drawing on fabric & stylish blanks?
May 9, 2012 3:46 PM   Subscribe

What materials are good for drawing on fabric and clothing in a non-hokey way? And where is a good place to get stylish blanks?

I want to decorate clothes, but in a grown-up way. I already know how to do silk painting. But the effect is often too hippie-dippy even for me, especially for items much larger than a scarf. I like pieces like this Anthropologie skirt, this Modcloth top, and, more absurdly, this. I like how it looks like these patterns were just painted / drawn freehand on the clothes. I am confident in my drawing ability to do this, and it would end up being cheaper than Anthropologie, I imagine! But what kind of materials would get me this look for drawing on white clothes? Fabric pens I've tried look a lot like just writing on clothes with sharpies - in other words, childish. I did make myself a canvas tote bag once and painted it with acrylic, and it worked great for a bag. I'm not sure how this would work on clothing, though (I used painting canvas, not regular, thinner, tote bag canvas). I can see acrylic getting an effect on clothes like that second Anthro link - does anyone have experience with this? How does it hold up to laundering?

Any suggestions for materials to try? And stylish blanks? I am a young woman, artsy, generally hippie / bohemian / "hipster" (Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters looks, though I can rarely afford them) if that helps define what I think is "stylish." Also, I'm generally an XS and flat-chested and have had trouble in the past finding blanks that don't make me look like I'm wearing a bag.

Also, I'm bad at sewing (and following through on sewing projects) so I need something where I can draw directly on clothes, rather than just fabric.
posted by fireflies to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (12 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
For blanks, you should look at American Apparel. They're famous for their plain t-shirts and other knits, but more and more they're starting to do items in poplin, broadcloath, and other woven fabrics.
posted by Sara C. at 4:11 PM on May 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Well, the pictures you linked are all printed fabrics. Probably some variant of screen printed, which is something you can do at home but it would not look like that, due to equipment/cost/skill limitations. Also, a lot of commercially printed garments use very toxic chemicals in the process that are not really for home use.

Techniques that can be professional in flavor but still achievable in a home studio include screenprinting, marbling, dyeing (tie-dye is weirdly in right now, given it's reputation, and people are doing great stuff with it) batik... shibori is a resist dyeing technique that is very sophisticated when used well. Except for screenprinting none of these are image transfer techniques, but you're planning to do this in your home, right? To some extent this will limit you.

You will need to use media that are specifically designed for fabric. Acrylic paint, for example, is not going to work out (unless maybe you add stuff to it) because it will crack and flake. In addition, your media must match the kind of fabric you are using. Natural fabrics (cotton, wool) will require different dyes than synthetic ones.

My recommendation is that you get some books about textile and surface design. Some of them will be very technical and some of them will be too hippy-dippy for your tastes so I would look at them first if you can. But every fabric reacts with the various chemicals that will bind pigment to it in a different way, so this is something you will need to research.

If you can, think of the above techniques as similar to drawing techniques. They can be used very skillfully, or not. A bunch of dots on a page could look like a bunch of dots, or they could be a Seraut. A lot of craft stuff gives surface design kind of a bad name because it is like taking your crayolas and scribbling all over the page. But that doesn't mean artists can't use a crayon to draw a portrait.

I'm going on for a while. Could that Modcloth top be reproduced with silk paints?
posted by newg at 4:29 PM on May 9, 2012 [4 favorites]

Oh and I totally missed the obvious which is that although it is a lot of work to print your own fabrics at home, in this digital age it is pretty easy now to create your artwork, make a digital image, and then have someone else (a commercial entity) custom-print your garment of choice for you. You will want to pay attention to who will retain the rights to your image afterwards, and it might still be expensive if you are only doing one-offs, but it is another viable option.
posted by newg at 5:15 PM on May 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

The images you linked to are more detailed than the ones I've done but, in case you're interested, I've done freezer stencilling and it's pretty good--not so great with fine lines but good for single color images like this or this. You could probably do more detailed drawings if you're patient about cutting out freezer paper. I don't think it looks hokey. The fabric paints are great and hold up to laundering.

