Painting On Fabric

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There are so many ways to paint fabric.

Craftsmen decorate clothing, bags, tablecloths and quilted wall hangings with paint.

Artists, searching for new ways to create their art, explore new supports and mediums as a way to expand their repertoire.

Painting on fabric is an intriguing method, worth checking out.

A student can investigate this diverse and widespread craft for years and still find new methods and techniques to conquer.

A World Of Fabrics

Most fabrics are useful as paint supports. Various fibers will behave differently, and the choice of paint varies for each fabric and technique. Natural fibers are popular with artists, but synthetics can be used with wonderful results.

It is important to remove the sizing from the fabric before painting, as the chemicals can potentially undermine the paint absorption and appearance of the paint. When pre-washing and drying the cloth, do not use fabric softener, as this will also add a chemical to the fiber.

Silk and cotton are standard choices, but synthetic blends work well, and may be far less costly. When making a fabric choice, be sure to read the label for fiber content and washing instructions. Some fabrics shrink. Other synthetic fibers must be ironed on a low setting to prevent melting. Be familiar with the characteristics of the fabric to avoid disastrous mistakes through improper handling.

Mediums To Dye For

Although most mediums can be used for fabric painting, there are a number of manufacturers producing paints and dyes specifically for the fiber artist. The variety is vast, with textures, colors, dimensional paint and special effects that will keep a craftsman drooling and broke.

Medium for wearing apparel is necessarily produced to maintain a soft, pliable texture that is waterproof and will not crack or leech color. There are metallic and glitter formulations, as well as paint that puffs into three dimension when applied to the cloth. Each has its own peculiarity, so reading and following the manufacturer’s instruction is important. These paints are easy to work with, and make clothing fun, personal and have a designer style that is very marketable.

Living And Dyeing

An artist has many choices for dyeing cloth. Wax resist, batik, freehand painting and dipping are all ways in which color and designs are incorporated on the fabric.

Using tie-dye and dipping methods, the results are apt to be controlled chaos, with wild and exciting patterns and colors.

Cloth is dyed to prepare fabric for other uses. A craftsman may dye yards of fabric to sew into clothing or accessories. A few feet of silk, custom dyed, is a lovely scarf in the making. Some craftsmen produce dyed yardage with the intent to sell, while others dye the fabric to produce their own garments and accessories.

There are many methods of dyeing fabrics and countless variations to try. Some are time consuming, others quick and simple. An artist can even custom dye fabric, which he will then use as a support for further painting and embellishing.

Batik incorporates designs painted onto the fabric with melted wax. When the design is complete, the fabric is dyed and allowed to dry. The craftsman may do this multiple times, creating colorful and intricate patterns.

When all the dyeing is finished, the wax is removed. This can be done most easily by cooking the fabric in a very large pot of water to which soap has been added. The wax will melt and rise to the surface. Allow the water to cool and the wax to harden on the top of the water. Get rid of the wax, and then remove the fabric, rinse, dry and iron.

The discharge process is just the opposite. The craftsman removes color from fabric, in controlled or random designs. There are various products available, each of which has its own special characteristics. This method uses chemicals, which may be noxious, so proper ventilation is necessary.

Printing And Stamping

Fabric paint can be used to stamp designs onto the cloth. A stamp is an efficient method of creating a repetitious design quickly. Simply paint the block with a rich application and firmly press the stamp into the cloth. This works very well for borders or for mass-producing a similar design on a number of pieces, such as a t-shirt or book bag.

Similarly, stenciling works equally well for this same type of production. When doing either type of painting, it is a wise idea to stretch the fabric across a board or other flat piece to prevent wrinkles marring the design or keep paint from flowing through the fabric.

Monoprinting is printing an image one time, using a sheet of paper. The design is drawn and painted on a piece of paper, positioned over the fabric and pressed onto the cloth. If multiples of these images are required, make photocopies of the desired number of repetitions.

Silkscreen or screen-printing can also be done with great success on fabrics, and is a substantial part of the ready-to-wear industry. An artist may wish to build his own little cottage industry of custom designed screen print clothing and accessories. Screen-printing is not costly for basic supplies, and is an interesting concept to try with fabric, as well as other traditional supports.

Direct Painting On Fabric

Artists paint wet on dry, or wet on wet with typical supports and paints. They can use the same techniques for fabric painting. Use standard brushes, sponges or sponge brushes to achieve a variety of effects. Paint can also be applied through a tube dispenser for controlled lines and volume. It can be splattered and flung or meticulously applied. Special effects from alcohol and salt are interesting additions that can add character and painterly results, if used sparingly.

After painting the fabric, textile artists may add other fibers and objects to create collages. Fiber artists may use the cloth in the creation of art quilts, padding and basting the surface to gain a three-dimensional look. The fabric may be cut into a pattern and used for stuffed soft sculpture, or shaped over an armature and stiffened.

There are countless techniques to try, and endless materials and mediums with which to experiment.

Be careful though, as once you start dabbling with this fun and easy craft, it may be impossible to stop.

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