How can I stiffen fabric into durable forms and stick it on a canvas?
July 25, 2019 1:16 PM   Subscribe

I know less than nothing about art or materials or mediums, which is inconvenient given this very particular project I have in mind. Can you tell me what supplies I might need, what techniques I might look into, what artists I might be able to learn from? Details inside.

The vision: I am cutting up my old sarees (fabric - mostly silk with gold "work" or embroidery, and some are crepe/chiffon) and sticking the pieces onto canvases (like the kind you buy in discount art shops?) in sort of a sculptural way... Nothing that sticks out too much or uses too much fabric. I might want to make the piece look like ripples on a pond, not like a sideways mountain that sticks out at you from the wall.

I would like the fabric to become stiff and durable. I don't mind if it's shiny or matte or whatever, but I do need the finish to be clear. Nothing opaque, and nothing streaky.

I own a pot of Mod-Podge. I tried doing one test piece with that. It was my first time ever working with mod podge and it kind of looked ... BAD... by the end. There were streaks on my saree! I did not want streaks on my saree! I was promised no streaks on my saree! The mod podge also does not look durable. It seems kind of delicate. I have no idea how long this will last. Looks to me like it might crumble and turn back into plain fabric if someone smushed one of the ripples with their finger. Not that I need this art to survive inside a nuclear blast radius or anything but something more than finger-pressure would be nice.

Help me, MeFi. What do I need to use to make this type of art?

Budget is almost potato, btw. This is entirely a hobbyist undertaking and given how terrible I am at artsy things, I have no hope of selling any of it. I've already sunk a couple of hundred+ bucks into canvases and paint and brushes (there's going to be painted bits on the canvas, too, along with fabric). I can spend maybe another $50 - $80 without feeling like I'm being irresponsible.

I would also appreciate any links and resources for possible techniques, youtube videos, artists who are doing similar things, and so on.

Thank you!
posted by MiraK to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I would first consider using cornstarch solution, as is used to starch doilies - 1 part corn starch to 6 parts water. It might or might not work for your application, but man, it can't be beat for cheapness.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:30 PM on July 25, 2019 [3 favorites]

So, I see you makingnthe form you want to shape fabric over, out of plaster. Make and smooth your form first. Then cover your form with saran wrap. Then use clear, glossy varathane to dip your sari material, form it over the plasti-covered plaster. After it sets once. Then put several succeeding coats over the cloth on the form. When you have a durable shape and it is dry, then brush more varathane on until your surface is smooth.
posted by Oyéah at 1:33 PM on July 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

Your thought of modge-podge was correct, however, I suspect you were getting the streaks because the dye from the fabric ran when you coated it with modge podge, which unfortunately, will happen with any wet medium that you put on the saree fabric. The modge podge will hold up for a very long time. Yes, if the ripple on your fabric has nothing underneath to support it, a determined finger poke could "smush" the stiffened modge podge fabric, but it is unlikely it will disintegrate.

I don't have any artists or resources to recommend to you. I think this is going to be a matter of trial and error. I have done fabric draped art projects before, but I'm not sure exactly what kind of effect you are going for, so I'm not quite sure how to advise you. I do think to eliminate the delicacy, your fabric is going to need some sort of backing substrate behind the fabric. You can build that up with paper, rope, scrap fabric, which you glue to your canvas, then you can drape the modge-podge'd saree fabric atop your structure.

On the other hand, if you can keep people from poking at it, the modge podge (if you use a fair amount and saturate the fabric), will hold small ripples without the backing underneath. Do you have extra/similar weight fabric you can experiment with? You can glue (modge podge is a glue) it to a piece of cardboard or wood to practice. I'm pretty sure if you can practice for a bit, you can get the ripples that you are seeing in your mind's eye onto your canvas.
posted by sarajane at 1:36 PM on July 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

You may be able to find techniques by searching on cloth or fabric mache.

