Freckles in April: Fabric Painting Tutorial

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Fabric Painting Tutorial

See the dress in action over here

I did extensive research* to figure out how best to accomplish the watercolor effect on my dress. Basically, you want fabric with a tighter weave and it needs to be able to tolerate and absorb water (no dry clean only fabrics!). If you buy your fabric new, make sure to read the wash instructions on the end of the bolt. Mine was cold wash and line dry. I did the initial pre-paint wash in the washing machine but I'll hand wash the finished dress in the future. Better safe than sorry.

*10 minutes of Googling

My fabric drying in the sun

To test fabrics I snuck a water bottle into Joann's with me and used my finger to put a tiny drop on the corner of the silk I was eying. If the water beads on the surface of the fabric then your paint won't sink in either. The drop should absorb into the fabric.


Fabric (I read that cotton/poly blends work best but my cheap silk worked great and I tried 100% cotton this weekend and it was fine)
Spray bottle filled with water
Fabric paints
Little bowls for holding paints

First, you want to mix your paints with water. The most paint you want is a 50/50 mixture. Any more paint than that and your finished product will feel stiff. Mine was like 30% paint and if I were to do it again I think I would dilute it even more for a better watercolor effect.

I just took the front piece for my dress and laid it on the grass in my backyard so I didn't have to do any real prep work. But if you're doing a shirt or something like that you'll want to cover some cardboard in wax paper or maybe foil and put it inside the shirt. Otherwise the paint will bleed through big time.

Take your water bottle and spritz your fabric real well. The water acts as a conduit for your paint and will make it kind of bleed and feather at the edges.

Start painting! I suggest testing on a scrap first to get a feel for how the color will spread.

I painted a bit then spritzed it with water then painted some more. Play around with it until you get the effect that you want. I just used those cheapy foam brushes from Joann's but I'm sure using different sized brushes would be cool too. I also really wanted to try putting the water/paint mixture in spray bottles but I only had one on hand and I needed it for the water.

For the orange on my dress I just mixed the paint, dipped my fingers in, then flicked it on to the fabric.

It kind of looks like I got splattered with spaghetti sauce. Maybe try a different color if you go that route.

Keep spritzing with water and adding color. When it looks good let it dry. I left mine in the sun and it was dry super fast. My paints don't say anything about heat setting but I did anyway. Put a cloth of some sort down on your ironing board (I used a flour sack tea towel) then put your fabric paint side down on the cloth. Iron on the hottest setting allowed for your fabric.

Love painting on fabric? Try my moon phase tee tutorial!


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  1. Julia and I are itching to get out of the house this morning...since the library doesn't open for an hour maybe I'll go to fabric store!

    Did you just freestyle the dress? I looooove it!

  2. I'm guessing that you cut the pieces for your dress first, and then painted? Or did you just paint the fabric and then make the dress?

    I really want to try this for myself this weekend...

  3. Dude, all I'm doing this summer is sewing. I WILL make this dress and you will be the first to know about it :)

    Also, I have the same question as Nicole...did you cut the pieces for your dress first and then paint?

  4. @ Grace-

    I used Burdastyle's Anda pattern (I linked to it in my original post) but tweaked it a bit. The original pattern comes with both a front and a back but they're so similar I just tossed the back pattern and used the front pattern for both sides. I lowered the neckline about an inch and took it in a bit. I've made the pattern before and knew it tended to be really big. The silk doesn't stretch though, so it does need to be a little large so you can get it on.

    It's basically a really simple shift dress. You could probably make a pattern yourself from a t shirt and just extend the sides down.

    @Nicole and Merrick-

    Yup, I cut the pieces first. I just laid the front piece of my dress on the grass and then painted away. I wanted to control exactly where on my dress the paint was and that seemed the best way to do it.

  5. AnonymousMay 01, 2011

    Very cool! I hope to try this sometime.

  6. Hooray! I plan to link to this tomorrow.

  7. This is so awesome! You're amazing!

  8. This is such an awesome idea! I'm going to Joann's tomorrow!!! I'll try it on my cheap cotton camisole first to see how it turns out, and then maybe upgrade to a T-shirt. Thanks for the tutorial!

    14 Shades Of Grey

  9. I LOVE this DIY!! I'm always on the lookout for fabulous projects and this one is getting added to my to-do list for sure! *Inspired

  10. Unbelievably gorgeous! I suppose the problem for me comes after your tutorial ends: sewing the dress! I suppose I could try to find a white cheap dress.

  11. Any follow up? How has the paint lasted through laundering? Has the paint ever bleed onto your undergarments if it gets wet while you are wearing the dress? Etc.


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