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You are here: Home > All About Hand Dyeing > Instructions > More ideas for dyeing clothing

Click here to Buy Crayola Bright Fabric Markers
Bright Crayola Fabric Markers
from Joann.com

Marvy Fabric Markers

Beyond dye: more ideas for coloring fabric

Technically speaking, most of the methods described on this page are not actually dyeing; instead, they are fabric painting. Those who are interested in dyeing fabric are often interested in these related techniques, however, which can be used alone or combined with dyeing for more complex effects, as in Jane Dunnewold's excellent book, Complex Cloth (see my book reviews section).

Fabric Markers

Drawing lots of stuff by hand on a shirt is certainly more time-consuming than any of the other techniques I mention. The biggest problem is that markers contain transparent ink, and thus require a white background.

I usually use Marvy fabric markers. Except on baby clothes, I've found these to be amazingly long-lasting, though they require no heat setting at all. The colors can be blended rather well for a felt-tip pen. The baby clothes problem was probably bleach--white is not the best choice of backgrounds for baby clothes, but is fine for most adults. I got the fabric markers at a wonderful local arts supply store, Texas Art Supply; if you don't have access to that, try another crafts store, or try Dharma, which carries the full range of colors. (See Sources for materials.)

Besides their use for drawing complete pictures on clothing, fabric markers have many potential uses in adding details to other types of designs. You could add antennae to stamped insects, or fins to stamped fish, or have fun coloring in the spaces left after stamping or printing in black.

Caution: do not use any marker that does not claim to be permanent on fabric! Ordinary markers will not do. You must use fabric markers. Ordinary permanent markers are apt to wash out eventually.


Click Here to Buy
Pentel Dye SticksPentel FabricFun Pastel Dye Sticks from Mister Art

Fabric Crayons

There are two different types of products that are described as fabric crayons. One looks exactly like regular wax crayons, but is used to make iron-on transfers for synthetic fabric; the other looks like oil pastels, and can be used on natural fibers.

Pentel FabricFun Pastel Dye Sticks

Pentel Fabric Pastels pastels appear to be fabric paint in a stick. Unlike Crayola Fabric transfer crayons, below, these crayons are used to color directly on the fabric. Use a white shirt or piece of fabric so that the colors really show up. Heat set with an iron after use to make them permanent.

Crayola Fabric Crayons

Crayola® Fabric Crayons contain a kind of dye, Disperse Dye, which works well when ironed onto all synthetic fibers such as polyester, but washes right out of natural fibers such as cotton.

Click Here to Buy
Fabric Transfer Crayons
Crayola Fabric Crayons box of 8 from Mister Art

Just give your children some paper and these transfer crayons, and have them draw and color their own pictures. It's best to color fairly heavily, brushing off any crumbs. The colors will look quite dull on the paper, but don't worry. After an adult irons the pictures onto any synthetic fabric, the colors will be bright and pretty, and the designs will be permanent and machine washable.

For best results, select a white 100% synthetic fabric with a smooth weave, such as polyester satin or nylon taffeta. Any synthetic fiber will do - polyester, triacetate, acrylic, or nylon - but avoid modacrylic and polypropylene because they will shrink under the heat of the iron. Blends which contain at least 50% polyester or nylon will also work, but the colors will not be as bright. Avoid fabric made of 100% cotton, rayon, linen, silk, or wool, unless you are transferring a design that you want to wash out later.

Don't confuse these fabric crayons with ordinary wax-based Crayola crayons for paper! They look so much alike that you may need to be careful to keep the fabric crayons out of the box of regular crayons.

Oil Paintsticks

Another crayon-like product is not specifically intended for use on fabric, but can be used on fabric. Shiva's Artist's Paintstiks are described as oil paints that have been stiffened with wax. They are supposed to be permanent through laundering, once they have dried on the fabric for at least 48 hours and then heat-set; dry cleaning should be avoided. They will not leave a noticeable difference in the feel of the fabric if you use a light enough touch. Metallic Shiva paintstiks are especially good for for embellishing dyed fabrics. Look for instructions at Laura Murray's web site.

Fabric Paints

Many different fabric paints are suitable for printing or painting with a brush. All you have to do for printing is use a small foam brush to apply the paint to whatever you're using to print with, then apply the item with the wet paint on it to the fabric. Some fabric paints leave a nasty, hard feeling on the fabric, like latex house paint; others are very thin and almost soft. "Slick" paints are unsuitable for painting large areas, partly because of the unpleasantness of the feel, and partly because if you are foolish enough to put them in the dryer (hey, I put everything in the dryer--it's too humid here for clothes to dry on a line!), the large painted areas can stick together. Fortunately, they always came apart again when pulled on while still warm.

