I have been teaching the art of fabric painting for most of the last 20 years. Categorized as Surface Design, the popular trend has been to create interesting manipulations of color on cloth that could then be sewn or layered into other finished works such as quilts or wall hangings.
But painted fabric has many other applications besides sewn work so there are as many styles of paint as there are venues that sell it. From hobby stores to fabric stores to DIY furniture stores and pro-pigment suppliers, the common denominator between all the products is that they are acrylic suspended in some sort of solvent. Controlling the success of your finished artwork has as much to do with choosing the correct paint as it does with your careful practice of handling a brush.
Even within the paint style categories not all paint is the same. Just like some cheaper house paints will not glide on evenly and take multiple coats to cover, some fabric paints can be gummy and drag on the cloth. This can be OK for stippling, for example, but not OK for creating a blurred and blended image. Some paints will hold up to constant wear due to fillers in the paint and some will lend themselves to invisibility on the cloth giving it a soft & fluid hand. And besides the feel of the paint, some cheaper paints use pigments that are not lightfast. For my work, I alternate between a dozen or so different types of paints—all professional grade— to achieve the desired, long-lasting effect on the cloth.
These vessels I created by stiffening and sewing canvas. Because I want them to stay stiff I use the thickest type of acrylic paint which is artist’s heavy body acrylic. My go-to is Golden brand. I have also used this paint to refurbish canvas sneakers with colorful, shout-out designs, thinned to paint upholstery and also to re-color leather shoes.
When painting a landscape I want blurred lines in parts, luminescent blocks of color in parts and precise imagery in other parts. I make my own paint for these tinting ProChems Lo-crock Binder for water-color effects, tinting ProChem’s Translucent ProFab thinned with Lo-Crock for soft blocks of color and tinting Createx Colors’ Opaque Medium for precise final touches.
When mono-printing fabric I use a combination of Pebeo Setacolor paint, tinted Prochem Translucent ProFab paint, tinted Createx Colors Textile paint and inks, many dispersed with rubbing alcohol or other solvents.
As part of a very cool group challenge instigated by my artist and teacher friend Joanie Springer, I was given two snippets of a larger photo to mimic in paint. I decided to do mine in textile paint and ink on fabric that I then fused onto paper. See the original photo and the finished collage. Can you find mine mixed in with all the painted paper snippets?
Take these tips from me but bottom line, study the paints yourself and envision your end result when selecting your final product.