Painting on fabric for beginners: where to start, basics of technique, tips

Batik (painting on fabric) is a fascinating activity, the result of which will help you to bring a twist to your individual style and demonstrate your own talents. In painting on fabric there is nothing supercomplicated, the main thing is accuracy, quality materials and observance of some rules.

You’ll need a workspace, fabric, paints, brushes, a bowl of water and small cotton rags.

What fabrics are good for batik

You can paint both ready-made thing and a piece of fabric. While looking for a batik material one should pay attention to its appearance and physical properties, density, smoothness and weave of threads. This will depend on how the paint spreads and absorbs. The optimum choice is a single-colored flowing fabric with a smooth surface and plain weave threads.

There are two main directions of classic batik – cold and hot. Because one of the stages of hot batik is boiling, only those materials that are not deformed by heat treatment, such as cotton, viscose or linen, are suitable for it. The technique of cold batik in addition to these allows working with wool and natural silk. There are also drawings on synthetics, such as polyester, but this is very unpredictable material, and beginners is better not to risk.

painting on fabric

What colors are used in batik

For a drawing on the fabric we need special paints, they come in two varieties: acrylic and aniline. Acrylic designs are fixed in the final stage with a hot iron, and aniline colors are treated with steam in a special autoclave to fix. However, thrifty craftsmen have already adapted to steaming the pieces in buckets and steam cookers. When treated with steam paint penetrates deeply into the fibers, giving a uniform color and fully preserving the structure of the fabric. Working with aniline colors takes more time, requires preparation and a certain skill. This is the level of a pro.

Acrylics are affordable, water-soluble, wash-resistant, and quick-drying, making them great for novice artists. These materials are referred to the “hobby” class. They come in matte and glossy, with increased fluidity for painting on silk, for work on dense fabrics and leather – with the label “Textile”. They can be with different effects – velvety surface, fluorescent, metallic, pearlescent. Some paints are marked “for dark fabrics” or “for light fabrics” – such recommendations of the manufacturer are also better to be heeded.

To keep the paint from spreading uncontrollably over the fabric, you need to “lock” it in closed lines. For this purpose, use the contour (reserving compound) – a special thick paint in a tube with a thin spout. When applied, it soaks into the fibers of the fabric and prevents the paint from flowing beyond the line. Contours can be ordinary, with 3D effect, pearlescent, glittering glitters and others. For silk a separate type of outlines is used.

  • Masters are advised not to mix in the same work paints from different manufacturers and different series – chemical compositions of dyes may conflict with each other. In order not to get lost in the maze of cans, pay attention to several points:
  • type of fabric;
  • color saturation;
  • the variety of color palette of paints and outlines;
  • the need for special effects;
  • additional compositions – for example, the French firm Pebeo offers solutions for attenuation of brightness, for thickening of paints and a special reserve for protection of a large surface area from paints.

Techniques of painting on fabric

We have already mentioned the main directions – hot and cold batik. In addition to them, there are three more interesting techniques for creating patterns on fabrics.

Airbrush. Applying paint on the material is done with an airbrush. The intensity of the color is determined by the distance from the nozzle to the fabric and the duration of exposure. Contours are not necessary for the work, but stencils are often used to create clear borders.

Knotted painting (sibori, tai-dai, plangi). The basic principle is that the fabric is painted entirely, except for those places that you previously protected. The paint is prevented by many knots, pins, tangles of thread, in which you can add buttons, twigs or other elements to create an original pattern. Sometimes the process is repeated – after dyeing and then untying the knots, tying new ones in other places and dyeing in the next color.

Free painting. The fabric is moistened with water and a brush is used to draw on it. There are no contours, so the colors are free to mix with each other. The degree of humidity of the fabric determines the “watercolor” of the drawing.

How to transfer an image

There are many ways to transfer an image from paper to fabric. The most convenient option is if the fabric is thin and the outline of the drawing on the paper is made with bold lines of rich color, then you can simply put the drawing under the fabric and trace. But if you are drawing on a thick fabric or are not sure of your hand’s firmness, try the following methods.

Method 1

Stretch the fabric, place the tracing paper on it, and place the drawing on top of it. Works on light or dark fabrics – choose a tracing paper in a color that will stand out better on your fabric.

