Category Archives: textile art

Painting fabric


I really love the look of hand dyed fabric, particularly tie dye effects. The problem is that dying fabric uses a ton of water. There is so much rinsing and rinsing again. So I decided to do an experiment and see if I could get a similar effect using paint.

Here’s a step by step account of what I did.

002 (768x1024)Step 1. Gather supplies. I used plain white fabric, acrylic paint and textile medium. The paint needs to be fairly thick and look for something really opaque. Usually there is an opaqueness rating somewhere on the tube, but often it is just a little circle which is either empty, half filled or filled. Completely filled is best.

Other things you will need are brushes or sponges and some tubs or plastic cups to mix paint in. You will also need some elastic bands or string.

The big blue tarp is supposed to keep me from getting paint all over the floor of my house. A plastic table-cloth would work just as well. But it needs to be plastic if you used a sheet or some other fabric to protect your work surface the painted piece would stick to it or paint might soak through.


004 (1024x768) Using elastic bands I separated off folds of fabric. String would work for this as well just don’t go as tight as you would with tie dying as the paint is not as fluid as the dye so won’t soak in as deep.






006 (1024x768) Next…mix textile medium and paint. Use as many colours as you want. I picked three and put about equal amounts of textile medium and paint into each cup.

Every textile medium I have used specified a different ratio of medium to paint, so follow the direction on the bottle.




008 (1024x768) Mix well.








010 (1024x768) Now this is the slightly scary bit. At this point I stopped following the instructions on the bottle and added water to my mix of textile medium and paint. Not a lot, but enough to get a runny texture, about the consistency of crepe batter.

Then more mixing.




011 (1024x768) Now comes the fun bit. Apply your paint to the fabric, one separated off bit at a time. Because the paint doesn’t spread as well through the fabric as dye does it took a lot of time to make sure I was getting it into as many cracks and crevices as I could. It definitely took longer than tie dying. If you have a table big enough to spread out your finished piece I recommend using that instead of the floor to work on. I was very sore afterwards, but then I could just be getting old.


012 (1024x768) Start adding the second colour…and the third etc.








013 (1024x766) A rather bad photo of the finished product.








014 (1024x768) My excuse for the poor photography is that one of my hands looked like this, and I took the photo one-handed.






017 (1024x768) I left the piece over night before taking the elastic bands off and spread it out. It was still quite wet at this stage. Even trying my best to get into all the folds there was still a fair bit of white, but that isn’t necessarily a problem. I think the white adds a certain contrast with the other colours. I think it would also look pretty good if you started with a coloured piece of homespun and had some of the base colour showing through.



018 (1024x768) In my case though I decided to experiment further and add another colour. I think I liked it better with just the plain white but too late now.






021 (1024x768) Then I had another idea. I had noticed that using the sponge brush made it a lot easier to apply the paint. So I decided to see what effect using a sponge to apply the paint to the fabric would create.

Not sure chopping up my car cleaning sponge was a good idea, but it was handy and I didn’t want to have to run out to the shops to get another one.




022 (1024x768) I was out of white so decided to use this patterned fabric, which I bought as a backing, and had a fair bit left.






023 (1024x768) In one sense the experiment was a success because applying the paint with the sponge was easy and fast, but the finished result is kind of hideous. It might have worked better if I had done multiple blobs of green. Also the paints I used weren’t as opaque as the ones I used for my first experiment so you can still see bits of the background pattern through the paint.




024 (768x1024) Once both pieces were completely dry I ironed them just to make sure everything was set. Use baking paper or something similar to protect your iron.

Then I put them through a 30 degree C wash in my washing machine.







027 (1024x768) This is the result. I think in future I would use a cold wash as the colours faded a bit. Also the metallic paint I used on both pieces washed away almost completely. Not sure what is going on there but probably best to avoid metallics.

I don’t know that I am enamoured of this piece, but I think it is a technique that has loads of potential.