Painting with Dyes on Fabric

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Often times dye has a mind of its own, but sometimes with the right knowledge you can coerce it to be a little more cooperative. Today I’d like to cover a few techniques to help get you started in painting your own amazing pieces of fabric art.

This post is just for techniques for painting with dye. If you need to know how to prepare powdered procion dye for painting, check out this post here where I cover how to mix everything up and thicken the dye to make it paint-like.

Dye is predictably unpredictable. Okay, before you start thinking I’m crazy, just hear me out. When you put dye on fabric, those fabric fibers pull and spread the dye. So if we want a more watercolor-like, bleeding effect, we can totally use this property to our advantage.

Check out Neptune that I painted for my son’s space quilt.

Neptune painted on fabric

The indistinct edges really give it a misty, cloudy effect. I achieved this by painting on the fabric with slightly thickened dye first, then used plain water to blend and spread the color.

If you want to spread even more, we flip the order of operations around and it totally changes the look. Here I put down a few random drops of water towards the edges of the area where I wanted the dye to spread. A little goes a long way with fabric, so you’ll probably need to use less than you think.

Watercolor green dye on fabric

For the darker, more concentrated areas of color I held a brush with unthickened dye to the fabric longer and allowed the natural properties of the fabric and the water to pull the dye out. It will spread out more and more over time.

Painting green dye on fabric with brush

So what if we don’t want the dye to spread?

See Earth here?

Earth painted on fabric

Notice how you can see the brush strokes in the blue – I used fully thickened dye on dry fabric. The dye stays pretty much where you put it without spreading.

You can even blend dyes to give objects more dimension. Here are some flowers from a big project I’m currently working on.

Purple painted flowers on fabric

Notice how the use of shading makes the petals look like they’re actually under or on top of one another? I used two strengths of thickened dye to achieve this. One was prepared at the full recommended strength while for the other was only about 1/3 strength. I used the darker dye on the side of the petal that is going under…

Painting purple dye on flower on fabric

…then blended together the lighter dye.

Painting purple dye on flower on fabric

You can blend together colors too. For the flower centers I used unthickened dyes in yellow…

Printed flowers with painted yellow center

…then added orange, overlapping a little…

Printed flowers with painted orange center

…then red to get the center of the flowers you saw above.

Printed flowers with painted red and yellow center

Those are just a few ideas to get you started! Play around, experiment and see how you can get the dyes to interact on fabric!

Here’s a sneak peak of some dye painting from a project I’m currently working on!

Purple flowers on green and white watercolor fabric

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