New to Surface Design? Five Techniques to Try

Surface design on textile art refers to changing the look of fabric through techniques such as low-water immersion dyeing, batik, and discharge dyeing (or removing the color from the fabric), or stamping, stenciling, and printing.

diane rusin doran digital surface design serenade quilt
"Sunrise Serenade" by Diane Rusin Doran. This quilt
appears to use surface design techniques like dyeing
and screen printing, but it was all done digitally.

With surface design techniques, you can create fabric that is truly unique. Your quilts and other fiber art projects will have their own personality that reflects you, the artist.

Someone with an interest in surface design can get started fairly easily. Stamping on fabric is a low-stress way to get started. All you need is a simple, chunky stamp (nothing with fine lines), fabric paint, and fabric. Spread a thin layer of paint on a palette (such as a plastic, disposable dinner plate) tap your stamp on the paint and then stamp straight down on the fabric and lift carefully. It helps to put your fabric on a padded surface before stamping.

Another easy surface design technique is gelatin monoprinting. You can make your own printing plate with clear gelatin, but Gelli ArtsTM makes a plate you can reuse indefinitely. In this technique you spread paint onto the plate with a brayer, make marks in it with tools like a plastic fork or a bottle cap, press your fabric down onto the paint-smoothing it over the plate-and lift it off to reveal the design.

Discharge dyeing involves removing color from the fabric. This technique is often done with black fabric and bleach, with precautions taken to avoid breathing the bleach fumes and getting the bleach on your clothes or anywhere other than the fabric. Some safer discharge-dyeing products have come on the market in the past few years; the results from this technique can be quite unusual and beautiful.

discharge fabric dyeing digitally diane rusin doran
Discharge dyeing digitally, without chemicals
or mess. Fabric by Diane Rusin Doran.

Screen printing, especially Thermofax® screen printing, is very popular with fiber artists. You can turn your own drawing or photograph into a lightweight screen that can be used multiple times. The screen is made with a Thermofax machine, but you don't have to own one; many artists have their own machines and provide screen-making services for a reasonable fee.

These are some of the most popular and easily accessible surface design techniques. But there is another way to create these effects just with a computer and color printer: digital design.

In Digital Surface Design: Simple Techniques for Hand-dyed Fabric Effects and More, Diane Rusin Doran shows how you can manipulate your own photographs in Photoshop Elements to create the same effects you would get by stamping, printing, and dyeing fabric. What's more, you can save those designs and print them again and again–even varying the color ways.

P.S. Have you tried surface design techniques? Which is your favorite? Are there any you'd rather not try again? Leave your comments below.

Other topics you may enjoy:


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

One thought on “New to Surface Design? Five Techniques to Try

  1. These techniques are really good. Can I try it with the T-Shirt printer machine, because i have direct to garment printer machine and screen printer too. As the DTG printer is advanced than the Screen and silk printer. Please let me know