How To Paint Onto Fabric

The most common questions we get at 'You Can Folk It' is about how to paint onto different surfaces. Once you’ve mastered your brushstrokes, it’s only natural you are going to want to expand your skills and move on to painting onto wood, metal, glass and much more. We recently posted about how to paint onto slate but that is not the only popular material Folkers like to paint onto. So many of you get in touch to ask “How can I paint onto fabric?”, so we thought we would write a beginners guide of all you need to know before you get started.  

Painting onto fabric is not only a great way to customise your home decor, clothes and other accessories, it is also a great way to save a little money, but there are a few things that you should know:

Important Differences...

Painting on to paper is one of the easiest surfaces because it is slightly absorbent but the paintbrush glides over it.  Painting on to fabric is trickier because it is highly absorbent, this means that your project will require a lot more paint than usual as the fabric soaks it up and your brush will not move across the fabric as smoothly.  

Paper, wood, tin and glass all come with there own characteristics but the one thing that they have in common is that they are smooth. Depending on the fabric you use to paint on, there will be a texture to contend with.  Some fabrics like leather will have the least texture while the weave of a linen fabric is distinct.  When painting on to a more textured fabric, you can go one of two ways - you can work with the fabric and create a more ‘rustic’ design like we did on the cushion pictured below) or you can override the texture by repainting your brushstrokes, adding more paint until you create a solid design.  

Dotty rose heart wreath painted on to a white fabric cushion cover

Whatever you wish to create with your painting skills, the one thing we recommend is to practice, practice, practice before you create your desired project.  Get your hands on as many different fabrics as you can and practice your brushstrokes, get a feel for how the brush moves over different types of material and try creating both the rustic designs you achieve by painting your brushstrokes once and the more detailed versions you achieve by repainting your brushstrokes until you see solid colour.  

Why Do I Need Fabric Paint? Can’t I Just Use My Acrylics? 

In truth, if you were painting a small item such as a hanging fabric heart or a card (like the one pictured below) you can probably get away with using just acrylic paint. However, when you apply acrylic to fabric, once dry it becomes hard and brittle so if the fabric moves, your design is prone to cracking. The purpose of the fabric medium is to help it to adhere to the fabric better, to prevent fading, to help it move and bend with the fabric.  Fabric paint also means the paint can withstand being washed at low temperatures in the washing machine.  

Folk Art Rosebuds painted on to a fabric heart to create a unique greetings card

What You Need...

There are two different ways we use to paint on to fabric. The first one is great for those of you who want to try painting on to fabric, who might have a project or two in mind but who knows they won’t work with fabric a great deal in the future.  (It also opens up your choice of colours too!) This option is to use DecoArt’s Fabric Medium with your existing Americana Acrylic collection.  

How to Use Fabric Medium & Americana Acrylic...

Image of a fabric heart painted with an oriental blossom design next to a flat brush and the bottles of DecoArt Americana acrylic paints and Fabric medium.

Using this medium couldn’t be easier - all you need is a 2:1 paint to medium ratio.  Pour the desired amount of acrylic into your palette and add half the amount of Fabric medium and mix well.  Although the fabric will soak up more paint than usual, we mix small batches and keep refilling so that the mix does not dry out.    

Pre wash your fabric without a softener to help your paints adhere to it and iron it (If the material allows) to give yourself a smooth surface to work on. 

Transfer your design lightly on to your fabric.  Place a piece of card (an old cereal box will do) between any layers of fabric you may have. Make sure it is big enough to sit underneath every part of your design.  This will prevent your design soaking through from the top layer to those underneath. 

Paint your design using your fabric paints and leave to dry completely for 24-48 hours.  

Once dry, place a thin piece of material over the entire design and then heat set every inch of the area for 30 seconds.  We use an iron for this part but we have seen others using a heat gun. 

How To Use DecoArt So Soft Paints...

Specifically designed for painting on to fabric these come in a range of colours and the process for using them is a little bit different even though the outcome is exactly the same - bright, washable designs.

Once again, make sure your fabric is clean - washed without fabric softeners and iron (If the material allows) for a smooth surface.  

Paint your design as you usually would then allow to dry for 48-72 hours.  

After this time, wash your fabric inside out on a gentle wash cycle.  Hang to dry or dry on a low heat.  These paints are not suitable for dry cleaning.   

What If I Want To Use Both Methods On One Project? 

This is totally doable! We recommend starting with the areas of the design where you need to use the Americana and Fabric medium mixes.  Paint the areas you need to, leave to dry and heat set.  Next, complete the design using the So Soft paints. Leave to dry and wash your fabric as directed.   

A close up image of white quilted oven gloves handpainted with rosebuds using DecoArt Fabric medium and Americana Acrylics

So there they are, the two ways you can decorate your clothes, accessories or soft furnishings. The great thing about fabric paints is that you can not only customise and personalise blanks but you can also revive faded designs on washed out clothes etc giving them a new lease of life.  

If you have a go at fabric painting and would like to share your progress and projects, please tag us in your social media posts! 

Until next time x 

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