Thursday, January 14, 2010

Rescuing Ugly Fabric

(I'm so sorry this tutorial was so slow in arriving, life jumped up and got in the way of its completion!)

We all have them, even if we don't admit it: fabric scraps we bought on the sale table at the craft store ten years ago, stuff that was included in kits we never completed, and even more that we don't recognize but that wound up in our stash, nonetheless. We know we won't use these neglected fabrics. Not in their current state, anyway.

But there is hope for such castoffs, using inexpensive supplies from your local hardware or craft store and a little imagination.

I took this fabric:

... and turned it into this:

I also took this, a really horrible fabric that I would never use:

And turned it into this, a fabric I probably will use in the future:


Fair warning before you begin: this WILL change the "hand" of the fabric. The fabric will become anywhere from slightly to moderately stiff by the end of this process. However, it still stitches beautifully and as long as you're mindful of the limitations of your sewing machine needle- or your hand needles- to go through tough fabrics, you can add virtually endless, thin layers of stamping and paint.

Here's what you'll need:

~ Any fabric you know you will never use in its current state. The uglier, the better. Smooth fabric can yield good, crisp (stamped) images and more heavily textured fabric will yield a more distressed image, so choose according to your needs. I use cottons almost exclusively, so I offer no guarantees for how this will work on man-made fabrics!

~ Padded surface for printing. An old towel folded up will do perfectly, and it has the added benefit of being able to pin your fabric to it to keep it from shifting.

~Safety or straight pins. Inexpensive pins are fine for this job- they're going to get covered in paint anyway, so you won't be using these on fine textiles.

~ Acrylic paints in several coordinating colors. Craft paints work as well as artist quality paints for this technique. There are also several brands of excellent textile paints on the market, as well. Spend as little or as much as you like.

~ Fabric or textile medium. I use Delta Cermacoat or Liquitex Fabric Medium because it's what I have in the studio, but most acrylic paint companies make their own version that should work just as well. PLEASE NOTE: for this technique, If you are using paints specially formulated for textiles you will NOT need an additional fabric medium!

~ Stamps. This is the time to pull out and strut those hand-made stamps. Making your own stamps is incredibly simple and there are an almost endless variety of materials you can use, many of which will yield stamps that you can use for years. (I'll be working on a tutorial in the near future for making your own stamps and printing plates.) If you're using stamps that you haven't created yourself from original images, please be respectful of international copyright laws!

~ Paint palette or palette paper.

~ Cosmetic sponges or sponge brushes, and sponges that don't get stiff when dry. I find these sponges- great big yellow ones- in the hardware store in the cleaning supplies aisle. When I get them home, I cut them into smaller pieces. It's important to use these sponges for this technique because you want them pliable when dry.

~ Mister filled with water.

What you'll do:

~Using safety or straight pins, pin your fabric to your padded surface, making sure to pull the fabric taut without stretching it. This step is helpful but not critical with small pieces of fabric, but if you have a large piece of fabric you want to paint, it's going to want to shift and move a lot, even if it is pinned. If it isn't pinned, it could quickly become frustrating. Don't bother ironing out the wrinkles, they'll fall out by the time you're finished. You can use the fabric with its right side up or down, it doesn't really matter- you'll see little to none of the original print in the final product.

~ Spritz fabric lightly with water. You're not aiming to soak it, just to dampen it.

~ Set up your paint palette. Place a large dollop of each of two or three coordinating paint colors (in my case I used golden yellow, orange-red and red ) side by side. Then below them, squeeze out a large dollop of textile medium. I try to use a ratio of about 50:50 but you should read the directions on your textile medium because it may be different. Finally, off to the side of the palette, I often squeeze a smaller dollop of titanium white.


~ With a foam brush or sponge, swipe through one or two of the paint colors and the medium, picking up all three on the brush at the same time.

~ Brush paints and medium onto the dampened fabric, covering the original print as much or as little as you please. This is where the thicker paints will come in handy- they will provide more opaque coverage than thinner or liquid acrylics will. Allow the colors to blend on the fabric as you work, or if you prefer more defined blocks of color, you can do that, too!


~ Cover your fabric with paint, picking up occasional bits of titanium white to add variety and value changes.


~ Before the fabric dries, use the paint still in your sponge brush to add texture. "Slap" the fabric lightly with the flat edge of the brush in a pouncing movement. This will distribute unexpected splatters of paint across the entire surface.

~ The next step- stamping- can be done while the paint is still wet, or it can be done once the paint dries. For the sake of time and because I already have my paints and tools out and set up, I usually just work wet-into-wet.  Load a dry, pliable sponge with no more than two colors of paint (more and you risk muddying the colors) and a dab of the textile medium. I usually do this by mashing the surface of the loaded sponge gently with a craft stick to distribute the paint throughout the sponge. Dab the paint onto your stamp, covering the surface with a light coating of paint. Don't overload the stamp with paint or it will give you a smeared, blurry image.

~ Pick a spot on your fabric and stamp. More gentle pressure will yield a lighter image with a more distressed look. Firm pressure will yield a clearer impression. Continue stamping, changing paint colors (use clean sponges if necessary, to avoid muddying the colors), until you're happy with the design.


~ Allow fabric to fully dry. If your paints or textile mediums need to be set for color fast permanence, be sure to closely follow the instructions on your textile medium or fabric paints.


Nina Lise@Mrs Moen said...

Wonderful tutorial; I have everything I need except textile medium to mix with my acrylic paints. Thank you!

Julie said...

Thank you for a great tutorial Judi. I've kept a copy to refer to when I go and play :o)

Michele/TextileTraveler said...

Great tutorial, Judi, with nice details and pics. I love painting fabric and have quite a bit of fabric that for some bizarre reason seemed like a good idea at the time; I need to get busy painting one of these days!

Gina said...

I finally got back into my clay studio and now on my break you're trying to pull me back into the fabrics! Great tutorial Judi!

Jan said...

Your uglies are indeed ugly but the altered results are fabulous! I'm going to see if my art group wants to do your tutorial next time we meet here, I think it would be a blast to see the results. Thanks, Judi.

Linda said...

Thanks Judi,
I have some fabrics that were given to me and I didn't know what to do with them. I am going to give your method a try, especially as I have nothing to lose anyway. Your fabrics looked great.

Betty Warner said...

Judi - Very inspiring. I knew I was hanging on to that bag of uglies to attempt to turn them into something else. Your photos encourage me to get started. Terrific. I especially like that we saw the before fabrics. - Betty Warner

elle said...

This is a tremendous tutorial, Judi. With this, what can possibly go wrong? What can I shift around so I can start right away! Thanks!

LynnDel said...

Love it - a lot of freedom! I was given a lot of uglies, and I want to use up my paint so I can buy more - so what am I waiting for?!!

laura west kong said...

Wow, that's great! I'm giving a demo later this month on fabric painting and can't believe I never thought of starting with ugly fabric. I'll have to try that. Thanks! ^_^

Anonymous said...

Fabulous idea and tutorial. I have lots of fabric to use this technique on, LOL. Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to your stamp tutorial too. Gloria E


Great inspiration ... are you entering the pieces in the FAMM fabric painting challenge for January?

Have a lovely weekend
Carolyn ♥

Katrina said...

Thank you for the tutorial. You have such freedom in adding layers...just the lesson I need!

Gayle Pritchard said...

What fun, Judi! This is exactly what I have been doing this past week. Thanks for taking the time to take pictures!!