Painting Basics: Fabric

Painting Basics: Fabric

Give textiles a refresh or a whole new look with this versatile technique.

From curtains to tablecloths, it’s surprising how many fabrics can benefit from a newly painted appearance. Look around your home, and you’ll spy even more potential to add to your home's decor. Then, once you’re ready to get painting, use these easy-to-follow instructions as your guide.

What Can I Paint?

  • T-shirts
  • Aprons
  • Hats
  • Tote bags
  • Lampshades
  • Napkins
  • Tablecloths
  • Table runners
  • Placemats
  • Fabric by the yard
  • Curtains
  • Bedding
  • Slipcovers
  • Pillows

Tip: Purely white fabrics allow the true hue of paint to shine, so if you choose to paint a colorful material, keep in mind how this will affect the application of each color.

What You’ll Need
Washer and dryer
Laundry detergent
Drop cloth or old sheet
Disposable cups
Disposable plates
Stencils, optional
Fabric paint

Tip: Purchase fabric paint medium at the craft store or online. Follow the packaging directions to combine it with any acrylic paint to form a fabric-friendly mixture.

How to Paint Fabric
Pre-wash and dry your fabric before painting. Do not use fabric softener since the goal of this step is to rid your material of lingering residues. If your material is wrinkled after this stage, iron it flat.

If you plan to brush on your fabric paint, set up your protective drop cloth or sheet inside. If using a fabric spray-paint, take the action outside — you’ll need ventilation.

Once you’ve arranged your painting station, set out disposable plates as paint palettes and disposable cups filled with water for cleaning paintbrushes.


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Apply your fabric paint. Get creative by painting freehand or use stencils like letters and numbers, leaves or butterflies. During this phase, make sure you’re backing each layer of fabric with cardboard to prevent your design from seeping into the layer below. When painting T-shirts this is especially important.

Each brand of paint requires a different drying time, but allowing your design to dry for 24 hours is generally a safe bet. For specific instructions, consult your paint’s packaging.

Once dry, it’s time to heat set your paint with an iron. This process truly seals your painted design into the fabric, allowing it to withstand wear and washing. Start by setting your iron to a medium or medium-high setting and completely avoid any steam. For more delicate materials, a lighter setting may be appropriate.

Lay clean scrap fabric below and atop your design to prevent paint from adhering to your iron and ironing board. Carefully iron over your painted design for a minimum of 3-5 minutes. For specific ironing times, refer to your paint’s packaging.

Once your material has cooled, your design should be sealed, though your material should not be washed for another one or two weeks while your paint job cures.

Painting Tips

  • Incorporate detailed accents with fabric paint pens or fabric-friendly markers.
  • For a painting shortcut, use fabric spray paints, as they often don’t have to be heat set.
  • Can’t find the right color? Create your own by blending fabric paints together.
  • With a spray bottle, mist your material. As you paint, the bleeding will resemble a watercolor effect.

What will you try painting with this versatile technique? Tell us by leaving a comment below!

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