Do you believe in love-at-first-art-medium? The first time I textile painted I think I just burst out laughing, cause it was so fun and satisfying and just BEST THING EVER, that I was like, oh yeah, this. THIS is what I want to be doing. It’s one of those art forms that is so delightful that you start dreaming about doing it again before you even finish your first attempt–like a first date so awesome, you text them as they walk back to their car from your doorstep. Besides being totally hot right now, textile painting is all at once romantic, bold, graphic and playful in style, and like I’ve said, completely cathartic creatively. If you follow me on Instagram (which you should!), then you’ll see it’s kinda taken front and center in my creative journey, and after you give it a go you’ll know why. I feel kinda like a gushing lover. Let’s get down to the nitty gritty.Tools and Materials
Paints: Dye-na-flow by Jacquard is my absolute fave, it’s the perfect consistency, and comes in a ton of beautiful colors. Jacquard textile colors and Dr Ph Martin’s craft inks work pretty well too, although I watered them down as they are still a little thick for this application. I haven’t tried this, but I’m assuming that you could also use concentrated fabric dyes with success if you mixed a slurry really well.
Fabrics: If you’ve ever used watercolors, then imagine the different ways the paint acts on smooth vs. porous papers. It’s the same with fabrics. The paint will spread more quickly and widely over smooth tight weaves, resulting in a very wet, blurry effect. Looser, more textured weaves will absorb the paint more, and result in a dryer, more controlled stroke. From smooth and tight to loose and textured: silk, quilting cotton, rayon, cotton canvas, linen/linen blends, raw silk, velvet. Below you can see the variation in stroke just based on the fabric–first the textured linen on the left is concise and dry-looking, and the Kona cotton on the right looks wet and blurred. The samples with painted flowers show the difference between a delicate crepe de chine and a fuzzy velvet; the weave and texture will really affect the look you end up with.
Prep and Set-up
You’ll want to find a flat surface much larger than the fabric you’re working with, so if you have a table—great. If not, try setting up on the floor. I like to paint on a cheap water-proof vinyl tablecloth, as it prevents bleed through. Make sure you have lots of water and paper towels for rinsing and drying brushes. Practice your design on a scrap-piece (of the same pre-washed fabric you plan to use!) to get a feel for saturation and effect before you go for the glory!
Techniques and Ideas to Try
Wet vs Dry: just like fabric absorbency and weave will alter the look of your stroke, so will the wetness/dryness of the fabric. Wet fabric will spread the paint creating a soft and beautiful watercolor-like look, whereas on dry fabric, the paint will sit more on the surface and result in a more bold, concise and textured stroke. Play around with this by using a spray bottle to mist or saturate your fabrics before painting; both wet and dry techniques work well depending on what look you want, and can be fun to combine.
Splatter: let all your 90’s dreams loose, and go crazy. Try using a paintbrush or your fingers to flick. Splattering on wet fabric will result in an almost marbled look, and dry will give the classic spattered-look. Try layering both for a very organic effect.
Speed/Saturation: This one is just common sense, but it bears mentioning. The faster you move, the less time your paint has to seep in; so faster movement will give a less saturated and more defined stroke, and a slow, measured stroke will give a heavily saturated, spread out effect, especially at the first touch down of a loaded brush on your fabric. This is especially important to note when painting stripes, I always touch down with the lightest possible touch, almost skidding across the surface at first.
Create thick and thin strokes with a wide flat brush by using both the skinny and wide edge.
Pattern: keep it simple. Try just playing around with basic brush strokes to create layers and texture. Simple shapes, when painted, will be 10X cooler than normal. Try doodling on the fabric, filling in all negative space for an amazing all-over design. Don’t overthink this! Just give yourself a simple parameter (say, “triangles”), and come up with a simple take that will give you an overall WOW effect.
Finalizing your Fabric
To make your gorgeous painted design permanent, allow to cure for a couple of days and then heat-set thoroughly with a dry iron on the hottest setting appropriate for your fabric. Then allow to cure again for a week or so, and at that point you should be good and can wash normally.