Fabric Painting: What You Need to Start

A list of useful supplies for fabric painting.

There's oodles of creative fun to be had fabric painting, whether it's decorating a t-shirt, cushion cover, table cloth, or bag, or maybe painting a piece of cloth for a craft or sewing project. The starting point is having your supplies organized and easily available so you never have to stop to hunt for something. Then you need a little space to work (the kitchen table is ideal if you protect it with some paper) and a little time.

01
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Some Fabric to Paint

Fabric Painting Supplies
Photo © Marion Boddy-Evans

It's tedious to do, but washing whatever fabric you're going to be painting on is crucial. What this does is to remove any coatings there may be on the fabric that interfere with the paint sticking properly. Don't add any fabric softener when you wash it neither. It's not as important to iron the item before you start painting, though a flat surface is easier to paint on than a wrinkled one.

02
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A Piece of Card

If you're painting a t-shirt or cushion cover, you don't want the paint to soak through from the front where you're painting your design onto the back. Prevent this by inserting a piece of card into the t-shirt or cover. Card from an empty cereal box is perfect, but avoid having a fold or crease in the card that may cause your paint brush to catch and mess up a line.

03
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A Paint Brush

Art Paint Brushes
Image© Marion Boddy-Evans
You don't need anything fancy! A brush with fairly short stiff hairs is ideal as it helps push the paint into the fibers of the fabric. Buy from Amazon »

04
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Container With Clean Water

Use an jam jar or similar for some water for washing your brush regularly as you're painting. Contaminating one color accidentally with another is an annoyance easily avoided.

05
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Some Wipes or Paper Towel

Artool Studio Wipes, 80 Count Tub
Courtesy of Amazon

Have some cleaning wipes, a roll of paper towel or toilet paper to hand for wiping excess water and unwanted paint from a brush, for keeping your hands clean, and in case you spill some paint. When you've done painting, wipe as much paint off your brush before you wash it. If you're putting paper underneath the fabric you're painting to protect a table, for instance, avoid using something that's heavily textured as it may create unwanted texture in your painting. Buy from Amazon »

06
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An Iron

BLACK+DECKER F210 Steam Iron with Nonstick Soleplate
Courtesy of Amazon
Most fabric paints need heat setting, commonly by ironing the paint for a few minutes. (The paint bottle should tell you what you need to do.) You can use the iron you use for your clothes, but be careful if you're impatient with a fabric painting project: if you iron while there's some paint that's still wet, you'll mess up your iron. Placing a thin cloth over the painted item you're going to iron will help prevent this. It does seem a bit of an extravagance having an iron just for fabric painting, but if you're going to do a lot, it's worthwhile. Remember, you don't want to use steam -- the paint isn't permanent until you've ironed it! Buy from Amazon »

07
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Fabric Paint in Assorted Colors

Fabric painting medium for acrylic paint
Fabric medium turns 'ordinary' acrylic paint into fabric paint that is washable when heat set with an iron. Image © Marion Boddy-Evans

What fabric paint to use is the hardest choice to make. There are so many brands available, we're truly spoiled for choice. You want a paint that's not too thin (or it'll seep out into the fabric where you don't want it) nor not too thick (or it'll be difficult to spread evenly over larger areas) and it shouldn't stiffen the fabric once dried. It's a little of a Goldilocks situation, you should try a few different paints to see which you prefer.

Remember if you've already got acrylic paints, you can buy fabric paint medium from various companies to turn this into fabric paint.
Review of Golden's GAC900 medium Buy from Amazon »

08
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Optional: Fabric Marker Pens

Tulip Fabric Markers Fine Writers 20 Pack
Courtesy of Amazon

Using a fabric marker pen or paint pen rather than brush and paint is great for painting thin lines or doing lettering. (And there's no brush to clean!) You can also use them with stamps and stencils.
• Read about the possibilities for Fabric Painting with Fabric Markers. Buy from Amazon »

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Optional Extra: Squeezable Bottles

Squeezable paint bottle with nozzle lid
Photo © Marion Boddy-Evans

If you put some fabric paint into a squeezable plastic bottle with a nozzle (a top that comes to a point), you can "write" directly with the point onto your fabric. Be meticulous about cleaning out the nozzle when you're done painting for the day so it doesn't get blocked with dried-up paint. Buy from Amazon »