Monday, June 13, 2011

Hand-painting fabric for needlework

Some friends have asked me to detail my complicated and highly technical process for painting fabric, so here goes.

If you came here to read about another battlefield walk, you are probably wondering why anyone would want to paint fabric. Well, it goes back to the “needle” part of this blog. For stitching and needlework, I prefer the look of fabric that has been hand-painted or hand-dyed. It lends an antiqued look to reproduction pieces and adds interest to other pieces. There are a number of places on-line that offer hand-dyed fabrics. Each does things a little differently and each has a slightly different mottled look. There used to be a place that hand-painted needlework fabrics, and those were my favorite. I loved the look of texturing that the painting created. However, they no longer paint fabrics, leaving me at a bit of a loss.

Here are a few examples of the difference between machine-dyed and hand-dyed fabrics. I don't know about you, but to me it makes a lot of difference.

So I asked a few questions, did a bit of internet research and realized that I might be able to do this myself. I tried my first piece about a year or so ago and since then I’ve continued to experiment and really love the look I am able to create. I admit that I still need some work with my brush stroke technique, but I’m getting there.

Here is the way I paint fabric. It is a simple, no mess, fast process that yields consistent results. And once the fabric dries, the color will not run. This is because I use acrylic paints. To be precise, I use those small bottles of acrylic paint that come in a gazillion colors and are available for a buck something at any craft store. One bottle goes a very long way.


I use standard paint brushes and have experimented with a natural sponge, but I find it harder to control the paint saturation with a sponge. I would like to try different sizes and styles of brushes soon. The first thing you need to do is choose your paint colors. This usually involves mixing two or more colors together and then lightening the color with white.

Mix them up well and adjust your colors if needed. Remember, one drop of colored paint goes a very long way.

 Add some water to dilute the paint and make it easier to spread. 

Paint your piece of fabric, thoroughly saturating it with the paint. If you feel like it is too dark, resist the urge to rinse it off. First, you will have a chance to rinse it later. Second, it will lighten as it dries. Third, if it dries too dark you can always go back over it with a coat of white paint.

Try to create interesting textures with the paint as you go. It isn’t like painting a wall where you want it to be perfectly even and smooth.

Here it is after it has been painted. I lay out a piece of packing paper/blank newsprint and paint the fabric on this paper. It is cheap and clean and won’t leave the markings that newsprint does. It is available at any local storage facility. We have tons of it because MP is paper-trained and this is what she uses. (TMI...I know)

Fold the paper over the fabric and press. 

Twist the paper roll tightly, as if you are wringing out a cloth. Leave it alone for about 45 minutes, but not longer. An alternative to the twisting is to spread a piece of plastic wrap over the painted fabric and swoosh the paint around the surface, creating a textured design under the wrap.

At the end of that time, open the twisted paper up and check on your fabric. It should be damp. If it is dry you waited too long.

 This is the fabric out of the twisted paper, before rinsing. Now is the chance for you to rinse your fabric and get some of the pigment out if you choose. Once it dries whatever is on there is on there for good. 

Run the fabric under warm water, pressing and wringing the paint out. Do this until the water runs clear. 

This is the fabric after rinsing. See the difference? Hang your fabric to dry. 

After rinsing you will be able to see the difference in pigmenting that was created by your brushstrokes and also through the effect of the wringing.  After the fabric drys it will be even lighter and your mottling will show up even more. And yes, this is on the toilet seat. I have converted our upstairs guest bathroom right next to my sewing room into my fabric painting workshop.

And there you have it. Because this method uses acrylic paints, it doesn’t require a treatment of soda ash or heating to set. Once it is dry, it is on there. In this example I used a scrap piece of 28 count Lugana fabric, but you can also do this with linen or even a muslin fabric that you are going to use for finishing.  

This is an example of my hand-painted linen. 


No comments:

Post a Comment