Stick your neck out with Neck Art
December 13, 2013
Celeste Raffin, originally from New Mexico, and her husband Ralph, originally from Germany, met while skiing. It only makes sense that they settled down in Park City, and 35 years later, they started a screen-printing company together.
Not Normal Printing was established in 2005, but last year, Celeste started up Neck Art. She uses a unique process called sublimation, which she said can be explained with high school chemistry. Her neck gaiters feature pictures of nature she takes while out driving, hiking and skiing.
Celeste prints the pictures with a sublimation printer and then presses the picture onto a piece of polyester material using a heat presser.
"Sublimation is going from solid to gas without going through the liquid stage, so polyester is a great molecule to work with," Celeste said. "If you heat it, it opens up like a little flower. Then the dye goes from solid to gas under heat and pressure, the gas gets forced into the little molecule, and if you take the heat and pressure off fast, the molecule closes and traps the color in."
She said she actually became fascinated by sublimation by accident. A company had a logo with 20 different colors in it, and she said screen printing 20 different colors is next to impossible. She told the company she could sublimate it so she could get the job. When they hired her, she and Ralph researched sublimation and found a company in California that could print the logo out for them.
"They sent us a whole bunch of extra prints of the logo, and we only wrecked about seven or eight shirts before we figured out how to do it," Celeste said. "Then I started thinking about what a cool way it was to print and began to wonder if I could print photographs. When I took some pictures hiking one day, I thought the pictures were so pretty it would be nice to print them out to wear."
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Now Celeste uses the pictures she takes to decorate fleece and polyester neck gaiters that can be used skiing or year-round. The neck gaiters are made from the polyester prints that are sewn onto pieces of polar fleece.
Celeste researched different kinds of fleece thoroughly before deciding on Polartec fleece out of Massachusetts. She said she selected the material because it is made at an employee-owned company in the U.S. and because about 89 percent of the fleece is made from recycled plastic bottles.
A company in Georgia takes the recycled bottles, she said, and cleans them then grinds them into powder packed into small pellets. The pellets are then sent to the Polartec company in Massachusetts, which spins them and weaves them into polar fleece.
"I feel pretty strongly that we need to be doing more to undo all the damage my baby boomer generation has done, so I really liked the fact that it’s an outdoor product made with recycled materials," Celeste said.
Aside from the fleece winter neck gaiters, Celeste also makes what she calls "thinnies." They are pieces of seamless polyester jersey that she said are designed mainly for protection from the sun. They are sold in two sizes: one smaller and tighter and the other larger and baggier. The tighter one is more functional for skiing, she said, and the other will work well while hiking. "If you’re really hot, you can get them wet, put them on and they will cool you right off," she said.
Her company also creates custom work for individuals or companies. For example, a metal fabrication company hired Neck Art to take pictures of the materials and make neck gaiters to send out to clients. She also makes gaiters with family photos or photos of things customers are interested in.
The pictures Celeste takes are not enhanced in any way, because she said the colors she tries to find are vibrant enough on their own.
"Everyone asks me which one is my favorite, but I like them all so much," Celeste said. "I wouldn’t print them onto gaiters if I didn’t like them, so I can’t really choose just one that I love."
Neck Art neck gaiters can be found online or at shows like the Park Silly Market Holiday Bazaar, which will take place on Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 14-15 at The Yarrow Resort Hotel located at 1800 Park Ave.