Top Tips for Painting Fabric

I have done my fair share of fabric painting and have learned a lot through trial and error.  I love the process of painting on fabric because it really allows you to get the exact color and design you want at a relatively low cost. I thought I would put together a list of recommendations and products that I use to help you achieve maximum results when attempting to paint or stencil fabric.  Here is what I have learned along the way…

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1.  The cheapest alternative when painting large surface areas of fabric is latex paint.  I recommend a flat paint if you paint it on regular cotton, canvas or woven fabric so that it blends in well with the matte finish of the fabric.  I ended up using a flat gray paint on my striped curtains and you really can’t tell it is paint because the flat paint has the same sheen as the curtain.

Painted Striped Curtains

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2.  If you are worried about bleed through and splotchiness from the back you either have to go with a heavier weight fabric or you have to really saturate your thin fabric so that the back is painted through too to avoid the uneven coverage.  On this birth announcement pillow I used a heavier weight canvas to avoid that issue.

Birth Announcement Pillow

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3.  You can purchase a textile medium to mix in the latex paint if you want it to be less stiff.  I generally don’t use it on household items like rugs and curtains because I don’t mind it stiffer.  The textile medium does help with stiffness but it does not completely take it away so I find it adds to the cost of the project when it doesn’t make a huge difference.  However, I recommend using a textile medium mixed with latex on clothes or anything that will come in contact with your skin. Stiffness on clothes is not comfy.  Here is a project I used with latex paint and the textile medium…

Old T-shirt to Painted Skirt

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4.    If you want to avoid the textile medium altogether I love the Simply Screen paints from Plaid for painting small projects.  It is meant for screen painting but it is a nice fabric paint to use on any painted fabric project too. It washes well, stays true to color, and isn’t stiff at all. Here is a shirt using the Simply Screen paints that I did for Kayla’s third birthday.

Princess Birthday Shirt

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5.  If you use a stencil I recommend using a stencil spray or a repositionable spray adhesive to help keep your stencil in place.  This will help to keep your stencil in place when you roll the paint on.  Here is the fabric upholstered headboard I did using a stencil and spray adhesive to hold it in place.

Painted Fabric Upholstered Bed

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6.  Use a small foam roller when painting a large surface area not a nap roller.  A foam roller dispenses a good amount of paint.  A nap roller dispenses too much and can cause bleeding.

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7. I recommend only using one coat of paint but maybe just rolling it and pressing it into the fabric to saturate it.  If you are painting a light paint over dark fabric I will let the paint soak in for 2-5 minutes and then roll over it again.  They key is not to let it dry and then paint over it – that doesn’t work.  Here is a great example of that process.

Monogrammed Pillow

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8.  Work in small sections, maybe a 12” square piece at a time. It is easier to correct mistakes on a small area.

9.  I also recommend removing your stencil or tape right away (while your paint is still wet) so that you avoid the chance of bleed through.

Subway Art Christmas Pillow

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10.  Spray painting also works well on fabric but you will get more of a faded coverage rather than a really saturated one unless your really let it soak in and give it multiple coats.  But sometimes that is the look you want.  I did that on an outdoor rug and it turned out just like I wanted it to.

Spray Painted Outdoor Rug

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Here is a short list of products that I have used.  I am sure similar products will work but this is just the short list of ones I have used personally and can endorse.

Simply Screen Paint for small projects (there is some on sale at Amazon for as low as $1.65)

Simply Screen – fun to make small screen-printed projects

Royal Designs stencils

Cutting Edge Stencils

Foam Roller

3M ScotchBlue Edge Lock Tape

Martha Stewart Stencil Adhesive Spray

Foam Roller

Martha Stewart Fabric Medium

I hope these little tips help you next time you try a painted fabric project.  I got a ton of questions about my painted striped curtains so I thought I would share what I know.  Do you have any tips to add to this list?

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