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Can I paint on denim clothing with oil paints?

> I have been trying to get information on painting with oil paints on

> fabric, espically denim.  

Oil painting on fabric is, in fact, the usual use of oil paints. The result takes weeks to dry in some cases, and can be extremely stiff, but the artistic advantages are obvious, and, if the material is not flexed excessively, the paint is quite durable. I would not machine-wash a garment that had been oil-painted because of the flexing problem.

You may wish to stretch the garment, or fabric to used for sewing, on oil-painting stretchers temporarily, for painting. I often use the same type sold for oil painting for painting silk garments.

Traditionally one paints canvas with a white housepaint or gesso or rabbit skin glue, it doesn't matter which, before using oil paints, to give a smooth white background. I would guess that you'd prefer to skip this step; however, there might be a danger of some slow deterioration, due to some chemical interaction between the paint and the cloth. I doubt it would show up in the first few years, if there is any such effect at all, anyway.

Fabric Painting

It is generally considered best to use paints that are specifically formulated for fabric painting. These will feel much more pleasant as a rule, being softer than typical rough artists' paints. The very best fabric paints, such as Lumiere and Setacolour, change the feel of the fabric almost not at all. See the Sources for Dye Supplies page for contact information for the best sources of fabric paints.

Dye Painting

For the softest fabric, with no change in its soft texture at all, avoid paint altogether, and paint with dye. Fiber reactive dyes react directly with the molecules of the fabric itself to form a permanent bond that changes the color of the fabric itself. Paints will wear off or flake off, but high quality fiber reactive dye will last forever unless bleached or left too long in bright light. To turn fiber reactive dye into an excellent paint, follow the instructions on the How to Dye page, with one exception: just add a special thickener, such as sodium alginate, to the dye mixtures, to bring it to the consistency you like best for painting. WIthout the thickener, the dye will spread on fabric like ink on wet paper (unless you pretreat the fabric with a product such as Flow Stop); the thickener allows the dye to act exactly like paint, but without the disadvantages of paint. Dye is better than paint.

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