How to Paint Fabric: Two Techniques to Try

pokey bolton

fabric painting with sun printing
Sunning and printing at CREATE in Chicago.

After a whirlwind couple of weeks that involved traveling to Chicago for the CREATE mixed-media retreat, Cleveland to tape Season 9 of "Quilting Arts TV" (and to visit my favorite museum), and a quick trip to California to help a friend celebrate a special milestone, I've finally been able to settle in back home and take stock.

As I reviewed the few photos I managed to take along the way, I came across this one of students in my Printapalooza CREATE class. They are sitting outside waiting for their sun prints to develop. So much more fun than watching paint dry!

It's so exciting to watch fabric change before your eyes using surface design techniques like fabric painting and printing. So I thought I'd share a couple of techniques with you.

sun printing with stencil

Sun printing with a stencil from 
Crafter's Workshop.

How to Paint Fabric with Sun Printing

  • Setacolor fabric paints by Pebeo (regular fabric paints won't work)
  • Foam brushes
  • Small plastic containers
  • Pins
  • Fabric (preferably Prepared For Dyeing)
  • Spray bottle filled with water
  • Print board (this could be a piece of foam core)
  • Stuff to print with (leaves, stencils, household items, etc., or stencils)


1. Pin your fabric to your print board so it's taut.

2. Spray the fabric with your mister. (This is so that the paint will move a little when you apply it.)

3. Pour about two tablespoons of each of the colors into your plastic containers, and splash each with water. (I usually have a 1:1 ratio, but I'm not very exact about it.)

4. Paint your fabric with the various colors using the foam brushes.

5. Place objects on top and allow fabric to dry before removing them.

At CREATE we used stencils from the Crafter's Workshop to make our prints. I love 'em…

Fabric Painting: Discharge Technique

fabric painting with decolourant and stencil
DeColourant on fabric,
using a stencil.

Another way to achieve a similar effect, but without the sun, is to use a stamp or stencil on dark fabric with a discharge dye technique. Discharge dyeing removes the color from the fabric. This technique is often done with bleach, but lately I've been using a product called deColourant.

With deColourant, you don't need to take as many safety precautions as required when using bleach, and the paint cleans up with mild soap and water.

1. Just lay the stencil on your fabric and paint the deColourant on with an applicator like a foam brush or brayer. Remove the stencil and let the deColourant dry; it takes about 10 minutes, or you can speed up the process with a heat gun.

2. When the paint is dry, iron it with the heat turned to the "cotton" setting. Tip: The transformation works best if you use steam. If you use the pigmented deColourant, the color will become more vibrant. If you use the unpigmented version, it will just remove the color from the fabric. Either way, the deColourant bonds with the fabric and does not change the hand.

With a stamp, the process is the same, except you roll the paint on with a brayer and apply it to the fabric. I like to make my own designs with found objects and moldable foam stamps that I can reshape and reuse. You can use this product to write on fabric, too. Just draw your letters with a brush or syringe.

I hope you find these techniques as satisfying as I do. We have supplies like stencils, deColourant, and moldable foam stamps in our Quilting Daily Shop, so it's easy for you to give them a try.

P.S. Have you tried sun printing or discharge dyeing? What kind of success did you have? Leave a comment below.

Other topics you may enjoy:


Fabric Painting & Dyeing, Quilting Daily Blog

10 thoughts on “How to Paint Fabric: Two Techniques to Try

  1. I’ve been enjoying my play time with the decolourant and decolourant plus. I’m still trying to figure out mixing colors with it to get just the right color. I love that it doesn’t change the hand of the fabric.

  2. I cover an old table or flat surface with a plastic table-cloth and use small stones in each corner of the fabric to hold it down flat. My sun-colors are decanted into spray bottles, allowing me to combine colours with ease.
    Some of the things that I have used to achieve lovely patterns are branches, leaves, plastic doilies, lace net curtains, and anything else that has a good open pattern. A sprinkle of coarse salt creates a wonderful pattern as well. The salt is well worth a try.

  3. Love the different colors from Kona fabrics when stamping with bleach! See my blog,, July 5 and August 4 entries, for photos and more info!

  4. Twelve years ago, I needed a paw print fabric in black and tan for my Rotweiller quilt, so I painted large rotty footprints on black fabric with bleach. The black fabric that I liked best gave me a tan paw print, and then I neutralised with vinegar solution. The quilt has an autographed border!

  5. Just last weekend I did some playing with sun printing and has such fun! I tried out different techniques for painting the cloth (wet versus dry to begin, extra water after) and different objects on top. Some great success with some, some not so good with others, but all in all I loved it!

  6. I tried to get the unpigmented decolourant and the setacolor fabric paints from your interweave site to no avail. better check this out before posting. now i will have to get them from another place. not too good, i think.
    “Either way, the deColourant bonds with the fabric and does not change the hand.”
    what does this mean?

  7. Shaymartin,

    Thanks for your comment. Instead of sitting on top of the fibers the way a paint does, the deColourant penetrates the fibers the same way a dye does. Also, unlike a regular paint (and some fabric paints), deColourant doesn’t make the fabric stiff; the feel (or “hand”) of the fabric is the same as it would without the paint.

    We am sorry you could not find the regular deColourant in our store. It was available at the time this was posted, but with our StashBuster sale going on, it may have sold out. We hope you will check back. We do not sell the Setacolor paints, but they are available at many quilting and art supply stores and online.

    The Quilting Daily Team

  8. Your directions state “Setacolor fabric paints by Pebeo (regular fabric paints won’t work)”
    I have found that many fabric paints work for sunprinting, even ones widely available in craft and discount stores.
    Setacolor transparents, however, seem to leave the fabric with a much softer hand.

  9. Love sunpainting. I have used Seta paints, but have also used Liquidtex soft acrylic paints to great success. I used a yellow and green background and then queen ann’s lace flowers and leaves with some ferns. Machine quilted and added 3D embroidered dragonflys and butterflys. Such fun.

  10. Hi, Pokey-it was fun to open my email and see a picture of our class from Chicago. I really enjoyed the class0and have ordered a bunch of thermofax screens so I can keep on playing with the ideas you shared with us. Best regards, Lorraine