, which includes a black basketball with red seams.
The partnership between Freedom Area and Roo Tees evolved because Mr. Gracie attended Clarion College with Misty Slavic, the Beaver County district's curriculum director. They worked out the cooperative program. Mr. Gracie majored in business and bought his own business.
Roo Tees does custom screen printing and embroidery for schools, corporations, organizations and athletic teams. The printing and embroidery also is done on hats, jackets, pants, bags and blankets. In the shop’s busy season — spring through September — between 4,000 and 5,000 pieces are shipped out each week, Mr. Gracie said.
Linda Wilson Fuoco: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-722-0087.