Method 2

Use a stationery knife to cut along the outline of the design, leaving small ridges to prevent the pattern from falling apart. Put the stencil on the fabric and draw with a soft pencil or chalk in a color that contrasts with the material. Carefully remove the pattern and complete the outline, sketching the gaps.

If the drawing is simple and monochromatic, and you are sure of your accuracy, you can use a paintbrush instead of chalk.

Method 3

Take a thick needle, put the drawing on a soft surface and make many punctures on the contour. Then transfer the paper to the fixed fabric and sprinkle it with ground chalk or pencil lead. Spread the powder over the surface with a cotton pad, pressing it down slightly. Remove the paper – a dotted outline of the pattern will appear on the fabric.

Method 4

The original drawing should be on tracing paper. Draw around it on the back with a wet pencil or chalk, then gently press it onto the fabric and iron it on by hand a few times.

Method 5

Using Light. Fasten the fabric to a hard sheet of glass, Plexiglas, plastic, or other material that lets in light. Place the sheet on two stands (such as two stools) with a lamp on the floor between them, pointing upward. Turn on the light and trace the drawing with a pencil or straight outline.

With a little experience and simple drawings, transferring the image may not be necessary – many people draw directly on the fabric.

Practical tips

Pre-washing. The factory-impregnation of new fabric prevents the colors from being absorbed, and the pattern can be spoiled. Be sure to wash, dry and iron the fabric before starting painting.

Fabric tension. Before you start, make sure that the fabric is securely mounted on a rigid surface – it’s best to take a sheet of plastic, plywood or a board. You can use office buttons, paper clips, paper clips, or even regular clothespins to secure it. The main thing is that your workspace should not move when transferring the image from the paper and in the process of applying the outline and paints.

Backing. If you are drawing directly on the finished product, such as a T-shirt, it is important that there is a backing between the layers of the fixed product – this will avoid getting paint on the back side of the product, where there is no picture. The backing can be an entire sheet of plastic or plywood on which you mount the product, if the size allows, or an additional tab of similar material or simply plastic film.

Water. Pour the water for the paint dilution into a sturdy heavy glass or jar and place it a little to the side, not at your fingertips. Do not use plastic cups, they are not stable and can easily get upside down and spoil your work.

Rags. It is a good idea to have hygroscopic wet and dry cloths for brushes, wiping your hands and table while working. Carefully watch that there is not a drop hanging on a brush – a single blot can irrevocably spoil the workpiece. Pay equally close attention to clean hands – sometimes it seems that the paint just falls on them by magic.

Brushes. Your choice of brush is determined by the type of pattern, the quality of fabric and your personal tastes. In batik you can use a very large range of brushes, as well as foam and cotton swabs. It is desirable to choose brushes with a long handle and even, neatly arranged bristles. For tracing small parts and works close to the contour you will need thin brushes, for painting large surfaces you can take round and flat brushes.

Please note that a brush should not be left with the tip down for a long time in water, as it can become deformed. When the job is done, wash the brush with a drop of dishwashing detergent and dry it with the tip up.

Contour. When outlining, hold the brush at an acute angle to the fabric and do not change the speed of your hand – then the line will be even in thickness.

Stitching. Carefully read the instructions on the cans with paints and outlines – each manufacturer may have its own drying time and method of setting. Observing the rules will help you not to spoil your work.

painting on fabric

Ideas: what things can be painted

Traditionally, the batik technique was used to decorate silk scarves, stoles, shawls and dresses. Since the art originated in Indonesia, its native motifs are flowers, plants, birds and landscapes.

For the “test of a pen” you can take a solid cotton T-shirt and decorate it with the Shibori technique – you get a bright summer spiral pattern with diverging rays. On a child’s sweatshirt will look good frame of the favorite cartoon – in such drawings there is a clear contour and large shapes, they will be easy to work.

Having practiced on small items, you can paint a decorative pillowcase or bedspread in the bedroom, a wall panel, a tablecloth or a curtain. The color and motifs of the work will depend on the style of your interior.

If you search for outline drawings for batik on the Internet, you can safely add to them templates for stained glass painting – these techniques have a similar principle.