I confess, I have made some unfortunate fabric choices in my time. Patterns that looked "vintage" in the store but "granny" when I got them home. Colors that caught my eye on the bolt but practically blinded me in the studio. Designs intended to take me outside my comfort zone. And did. And left me there, feeling utterly lost and completely uncomfortable.
Like most fabric-holics, I'm loathe to toss these regrettable picks, and I'm too embarrassed to give them to anyone I care about. So, in order assuage my guilt, I rely on the fine art of disguise, mixed-media style.
Mixed-media techniques are easy and inexpensive ways to camouflage bad fabrics while turning them into magnificent pieces of fabric art. If you have any doubt, take a look at some of Beryl Taylor's mixed-media fabric art. Though she is known for her beautiful, rich-looking silk and gilt pieces, she recently revealed to me that she, too, makes bad fabric choices. But, instead of having regrets, she pulls out her stash of go-to craft supplies and turns fabric straw into gold. Here are some of her tips:
Apply gesso. Using a brayer, roll this paint-like primer over dark, tacky fabrics that have been stitched. Just put a dollop of gesso (plain white or tinted with acrylic paint) on a piece of palette paper or freezer paper, load the brayer, and test it out on the palette until you have the right amount. Apply the gesso lightly, adding more coats as needed. Don't cover the fabric completely, though. You want some of the pattern and color to show through.
Stamp over it. Chunky abstract designs or text work best. But don't use an ink pad, as the color doesn't usually adhere to fabric well. Instead, apply acrylic paint to the stamp using a broad, flat brush. (Note from Pokey: acrylic paints dry quickly, so be sure to wash off your stamp right away with water or a baby wipe. Otherwise you could permanently ruin your stamp. Not that that's ever happened to me, of course!) When you stamp, consider letting the design run off the edge of the fabric or quilt sandwich.
Glam it up. Glitter glue, shimmery oil paint sticks, and rub-on paints can be a mixed-media fabric artist's (and bad fabric's) best friend. Applying small amounts of glitter glue or rub-ons can actually tone down a wild or too-cute print. Oil paint sticks can brighten up a drab fabric (for example, applying a shimmery yellow or cream to a dull blue or brown). Use your fingers to apply and blend, for extra control. Just keep the glitz to a minimum, otherwise you might make that ugly duckling fabric even uglier.
Give it relief. Modeling paste is a quick and easy way to add a raised pattern to (and cover up) fabric. Sometimes fabric that is too "out there" when it's the star works well as a bit player. Using a spatula, apply modeling paste over a sturdy (such as metal) stencil. Very carefully, lift off the stencil and let the modeling paste pattern dry. Then, using a very small paintbrush, paint the hardened paste with acrylic paint. Be sure to apply the modeling paste after you have done all your stitching, because you cannot stitch through it.
Although I'm familiar with these techniques, I learned a lot of tricks and tips from Beryl when I was her guest on the taping of her new video, "Mixed-Media Art Quilts." I also picked up pointers for designing and stitching a reverse appliqué quilt and got her advice on what to do when you think you've made a mixed-media mistake.
If you haven't taken your fabric art for a walk on the mixed-media wild side, I encourage you to get the video and try some of these techniques. Some of these ideas might sound a little out there. But hey, you're only using "bad" fabric, so what have you got to lose?