Fabric Painting Advice from an Expert

fauna perezI'm a fabric printing nut. I started with stamping, then added Thermofax® screen printing, and lately I've been churning out gelatin prints by the score.

I couldn't tell you what I like best about printing-the graphic nature of the design, the thrill of pulling the paint through the screen, or the magic of lifting the stamp or screen to see what's revealed below are just the beginning. But one thing I definitely like is that while there are often happy surprises, there isn't a lot of guesswork.

Painting fabric is another story. How much paint do I use? What kind of brush? How do I keep the colors from bleeding into one another? How do I make sure my design shows up where I want it to? So many questions…they send me scurrying back to my printing tools.

And yet, every time I take a gander at one of Judy Coates Perez' gorgeous painted wholecloth quilts, I long to be able to achieve those kinds of results: the rich colors, the perfectly blended shading, the precise edges to each motif. (Not to mention her incredible free-motion quilting skills she uses to finish it off).

Having had the chance to observe Judy painting fabric at the Make It University!TM with Cloth Paper Scissors® Open Studios and on the set of "QATV," I've noticed that a lot of what makes her painting so beautiful comes from her experience, attention to detail, and a great deal of patience.

On her latest Quilting Arts Workshop video, "Design, Paint, & Stitch," Judy shows how to create a wholecloth painted quilt from start to finish, describing in detail her process and revealing her hints and tips along the way. I was especially intrigued by her painting tips on this video, from the bottles she keeps the paint in to avoid waste (squirt-top, screw-on Boston rounds), to her tips for painting dots.

Yes, there is a trick to painting dots! Load a small brush with paint, tap it straight down onto the fabric, and lift straight up. If you need a bigger dot, don't try to paint it bigger, it will just get wonky. Instead, switch to a bigger brush.

Here are some more of Judy's tips that have made me say, "Hmmm, I think I'm ready to give this fabric painting thing a try."

How to keep the edges of your painted shapes sharp

  1. Judy traces a drawing of her design onto translucent fabric. Using the drawing, she traces the outlines of the shapes in the design onto freezer paper, cuts them out, and irons them onto the fabric over the matching drawn shape, forming a mask. This step also serves to keep the surface under the mask white, so the background color doesn't show through the painted motifs, altering their color.
  2. When painting the background color, Judy paints over the freezer paper masks, making sure to paint from the center of the freezer paper out toward the fabric. This helps keep the paint from seeping under the mask.
  3. Judy lets the painted background dry completely before removing the masks.
  4. When mixing her paint, Judy uses extender (paint without pigment) as a thinner, avoiding water. It's too easy to add too much water by accident, which can cause your paint to bleed, blurring the edges of your painted shapes and mixing colors unintentionally.

That's only a fraction of Judy's painting advice. She also reveals her method for creating a range of shades from one paint color, how to avoid the most common weakness in most people's shading attempts, how to avoid streaks in large areas of painting, how to conserve paint, the best tools for the job, and a whole lot more.

If you're interested in learning how to create a painted wholecloth quilt of any size or want to improve on your skills, I can't think of a better tutorial than "Design, Paint, & Stitch."

P.S. To learn more about different styles and techniques for painting fabric, download our free eBook, Fabric Painting: 5 Surface Design, Paint, and Monoprint Techniques.

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