Fabric Painting: What You Need to Get Started

Painting butterfly on fabric, close-up
Ruth Jenkinson / Getty Images

There's lots of creative fun to be had fabric painting, whether it's decorating a t-shirt, cushion cover, tablecloth, 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 of 09

    Some Fabric to Paint

    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 of 09

    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 of 09

    A Paint Brush

    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.

  • 04 of 09

    Container With Clean Water

    Use a 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 that's easily avoided.

    Continue to 5 of 9 below.
  • 05 of 09

    Some Wipes or Paper Towel

    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.

  • 06 of 09

    An Iron

    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!

  • 07 of 09

    Fabric Paint in Assorted Colors

    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.

  • 08 of 09

    Optional: Fabric Marker Pens

    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. Learn more about the possibilities for fabric painting with fabric markers.

    Continue to 9 of 9 below.
  • 09 of 09

    Optional Extra: Squeezable Bottles

    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.