In case someone finds it helpful, I thought I’d share a range of how I’ve painted on fabric for a few different costumes:
1) Using flowing silk paints with resist for an Elven Banner,
2) Free-hand painting on stretchy fabric for Jareth the Goblin King,
3) Puffy paints to simulate embroidery on Peter, High King of Narnia, and
4) Using graphite transfer paper as a stencil for Tali from Mass Effect.
Because it seems like almost every costume I make there comes a moment when I say, “Crumb. I’m going to have to paint that myself, aren’t I?”
Everything I know about painting on fabric I learned from three places: Dharma Trading Company, Jacquard Fabric Products and trial and error (does that make it four places?). I’ve never done a project where I didn’t consult all of them before beginning, and I’ve learned something new every single time.
Also - dyes are a different topic. Ink and paint sit on top of a fabric, dyes chemically interact and become one with the fabric.
1. Elrond’s Banner from the Battle of the Last Alliance (inspired by the movie version): Free-flowing thin paint (like Dye-Na-Flow, Jacquard Textile Colours/Neopaque/Lumiere paints) on silk.
Good advice for all painting and dye projects, but particularly for this sort of thing - make sure you’ve washed your fabric in something like Synthrapol (sometimes I use dish detergent if I run out of Synthrapol), then hang-dry and iron it.
Thin paint on woven silk *runs* - that’s why they call it free-flowing. In order to contain the colours where you want them, you start out by painting lines of “resist” to stop the paint from flowing. I use water-based resist which leaves a thin un-painted line around the sections of colour (you can find examples at Dharma Trading) but there are other kinds, like rubber/solvent-based gutta, or coloured resists, that I have not used.
Handily, thin silks are pretty transparent, and you can stretch the fabric over your felt-marker-on-paper design template and then trace over the lines with resist.
Stretching the material (I’ve used scotch tape to hold mine to the wooden frame here) is very helpful in controlling your resist and paint.
After the resist is dry, you can start painting between the lines. Hopefully you will have tested this out before launching onto your good fabric, so you have a feel for how many coats and what sort of brush works best for your project .
For this one I used foam brushes with Dye-na-flow paints and was happy to leave some brush marks and variability - I wasn’t going for deep uniform coverage. Using this stuff seems very similar to water-colouring.
Dye-na-flow is probably the thinnest and most transparent of the Jacquard paints, and because of that will also change the “hand” (feel) of the fabric the least. With more opaque paints you’ll start to notice the fabric becomes stiffer and more rough to the touch. So it depends on the effect you’re after which you chose (and is another reason to test first).
Once your paint is dry overnight, you generally have to heat-set silk paints, although some types might need to be steam- or chemical- set. So I stick with heat-set ones like Dye-Na-Flow. To heat-set, every bit of the fabric must be ironed face-down for 2-3 minutes. Choose a small area and keep the iron moving in a circle so the silk doesn’t burn.
The resist will still be present on the fabric and needs to be washed out. Warm water with synthrapol detergent does the job. Hang to dry and then iron the silk and it’s ready to lead the Elves to Mordor.
Highly recommend checking out the advice from Dharma on fabric painting - this is a good place to start.