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Painting on Fabric With Acrylic Fabric Paints - A Beginner's Guide

Painting on fabric is easy and inexpensive, and it opens up exciting new creative horizons for sewers and quilters, fine arts painters, scrapbookers, and mixed-media artists..

If you've never tried painting on fabric before, you may have questions about how to get started. Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions about fabric painting. What kinds of paint can I use to paint on fabric? Oil paints and acrylic paints can both be used for fabric painting, but acrylic fabric paints are much easier for a beginner to use than oils. They are inexpensive, they don't require any chemical solvents for cleanup (unlike oil paints), and they are easy to find at art stores, large craft stores, or even quilt shops.
What's in an acrylic fabric paint? Acrylic paints consist of colors mixed into an acrylic fluid that is designed for use on fabric. Some acrylic paints are stiff enough to create 3-D brush stroke effects on the fabric. Others are thin and have a watery consistency, like watercolor paints. Acrylic paints can be thinned with water, but that makes the color paler. You can also thin or thicken your paint without changing its color by mixing it with a fluid called fabric medium or gel medium.
What types of fabric can I paint? Really, you can paint just about any woven, knitted, or nonwoven fabric. The list includes cotton, linen, rayon, wool, silk, most synthetics, terry cloth, and velvet or velveteen. You can also paint with fabric paints on many interfacings, quilt batting, leather, or suede. When in doubt, test the surface before you start a full-scale project.
Can I wash painted fabric? How long will it last? As long as you follow the paint manufacturer's instructions for drying and curing the paint, most painted fabrics can be washed. The paints will typically last as long as the fabric does. The more gently you wash (hand washing and drip drying instead of machine washing, for instance) the better the paint should wear. For most fabrics, the paint can be machine washed or dry cleaned. To iron acrylic painted fabrics, use a low heat setting.
Do I need other equipment or supplies to paint on fabric? A set of good acrylic paint brushes, a sponge or two, and whatever stamps, stencils, and other applicators you have around the house (Q-tips, pens, scrunched-up plastic wrap, you name it!) will come in handy. If you want to blend colors, a painter's palette might be useful, although you can also use a china plate for that. You really don't need anything more to get started.
How should I get the fabric ready for painting? If the fabric is new, always prewash it to remove any sizing, which can keep the paint from adhering properly to the fabric. You may also want to protect your work surface with newspaper or cardboard to keep paint from getting on things you don't want to paint.
What's a good first project for me to try? How about adding some pizzazz to a pair of canvas sneakers, a silk scarf (you may want to try a paint specially formulated for use on silk,) a t-shirt or sweatshirt, a canvas tote bag, a baseball cap, or a small wall quilt? The possibilities are endless. Start with something small and inexpensive, so you can experiment without fear.
Find many more helpful tips on fabric painting, quiltmaking, sewing, fiber arts, mixed-media and papercrafts at the C&T Publishing blog, along with weekly give-aways, free projects and plenty of inspiration from the C&T creative community. C&T authors include reknowned quilters and creative artists such as Alex Anderson, Barbara Brackman, Jane Dávila, Harriet Hargrave, Nancy Johnson-Srebro, Katie Pasquini Masopust, Ruth B. McDowell, Lesley Riley, Elly Sienkiewicz, and Jean Wells. C&T Publishing. Innovate. Educate. Create.

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Comment by nellie diaz on June 24, 2010 at 5:26pm
i have never used any paint projects but im willing to get hook lol
Comment by Heather on December 4, 2009 at 11:31am
O' here is a question kinda an after thought how would this work on replicating that one piece of material that you can't find anymore of?
I actually have 3 pieces that fit this bill, one is a panel that has shoes, purses, hats, and a hair decoration. Each picture has an ornate border around it too. Could we use this technique to reproduce it and even change the color scheme?
I also have another piece of material that has wire dress forms all over it, and I can not find it any place and only have about 1/2 yard left from a bolt that had 20 yards on it, what do you think of this technique to reproduce this piece as well, or do you have any other brilliant ideas in mind for this problem.

Help love the fabric but can't find it anymore and can't let it go....
Comment by Heather on December 4, 2009 at 11:24am
Wow this one piece gives me so many different ideas. Boy I almost want to play hooky from work and do something like this, lol
Thank you for this great idea and it could not have come a better time, I mean who doesn't have that one person (Mother-in-law) that has everything and LOVES the homemade gift that doesn't or should not look home made and there is enough time to get it done way before Christmas eve and there is time to spare to get it in the mail so she MIGHT actually get it before Christmas Day, lol

Thanks again.
Comment by Barbara on November 30, 2009 at 3:11am
love the fabric on window idea, good for a small window,
Comment by Melanie Brummer on November 26, 2009 at 6:09am
I LOVE fabric paint, and it is so easy to use. Thank you for unpacking the basics. I think if more people knew just how easy it is, it would catch on like wildfire. Since I started addind colour to cloth, I have become more and more intrigued with the medium.
Comment by Margi Mae on November 25, 2009 at 5:56pm
Awesome, looks like stained glass.
Comment by HeyJudee on November 25, 2009 at 10:00am
Love your flowered window! Really cool!
Comment by Susan on November 25, 2009 at 9:14am
Diana thank you for posting that photo! Beautiful. Nice work recycling the hexi flowers...
Comment by Diana Baron on November 25, 2009 at 9:11am

This is a fabric painted project that i did for a window that gets a lot of light. The background was white cotton, the leaves are cut and appliqued from scaps of the painted cotton, and the "flowers" are some quilt hexagons left over from a quilt I made some time ago.

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