Painting on fabric

I have been working on the printing and painting project all month, and have finished it, but got so involved with the process that I have not kept blog posts up to date. I will therefore be presenting an overview in the next few posts. There was a lot of overlap between the various sections as I used my sketches as a starting point for experimentation a lot of the time. I have paid particular attention to Ruth Issett’s books on printing and painting fabric and paper for this project.

Before starting painting with Procion MX dyes, I bucket dyed small samples of a selection of fabrics to see how they took the same colour dye. I made up solutions as per the instructions in ‘Drawn to Stitch’ (without urea), and have the seperate solutions in plasic milk bottles ready to mix as needed. All the fabrics I have used in this project have been prewashed, ironed and where applicable, stretched on a homemade printing pad. I knew that Procion are not intended for synthetics, but was surprised that there was no penetration of colour at all. A sample with factory machine embroidery in cotton and synthetic thread demonstrated this well. Silk did take the dye, but was much paler. The strip of cotton on the left was used to pin the samples to as they dried, and I liked the effect of the colour running and separating out. I tried dripping fabric made with teabags and bondaweb with the Procion, but it didn’t take the colour as well as I had hoped. I used a scrunched up sheet of pale handmade paper to mop up the excess, and was really pleased with the resulting marks on the paper. Amongst the fabric samples was a piece of bamboo cleaning cloth, which also dyed up very well.

I then tried painting a few marks onto dry fabric and overlapping colours, which worked well. I used sponge brushes and rollers on various fabrics, and particularly liked the effect of rolling colour lightly onto towelling, as the weave of the fabric provided a natural masking effect from the colour.

I tried painting on wet and dry fabric, using my Bauhaus style reworking of Portand roofops as inspiration. Both pieces have their merits, but the dry sample predictably gave stronger colours with less mixing and sharper lines. It also allowed parts of the original fabric colour (white) to show through.

I had protected my printing pad with a sheet of handmade paper under the wet sample, creating a lovely print as a by-product.

Having dyed some small squares of white cotton, I rinsed, dried and fixed them before experimenting with discharge printing and painting. For this I used Milton applied directly with sponge brushes, or printed from a lino cut I made in project four.

It was tricky getting the amount of bleach on the lino correct, as the print develops over minutes rather than being immediately clear. I also found that the longer the bleach was left before rinsing, the more complete the discharge of colour. Where too much bleach was applied and it was left for too long, the pattern was obscured.

I then wondered how well this technique would work on commercially dyed fabric, and tried discharge printing black cotton.


The revealed colour ranges from a deep terracotta to a pale orange depending on how long the bleach is left in place. The resulting patterns reminded me of ancient Greek vases I had been looking at when I started this course. I had also been reading Zandra Rhodes book from the reading list, and was interested in using this technique and my lino cuts based on Beverley Minster windows to create a directional print. From here is jumped straight to producing my first larger sample.I’m really pleased with this and it is forming the basis for a summer skirt I am making myself.

Next I moved onto using oil paintsticks. I have one iridescent Markal stick, and a range of colours in Winsor and Newton oilsticks, including gold and silver. The W&N sticks seem a lot easier to use as they are softer and blend easily. I have a colourless stick to aid with blending if needed. These have been brilliant for simple mark making, blended with a toothbrush or left unblended. I have also used them with masking tape, and Fablon stencils. I did try using fablon as a mask to outline with markal but found the result disappointing as the shape created at the edges of the paint hae such an effect on the negative shape left in the centre. In this sample I used my woven sunset as inspiration, again using a mixture of blended and unbended marks. The next piece started as an outline of a wheatsheaf shape created with shapes from the minster windows, but I kept adding lines until the original idea was obliterated. I am pleased with the effect.

For my stenciled piece I took shapes from my development work based on a fruit bowl and created a new pattern. I thought this as really effective and the drawn ines hold the whole design together, creating a sense of movement. The orange was created by blending primaries.

Paintsticks can also be used to create rubbings of woodblocks, but I have not tried this yet. I have had a go at drawing with expanding 3D puff paint and drawing marks over the top with oilsticks with pleasing results.

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