I've used ordinary white Elmer's glue with cotton flannel and found it to be very sturdy, but I was using plain fabric and I painted over the end result so I can't speak to how it will work with Sari fabric.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 1:39 PM on July 25, 2019

I would try wallpaper glue, the kind that comes as a powder. It's cheap, which is a good start. Of course, first make a test piece with something other than your saree. Dip/soak the fabric into the glue and then sculpt and ripple it the way you want it, on a flat surface (for testing purposes, cardboard should be good enough).
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:04 PM on July 25, 2019

Paverpol Fabric Hardener
"Dip natural materials, such as textiles, old t-shirts, any of our myriad fabrics or laces, in Paverpol. Gauzes are amazing for this. Drape or wrap the material around a wire figure or other armature and leave it to dry. And that is it!"
Link is to Dharma Trading Company, which is a wonderful resource for fiber arts. (I've been a customer of theirs for probably twenty years.)
posted by chromium at 2:20 PM on July 25, 2019 [6 favorites]

Does it really need to be stiff? What if was ruffled but still flexible and only the edges were attached? You can hand sew a straight stitch down the side of fabric and then ruffle it by pulling the fabric while keeping the thread tight. You can adjust the amount of ruffle based on how much you pull the fabric and how big your stitches are. Then you can literally hand sew the fabric to the canvas. You may need to pre-punch some needle holes in the canvas with an awl.
posted by soelo at 2:25 PM on July 25, 2019

This might be smashing a fly with a sledgehammer, but...

Artist here. I did an art project where I had to create an approximation of a human form using fabric. The problem with all fabric stiffeners is that they are weak. I ended up using epoxy resin to create my fabric form, but epoxy will yellow over time. The only resin I know of that won't yellow is Aquaresin. Epoxy or Aquaresin will darken your fabric slightly and make it appear "wet."

If I were you, I'd just get some acid-free matboard and use spray adhesive to stick your fabric to the board. It won't make it stiff, but it may give you a similar effect to what you are seeking for cheap.
posted by all the light we cannot see at 3:05 PM on July 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

Maybe use the right adhesive to adhere the fabric to flat pieces of acid-free paper or cardboard, or a stiffer fabric, or foil. Then the layered, stiffer material can be molded as you wish.
posted by amtho at 3:23 PM on July 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

I suspect you can use acrylic mediums to do what you want--possibly not as cheaply as you might want, though. I mean, you could certainly get a limited supply of a few different kinds to try out for 20 bucks, but to keep doing this you'd have to keep spending money on it at some point.

I would google something like 'mixed media collage acrylic mediums' or 'fabric collage acrylic mediums'. I suspect you'll want something like a "heavy gel medium". I've been impressed with Golden Acrylics, both the paints and the helpfulness of the people making them, and I bet you could contact them through their website and describe what you want to do, and get good advice. (Disclaimer, I am not the Golden Acrylics guy, and I receive no monies.)

The nice thing about acrylics is that they're not water-soluble once they dry--unlike plaster or corn starch paste. So you can stick things together with acrylics, and then paint on the stuck-together things with acrylic paint, and the paint will stick to the surface, and the water in the paint WON'T dissolve what you've already done.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 4:16 PM on July 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

The best way is to try a few of these methods on expendable small samples. Learn to plan and plan to learn!

If you want to try the cornstarch (I would) and feel the need for backing or something sticky and strong behind the opaque fabric, use thick flour paste on the back as you place it, test a small portion for bleed through.
posted by SaltySalticid at 4:16 PM on July 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

Maybe I don’t fully understand the aim but fusible interfacing is designed to iron on fabric to make it stiffer. It comes in different weights. Not sure if it would become as sculptural as you’re going for.
posted by vunder at 6:50 PM on July 25, 2019

When you say you got streaks, could you describe that a little more? Streaks could mean the dye of the fabric is leaching into the mod podge, the mod podge was applied too thick and did not dry clear, or some areas of your fabric absorbed the medium more than others and appear darker. I'd imagine that last one could be an issue with silk, which tends to look quite a bit darker when wet. It could also be texture from brush strokes, which might be improved with more coats, experimenting with different sorts of applicators, or sanding (though I'm not sure how possible that is with what you're doing).

In my experience, mod podge is generally best applied in multiple thin coats, so adding another coat (or several) might improve the appearance and would likely improve the fragility of your piece. They also make multiple formulas with different finishes, including one specifically for use with fabric.
posted by gennessee at 5:01 AM on July 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

SO I tested various methods of applying mod-podge and it seems promising. The projects are drying as we speak.

Also ordered samples of varathane (fancy!) and Paverpol. Will let you know how it goes.

Lastly, I want to try adding a stiff backing material under the saree fabric to shore it up, as several of you suggested. That's happening tonight.

Thank you for all your suggestions. You're the best! Muah!!
posted by MiraK at 12:58 PM on July 30, 2019

« Older Instagram accounts asking insightful questions   |   Mens' polo shirt w/ different color collar in a... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.