Fabric Painting Without A Brush

Last week, I asked for advice on exploring surface design techniques. A lot of you said I should just relax, have fun, and play with different materials and techniques for designing fabrics.

I agree!

fabric painting prayer flags
Lisa Kerpoe's prayer flags designed with fabric
paints and dyes. From "QATV" Series 800.

While looking through past issues of Quilting Arts Magazine and past episodes of "Quilting Arts TV" for ideas, one easy method of surface design caught my eye. It was Lisa Kerpoe's tutorial on using a brayer to print on fabric that she later turned into prayer flags.

Now, as you may know, love to make prayer flags. I usually make my flags as fiber collages using little bits of this and that which I've collected.

But one of the things about this format I love is that you can make a prayer flag any way you want to, from all kinds of materials.

So here is Lisa's basic technique for fabric painting and printing with a brayer, followed by my basic tutorial for making a flag.


  • Fabric of your choice for printing
  • Variety of brayers and paint rollers: hard rubber, soft rubber, firm foam, soft foam, and napped rollers
  • Plexiglas® plate, 8"-10" long and at least the width of your brayer
  • Textile paint (Any of the brands designed for screen printing or stamping work well, such as Pebeo Setacolor fabric paint, PROfab® textile paint, or Versatex Printing Ink.)
  • Aluminum foil
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Pins

surface design brayer
Lisa uses different brayers, rollers, and found objects to make surface design patterns on the fabric.

Lisa's basic technique

1. Iron your fabric, keeping in mind that any wrinkles in the fabric will become part of your design. Pin the fabric to your work surface.

2. Ink the brayer by placing a small amount of textile paint onto the Plexiglas plate. Use the brayer to spread the paint evenly over the plate.

TIP: Don't let yourself be fooled by the idea that more is better; too much paint will only create a mess. The amount of paint needed varies greatly depending on the type of brayer you are using and the viscosity of your paint. A dollop the size of a quarter is about right for a firm foam brayer. You may need less for a rubber brayer, or more for a soft foam or napped roller. Aim for a thin, even coating of paint.

3. Lightly roll the brayer over the fabric.

4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 until the entire surface of the cloth is patterned. Use multiple colors to create a rich, layered effect. Try this with both foam and rubber brayers; each brayer will create a different pattern. You can also experiment with some of the various napped and faux texture paint rollers available in home improvement stores.

5. Textile paints require heat setting to ensure permanence. Following the manufacturer's instructions, iron the fabric to heat set the paint.

TIP: It's helpful to place a piece of aluminum foil on the ironing board, then place the item to be heat set face-down on the foil. The foil gives an extra heat boost that can be helpful for paints that require a longer heat-setting time.

How to turn your fabrics into prayer flags (the Vivika version)

Start with a piece of fabric approximately 5" x 11".

1. Create a place to thread a string by folding one short end over to the back by 3" and press, making a rectangle approximately 5" x 8".  

2. Choose a theme for your prayer, and embellish your flag with paper, painting, stitch, embroidery, buttons, etc. You are only limited by your imagination and your stash.

3. Add words or journaling to your flag using free motion stitching, hand stitching or simply by writing in a permanent marker.

4. Sign and date your flag.

5. Hang it outside!

You don't have to stay with the 5" x 8" format, or even stick with rectangles. You can personalize your prayer flags anyway you want. As with surface design techniques, you should relax, have fun, and play.

Lisa demonstrates her techniques for fabric painting with brayers on "Quilting Arts TV" series 800 (coincidentally, I have three guest segments in that series). What a fun way to make your own fabric designs.

P.S. Have you made prayer flags? Tell me about your experience in the comments section below, and be sure to include a link to images, if you have them.

Other topics you may enjoy:


Fabric Painting & Dyeing, Monoprinting & Screenprinting, Quilting Daily Blog

8 thoughts on “Fabric Painting Without A Brush

  1. I just wanted to tell you about my favorite way to print my own fabric. I simply spread a small amount of textile paint on a sheet of plexiglass and cover with a second piece of plexiglass and push the two pieces back and forth smearing the paint around. When you pull the two pieces apart, each sheet will be covered with a lacy very organic design, created by the suction. Just lay a piece of fabric over each section of paint and gently go back and forth with your fingertips to help the fabric soak up the paint. When you lift your fabric, you will have a beautiful design somewhat like lichen. Hang to dry and heat set after air drying. Instant gratification!

  2. While I have never made prayer flags, I am always impressed with where they sometimes end up. I’ve seen photos of some left by climbers on the top of Mt. Everest, fluttering and tattered by the storms that rip across the summit. I think it speaks to the need for people to stake a claim to their achievements, which historically has been done by a flag of some sort. Thanks for the easy, clear instructions and “take care” admonitions re: paint amounts and heat setting.

  3. I like the ideas about painting on fabric and look forward to trying them.
    Would someone be so kind as to explain what a prayer flag is??? I am not familiar with these but they do sound interesting. Thanks.

  4. Hi,

    Great responses, everyone!

    To answer the question about the prayer flags, the inspiration is from the colorful rectangles or squares of cloth strung on a line (like a banner or bunting) often seen in the Himalyas. They usually have writing and images on them, and their purpose is to send blessings out into the world.

    Fiber artists have started making them using different kinds of surface design, stitching, and embellishment techniques to convey a thought or positive message. 

    You can find out more about the prayer flag project I’m involved in here: theprayerflagproject.blogspot.com

  5. Sure. A brayer is like a wall painting roller, but it is smaller. (See the image in the blog post above). You can use it dry to make a firm, even impression (such as on the back of a piece of printing paper when making a monoprint) or with ink or paint. Brayer rollers can be firm or spongy, smooth or patterned. You’ll usually find them with the printmaking supplies in the art store.

  6. Where I live in New England, it gets dark at about 4:30 p.m. in the depths of winter. So when Daylight Savings Time kicks in and the snow banks start to melt, I'm itching to get outside and do some fabric painting and dyeing.