I haven't done it but I bookmarked this project to try out the Stained Sharpie markers. As far as I've seen online, I think geometric patterns work best with these.
posted by biscuits at 5:41 PM on May 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oooh newg that is a great idea! I am trained in drawing and getting into illustration so making a digital image of a pattern or print sounds doable and fun. So would that be people doing their own home screenprinting (which I know lots of people on Etsy and other crafty communities do) or more commercial? I know you can get just an image printed on a T-shirt easily on places like cafepress, but if I could get my hand-drawn images allover on various garments that would be way better. If it had to be in bulk that could be okay - I think this could be a fun Etsy enterprise (though it would depend just how bulk it had to be, I guess!).

Not sure about the Modcloth top in silk paints... I've so far only done silk painting using a resist, so it ends up with a sort of stained-glass effect. I've heard of silk paint being used without a resist, but it sounds really messy and difficult to control, not totally ideal for just going at a pre-sewn garment.

Keep the ideas coming you guys, this is all great!
posted by fireflies at 5:42 PM on May 9, 2012

Why not just get your fabric printed at Spoonflower? Doing your own screen printing to look like that lobster toile would be pretty difficult, I'd say.
posted by Ideefixe at 5:52 PM on May 9, 2012 [6 favorites]

You can use acrylic paints on fabric, but you have to add a fabric medium. They are available just about anywhere craft and fabric supplies are sold, usually in the same section as the paint. Some require heat setting with an iron, but I believe it depends on the brand.

Which fabric markers have you tried? Just curious, as I have eyed them myself.
posted by annsunny at 7:45 PM on May 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you're going to go with fabric paint, Jacquard Textile paints are what you want. They're usually available at specialty art stores or on the internet (obviously). What you DON'T want are those crappy tiny tubes of fabric paint you can get for like $0.99 at Walmart or Jo-Anns, they just don't go on well at all. Jacquard paints mix well, apply smoothly, come in a huge variety of colors, and hold up very well through the wash. (You should heatset it with your iron before doing so, of course.)

I don't know much about advanced fabric printing techniques, but there's a lot you can do with basic ones. It's entirely possible to do some very nice work using a combination of brushes, and just going at the fabric directly. Another option would be to get an airbrush, especially if you need a very uniform coating over a large area, or just want some more options in terms of getting a fine, even gradient.

If you need straight lines, or curves, freezer paper works very well as a stenciling device. It's basically paper with wax on one side, and you use it by drawing the design on the paper and then cutting it out with scissors/razor blade. Then you put it on your fabric and iron it on, with the paper side up and the waxy side down. The wax will make the paper temporarily stick to your fabric, making painting clean crisp lines a snap.

You can also convert household items into paint application devices. It's easy to get a nice speckled effect by loading an old toothbrush up with paint and then create a spray by running your thumb over it. If you want a repeating image, you could cut shapes out of craft foam and glue them to a bit of wood, creating a makeshift stamp.

None of these techniques are particularly complicated, or expensive, but when layered or used in combination with each other, it's possible to create some really cool looking stuff.
posted by Estraven at 9:02 PM on May 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

There are some very simple and cool photographic techniques that work well on fabric. You can photographically transfer your own art to your clothing. Black and white and color options are available. All are possible to do in your own home with little or no specialized equipment. Look here for info...
posted by txmon at 7:24 AM on May 10, 2012

I've been experimenting quite a bit with fabric painting/surface design lately -- nothing so detailed as the clothing items you linked to (they look to be commercially screen printed) -- but I've found the book Art Cloth by Jane Dunnewold to be really useful and straightforward. She goes into a ton of different techniques, including screen printing. The Surface Designer's Handbook is a good one too; the pictures look a little dated but again it's a source chock full of techniques. For a more modern take, Printing By Hand is a nifty book.
posted by medeine at 9:03 AM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Take a look around Dharma Trading. The have a large assortment of both blanks and textile dye-ing/painting materials. They also have a lot of information on their site regarding what process works best on what fabric and how-to's.
posted by sarajane at 12:12 PM on May 10, 2012

You might want to try out different fabric/materials in a test run, too. Knits will behave differently from wovens, cotton from wool, etc. Freezer paper, in addition to being a good stenciling method, is great for stabilizing knits or other fabrics. It also will prevent bleed-through if applied on the back or inside of a garment
posted by annsunny at 3:16 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

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