Painting On Fabric

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by Margaret Riley 

Are you ready to paint on fabric? And to “jazz” up some plain t-shirts hanging around in your closet? Hopefully, after you read this article, it will give you the confidence to try your hand at painting on fabric. Before you start, be sure your fabric will accept fabric paint.


When you purchase an article of clothing that you want to paint on, and if possible, you might want to just throw it in the rinse cycle to remove the protective coating on the fabric. Manufacturers put this coating on to protect it from perspiration (from trying it on) and from people who have to touch the fabric. The protective coating removed will allow your paint to adhere better to the fabric and withstand upcoming laundering. But if you have something like a cloth purse, shoes, or a home décor item, washing won’t be possible. So don’t fret if you can’t do a pre-wash/rinse.

Next, if you are doing an article of clothing, you’ll want to slip in a piece of cardboard so your paint won’t bleed to the backside or frontside (if painting on back). You might want to cover your board with freezer or butcher paper with the waxy side up. You can purchase t-shirt boards that you can use repeatedly.

What paint should you use? If you were planning on using your acrylic paint, it will be stiff plus it might fade when you wash it. But you can use your acrylic paint if you mix a fabric medium into each puddle you put on your palette board. There are companies that have manufactured fabric paint for you to use. They are very nice and keep the fabric soft and flexible.

To apply your pattern, you can slip your pattern under your fabric and it might “shine” through enough for you to draw it onto your fabric. A permanent fine line marker works well on your fabric to trace the pattern. You can use graphite paper to transfer your pattern onto your fabric. And there are transfer pencils on the market that make transferring fairly easy. You can use a conte` pencil to trace on the backside of your pattern and then lay the pattern onto your fabric surface with the pattern right side up. Retrace the lines with your finger to transfer the conte` lines. Remember this is a form of a chalk pencil and the lines can be removed just by rubbing your sleeve or your arm over it.

Are you confused on brushes? You’ll want a stiff bristled brush. Don’t use a soft brush as it doesn’t “push” the paint into the fibers, which is very important for lasting results through multiple laundering. You can use synthetic bristles but be sure you get the paint down into the fibers. Start painting from the top to the bottom of your design so you don’t get your hand into wet/damp paint.

Once you are finished, let the fabric dry overnight. Using a dry iron, press on the wrong side, if possible. If your item is washable, wait two weeks (more so in humid environments) before laundering.

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