Hello dear friend, and welcome back to another fun fabric adventure! A few weeks ago I shared how to tea-dye fabric for an embroidery project, and today I’ll be sharing how to paint your fabric for embroidery using watercolour. It’s super easy and fun and you don’t need to be an expert watercolour artist.
In fact, I will preface this tutorial right away by readily admitting that I know next to nothing about watercolour painting. I’ve never taken any lessons or anything, and I don’t know all the correct techniques…but that’s ok! For our purposes here, we really don’t need anything fancy. The point of this little tutorial is to show you how to complement an embroidery project by adding simple painting such as for backgrounds, or other areas you’d rather not fill with stitches. Nothing detailed, and nothing complicated. Very beginner-friendly stuff. 🙂
Of course, if you do happen to know a thing or two about watercolour, I’d love to hear your tips in the comments!
Using watercolour paint on fabric is only suitable if you don’t intend to wash the embroidery piece. It’s perfect for when you intend to frame a piece, or turn into a box cover or something like that.
There are so many techniques that look beautiful paired with embroidery. Appliqué, stumpwork, ribbon-work, or even adding pressed flowers to a piece. Sometimes, you just don’t want to fill everything with thread, and you don’t want to leave just an outline either. Sometimes you just need to use another medium. All the techniques I mentioned above are very lovely, but there is none so quick and subtle as adding a bit of watercolour paint.
While appliqués and ribbons are gorgeous, sometimes they take a bit too much attention away from the actual embroidery. Sometimes that’s the look you’re going for, but sometimes it’s not. That’s why adding paint is so perfect! Simple, subtle, yet really makes a piece of work come alive.
Ready to see how I do it? I’ll be working on a little sample piece for my next pattern, experimenting with greens and grasses.
In addition to basic embroidery supplies (as needed for your project), you’ll also need:
- Watercolour paint. This is where my non-expertise comes in as I tell you that I have no idea which paint is best. Since we’re not doing anything fancy here, I’m sure a basic set would be just fine. I’m using these Pébéo tubes since I already had them and they work really well, but there are a number of sets you can choose from and you don’t have to get the tubes if you prefer a tablet set. I actually find the latter easier to work with and carry around.
- Watercolour paintbrush. Again, I really couldn’t say which brand is “best”, but then again you really don’t need a “good” brush necessarily. I like to use the rounded brushes since they work great for dabbing the paint gently on fabric. Unless you intend on adding lots of details, I would suggest experimenting with a few different sizes, depending on the size of the areas you intend to fill. For example in my project here, I used a size 8 (bigger) for the grass and a size 3 (smaller) for the door. My paintbrushes are kinda old and not the best quality, but something like this it works just fine.
- Paint palette: this is really helpful for mixing colours if you’re using paint tubes, but you can also use a small dish if you don’t have one. If you’re using a tablet set, you can often do the mixing directly in the inside of the lid.
- Some water and a towel. This will be needed to activate the paint, and rinse your brush as you go.
- Sketchbook or paper to test out colours (doesn’t need to be watercolour paper, it’s just to get the colours you want).
- Scrap of the fabric you intend to use for your final project. I am working with this Ditte cotton fabric from IKEA.
- Scrap paper (to put underneath your fabric and protect your work surface as you paint).
Painting on Fabric Tutorial
1. First, have your embroidery pattern ready. This can be just a little sketch, or a pattern you’ve downloaded or purchased. (You can check out my Etsy shop if you need ideas!) Having the pattern ready will help to visualize how you’ll want to approach it, which areas you’ll want to paint, etc… Here I have my little sketch of a rounded door in the grass. I’m thinking of painting the door in brown, and playing around with the green to add the grass effect.
2. Test out the paint on paper. Watercolour paint needs water to activate it, so dip your paintbrush in water and rub it over a tablet, or mix with a dab of paint if you’re using a tube. I’ve found that you really only need a little bit of the actual paint from the tube, and lots of water to give it the right look and consistency. Play around with it until you are satisfied with the ratio and the paint isn’t too opaque or overly watery. Depending on the watercolour set you’re using, you might need to do a lot or very little mixing between colours to get your desired shade. The only green I had was sap green, which actually ended up being pretty close to what I wanted. I added a bit of black and a bit of primary blue, until I was satisfied with the result.
3. When you’re satisfied with the colour, test how it feels on a scrap of the same fabric you intend to use for your project. I suggest sketching out the basic shapes you intend to fill on your fabric to practice and see how you like it. I like to use a pencil for this, since it will still be visible under the paint and won’t wash away.
Applying watercolour paint to fabric feels different than on paper, since it’s hard to really “spread” the paint. It works better if you just dab the brush gently on the fabric, and let the colour run. Be mindful that it runs a lot more on fabric than on paper, so try applying colour from the middle of the shape you want to fill, slowly going outward toward the edge. On certain fabrics especially, the paint will still run a bit after a few minutes, so I like to stop a little before the edge of the shape to make sure it won’t “bleed out”.
4. Once you are satisfied with your results, it’s time to do it on the real piece! Transfer your embroidery pattern onto your good fabric with a marking tool that won’t easily wash away. Water-soluble pen isn’t good for this, and the heat-erasable pen might not be either if you want to blow-dry the fabric to dry the paint. I like using a pencil instead, and making sure that all markings will be covered with stitching.
5. Paint the desired areas of your design, and then wait for it to dry or speed up the process by using a hair-dryer before you begin stitching.
And that’s it! Not so intimidating, right? It really just comes down to: practice before trying it on your final project! Be patient, don’t rush it, and don’t worry too much about it either. Adding watercolour to embroidery really gives it a soft, unhurried feel that easily forgives little mistakes. Plus, you can always cover anything with a few stitches if you don’t like it. Embroidery always saves the day.
I hope this tutorial was helpful and that you’ll give painting your fabric a try for your next project! I’m excited to work on the final version of this little home in the high grasses. Who do you think lives there?
Happy embroidery adventures my friend!