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Painting fabric in a bag

Over the next couple of weeks, I want to turn our focus to fabric painting. Now that it's getting warmer, this is a wonderful activity to do, maybe on your picnic table or on a sunny porch table.

Painting your fabric in a plastic bag is a great technique to choose when you want a surprise: you never know what you're going to end up with when you let everything swirl around together in a bag. So rip off a length of plain muslin and gather up your acrylic paints, small cups, water, and oh yeah...a gallon sized plastic bag.  Note: I do not use fabric paints or textile medium.  Since these fabrics are going to be used in fiber art projects and not washed, I am not concerned about the stiffness of the fabric or fading. 

You can see what I used this fabric for here.

1. Wet your fabric thoroughly, and ring it out so that it is wet but not puddling. Place it into the plastic bag.

2. Working from lightest to darkest color, mix your paints with water if they need it until they are very thin. Pour a thin stream of paint into the bag as you knead the fabric around.  Colors used: Hansa yellow light, Cobalt teal, Turquoise phthalo

3. Repeat with the other colors. Don't overwork the fabric or you'll end up with nothing but solid colored blend. It is usually best to work with analogous colors, avoiding complementaries or triadic colors which will blend to become muddy.

4. Remove the fabric, but keep it wadded up. Let it dry undisturbed.

5. Iron the fabric flat.

6. Choose some stencils or stamps and add any more layers of paint embellishment that you wish to liven up your design.

7. Iron the fabric again, this time ironing slowly and thoroughly to heat set the paints. Once they are properly heat set, you will even be able to wash the fabric without ruining the patterns you've created.

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Copyright 2009 Cyndi Lavin. Not to be reprinted, resold, or redistributed for profit. May be printed out for personal use or distributed electronically provided that entire file, including this notice, remains intact.


Jean Baardsen said…
Very nice - looks like fun! I like the finished quilt too. I've painted on silk before - love the way those colors spread like watercolors!
Cyndi L said…
Oh gosh yes, thanks for reminding me! Silk is fabulous for painting, and I should have mentioned that :-)
Thank you Cyndi! This looks like great fun and I actually have the necessary 'bits' already in my studio. Can't wait to give it a try.
Cyndi L said…
That's great! I'd love to see what you make... :-)
I agree. It is a great no-mess way of getting colour on to fabric. Love that you never know what comes out of the bag. SO exciting.
Cyndi L said…
Yes, well said! That little element of mystery :-)
Maureclaire said…
Beautiful ! After you put the stencils on, did you do the bag thing again ?
Cyndi L said…
No, I didn't, but there's no reason why you couldn't! Just make sure the stencil paint has dried completely if you want to make sure the lines stay crisp :-)
RecycleCindy said…
I love the idea of painting material. Someone just recently commented on a recycled t-shirt yarn (t-yarn) project of mine that it would be cool to paint the old shirts first to create some colorful material. Then when you cut the old t-shirts up into strips to make yarn, you'd have some really pretty variations to the t-yarn you'd get.
Cyndi L said…
And then you can knit or crochet with that t-shirt yarn, and the fun just never stops! Cool idea, thanks :-)
judemowris said…
Very nice! I LUV those colors! Can you tell me where you got the tiny polka dot template? Or, did you make it?
Cyndi L said…
Thanks Jude! Those are some of my favorite colors too :-)

The little dot stencil is the left over shiny paper from those little reinforcement circles for ring-binder paper.
judemowris said…
Cool! I love using stuff for other than its original intention! Or, at least giving it a brief life again before it hits the land fill!
Cyndi L said…
After it's all covered with paint and no longer able to be used as a stencil, then it's ready to add to a collage :-)
Anonymous said…
Does the muslin have to be washed first to remove the stuff they use to keep it smooth on the bolt? Thanks, Norma
Cyndi L said…
Hi Norma! I always do, just to make sure that the sizing doesn't interfere with paint absorption. I'm not sure that it's quite as important to do this as it is when you're using dyes, but I don't want to take chances. Wash with a gentle detergent that doesn't have any unnecessary additives, and dry without any fabric softener sheets.

I'm glad you's good to take the extra step, I think :-)
Bettina I said…
Hi Cindy,

I love the fabric techniques. Question, can I use the plastic bag technique, for example, with clothing? I bet it would look incredible.

Thanks for such creativity!
Cyndi L said…
Ooooo...why not? But there's one catch: you have to promise to share a picture with us here lol!! :-)
Terry Pugh said…
Hi Cyndi,
What a wonderful project and the results are beautiful!!


Cyndi L said…
Thank you, Terry! I've used this piece of fabric for several projects since this was posted :-)
Anonymous said…
Could you tell me if the muslin stays soft enough for handstitching?
Thank you
Cyndi L said…
Absolutely, Susan! I stitch on mine all the time, by hand and by machine. As long as you don't paint it on too thick you'll have no difficulty at all. If it's too thick, it may crack, but you'll still be able to stitch.
Anonymous said…
Thank you so much for your quick reply!
I appreciate it so much.
Shoshi said…
Cyndi, this is gorgeous. Love the random effect, and the idea of stamping/painting/stencilling afterwards. Some cool ideas in the comments, too! Definitely "never throw anything away"!! I didn't know you could use acrylic paints to paint fabric, and that you could iron it to make it fast. Saves on fabric paints!