A key point is that most fabric paints are transparent, and thus totally unsuitable for use on dark colors such as black or navy--the very colors that age best when worn by a messy child. Check carefully for claims of opacity. If it doesn't say it's opaque, assume that it is not. Metallic and pearlescent paints are usually opaque.

Transparent fabric paints can have beautiful effects when used on lighter colors, of course, really much more satisfying to the artist than the opaque paints on a black shirt, but far less satisfying to the child who wants a nice spaceship and solar system t-shirt!

For truly beautiful complex results, use metallic fabric paints on fabric that you have already dyed (and washed out, and dried); the layering of the different techniques adds a complexity and richness that is unavailable when any single technique is used alone. Preferred brands of metallic paints include Jacquard Lumiere Fabric Paint and Pearl-Ex Stamp Pads. Pearl-Ex pigments do not include a binder, and thus cannot be used for painting, but Pearl-Ex Stamp Pads are formulated with a fabric paint binder that makes them ideal for adding sparkle to fabric that will be laundered.

Click Here to Buy Pearl Ex Stamp Pads - 2-Tone - Many Colors
Pearl Ex Stamp Pads - 2-Tone - Many Colors
from Joann.com


Printing with Sponges

You can buy pre-cut sponges, or you can buy "pop-up" sponges that are pressed so thin and flat that you can cut out fairly detailed shapes with a pair of scissors with the greatest of ease. Then simply wet the sponge, and wring it out, before dipping it into paint or applying paint with a sponge. The holey texture of the sponge can overwhelm the design.

Printing with fabric stamps

You can sometimes buy some great fabric stamps (see Katy Widger's book in my book reviews section). Ordinary paper stamps are less apt to be as satisfying, as the cut-out parts may not be deep enough to avoid printing. A very fine way to make your own stamps is to use a product that is a thin, paper-backed, self-adhesive sheet of rubber; I think the Dharma version is called Sure Stamp. Another option is to buy the blue Dr. Scholls foam inserts for work boots, and glue them to a backing. For backing material in either case, use a cheap child's wooden block, if handy, or scrap bits of Lucite or other thick sheets of acrylic. The latter has obvious advantages in placing the print in the exact right position on the fabric.

Most rubber stamps intended for paper will not print well on fabric, due to their tiny details. If you want to use detail paper-type rubber stamps on fabric, use synthetic fabric, with a stamp pad containing disperse dye, a kind of dye that works only on synthetics such as polyester. Stamp onto paper, and iron on to your polyester.

Screen Printing

Screen printing is an excellent way to add prints to your fabric, using either thickened dyes or fabric paints, one of the very best ways to print a large run of t-shirts with a given slogan or design, but it seems like a lot of trouble to me. If you only want to do a few copies of a design, consider creating your own ink-jet iron-ons as described below.

Transfers prepared on your own computer

Computer Printer Iron-on Paper

This one is very popular. It works with any inkjet printer. If the material you are printing on is white, the results are nearly photographic in quality, but a photograph will not work well on a dyed background, since the ink is transparent; areas that are white in your iron-on design will instead show up as whatever color the fabric is before you add the iron-on. An iron-on inkjet transfer prepared using mostly black ink is just the thing to add slogans, or finely detailed Celtic knot patterns, tree sillhouettes, etc., on top of a fairly light-colored hand-dyed shirt!

Opaque Computer Printer Iron-on Paper

While ordinary T-shirt Transfer Paper will show any background color beneath it - so any colors in the design will be lost if they are lighter than the background color of the fabric - you can also buy opaque inkjet iron-on transfer paper. The results can be photographic in quality. In fact, I made a tote bag for my mother once by dyeing a canvas bag in deep tones of emerald, then ironing on photographs of her grandchildren. Because she has not had to wash it many times, it has held up very well. A t-shirt I made at about the same time for one of the children showed wear much more quickly in the area of the photograph. If you can't find opaque iron-on inkjet transfer paper elsewhere, order it from Dharma Trading Company (see Sources for Dyeing Supplies Around the World.) I believe that the non-opaque inkjet transfers produce more durable results than the opaque type.

Computer printable fabric

Several companies, including Dharma Trading, now carry cotton or silk fabric that can be run right through a computer printer. How about a scarf printed with a photo montage? What an exciting idea!

Prepare your own computer printable fabric!

But what if you don't want to be limited to that fabric? There is a wonderful product, Bubble Jet Set, that lets you prepare your own fabric for printing in an inkjet printer. Unlike iron-ons, the treatment leaves the fabric nice and soft - like dyed fabric, rather than like painted fabric. Caryl Bryer Fallert, a noted quilter, has prepared a FAQ file all about Bubble Jet Set.

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