DIY: How to Design Textiles

Have you ever dreamed of making your own patterned fabrics? You can! You can unleash your inner textile designer, very easily. How? With paint and stencils! Most tutorials that show how to design textiles talk about using Illustrator or Photoshop to design patterns. Then you print patterns on fabric digitally with services like Spoonflower. And that sounds fun! But for me, there’s a problem. It’s creating the pattern. I have a hard time creating a nice pattern from ground zero, starting with nothing, like a blank piece of paper or a blank laptop screen. But I can take existing patterns and mix them together! 

With stencils, the pattern is already made for you. You just choose a stencil you like, or mix several stencil patterns together. Then, paint the pattern on fabric:

Stenciled Textiles

Now, you may not wind up creating a textile collection sold wholesale at a design center. But we’re not all looking to do that. You can design fabrics for your own use, using your favorite patterns and colors. And who knows, maybe you’ll branch out to sell to friends and family, and maybe even launch an Etsy shop. So, what can you design if you want to be a textile designer? Lots of things! To get your ideas going, here’s a few DIYs I’ve done, with links to tutorials. After these inspiration ideas, I share tips on paints to use with fabric.

PILLOW COVERS

Pillows are easy projects for the budding textile designer. They’re small, so if you make a mistake or don’t like the final result, it’s not a huge commitment of fabric. You can always start over with a new piece of fabric.

I’ve stenciled very different looks onto pillows. Here’s a Moroccan pillow made with the Atlas Allover Moroccan Wall Stencil from Royal Design Studio:

DIY Moroccan Pillow

The full DIY tutorial is here.

I started with a plain teal shawl dug out of the back of a closet. I painted the Moroccan stencil on the teal shawl, then sewed patterned teal silk fabric to the sides to make a multi-patterned pillow. I painted with Stencil Creme paint from Royal Design Studio. Below, I share more information about various paints for fabric, including Stencil Creme.

SEAT CUSHIONS

In the Moroccan pillow photo above, you may notice more patterns on the big cushion. I designed a huge seat cushion for an Indian-Moroccan closet nook. That was the project when my inner textile designer started bursting to be let loose! I paired two stencils — one for the top and a different border for the sides — and painted them on a silk fabric with shimmery Stencil Creme:

Stenciled Seat Cushion Fabric

The DIY tutorial is here.

TOTE BAGS

I’ve made so many tote bags! They’re so easy to do. You can get really crazy and creative and try different ideas that you might not use on a more expensive or permanent project.

This tote bag was made with a Mexican Otomi stencil from Royal Design Studio and Stencil Creme:

DIY Otomi Tote Bag

The DIY tutorial is here.

This bohemian tote bag was made with a mix of Indian stencils and shimmery Stencil Cremes. I painted them on a store-bought Old Navy tote bag:

DIY Stenciled Tote Bag

The DIY tutorial is here.

I painted these tote bags with a mix of Chalk Paint by Annie Sloan, and Stencil Cremes:

Design Your Own Tote Bag

DIY Tote Bag

The DIY tutorial is here.

SCARVES AND SHAWLS

I painted stencils onto plain rayon shawls I bought at World Market. Just buy a plain color scarf or shawl, choose some stencil patterns and be your own textile designer, it’s that simple!

DIY Stenciled Shawl

How to Design Textiles

The DIY tutorial is here.

Again, I used the Royal Design Studio Stencil Cremes to paint this. I must really love those paints!

RUGS

For this project, I used Chalk Paint by Annie Sloan to stencil on an Ikea rug. I used only three colors of paint, but I mixed them to make five colors in this rug. This took a rug from plain Jane, to exotic Ikat:

Stenciled Ikea Rug

The DIY tutorial is here.

OTTOMANS AND POUFS

This Moroccan pouf was made by 1.) stenciling onto vinyl fabric that I found at JoAnn, 2.) sewing it together, then 3.) filling it with stuffing bought on eBay. Super simple!

Fez Moroccan Pouf

The DIY tutorial is here — including a pattern for the pouf .

LAMP SHADES

This was a lamp shade purchased at HomeGoods. I stenciled on it with Chalk Paint by Annie Sloan in the glorious red Emperor’s Silk color:

Stenciled Lamp Shade

The DIY tutorial is here.

You can also make ceiling pendant shades with fabric and stencils. Here are shades I designed and painted for our apartment in Chennai, India:

Pendant Light Shades

The DIY tutorial is here.

TABLE RUNNERS

Here I stenciled Japanese style stencils on a silk fabric to make an obi-style table runner. But you can stencil on many different types of fabrics to make a table runner that fits your decor. For a farmhouse look, you can stencil on burlap. You can stencil on a plain store-bought table runner. Let your imagination go!

Stenciled Obi Style Table Runner

The DIY tutorial is here.

TEA TOWELS

I bought plain absorbent kitchen towels, and painted them with an olive and vine pattern, and colors inspired by the French countryside. This makes a great gift! I stenciled with Chalk Paint by Annie Sloan. This is mostly a decorative towel, so it hasn’t been washed many times. I know Chalk Paint can be durable, but I can’t speak to whether it would hold up on dozens of washings. If anyone has experience with that, please share in the comments! I would think even if the pattern fades, it’s fine, it’s part of the patina of use.

DIY French Countryside Tea Towel

The DIY tutorial is here.

Nearly anything you can think of, you can paint stencils on. That is how you can easily design textiles, without having to create patterns from scratch!

WHAT PAINT TO USE?

You might have questions about what kind of paint to use. The paint you use depends on:

  1. What you’re making
  2. How much wear it will get
  3. Whether you will be washing it.

Fabric Paints — If you’re making something that will go through a washing machine a lot, I suggest using paints specifically designed for fabrics. You may need to heat set the paint with an iron, or mix an additive into the paint that “fixes” it permanently. This means the fabric can be washed and the paint won’t wash out. Dharma Trading sells a huge selection of fabric paint colors. Dharma Trading even organizes fabric paint by light fabrics and dark fabrics, because you want more opaque paints for dark fabrics. I like the Jacquard and Lumiere brand textile paints for stenciling. I’ve found Jacquard and Lumiere fabric paints at my local Dick Blick art store, although Dharma Trading has a far bigger selection, and I found Dharma’s online colors to be accurate so I’m comfortable ordering online. You can also find fabric paints in craft stores like Michaels and JoAnn.

When buying fabric paints to use for stenciling, buy thicker paints, not the really runny paints. It is easier to paint a stencil pattern with a thicker paint. Thinner runny paints may seep under the stencil.

Acrylic Paint + Textile Medium — Another option for a durable paint finish for washables is to use acrylic paint and mix a “textile medium” into it. Acrylic paint comes in smaller tubes so if you want to experiment with different colors, the price is low, like $1.50-2.50 for a tube of paint from brands like DecoArt, FolkArt, Delta CeramCoat or Martha Stewart. Look for the textile mediums in the same sections as the acrylic paint in craft stores. Here’s what you will be looking for:

Acrylic Paint Textile Mediums

Chalk Paint by Annie Sloan Chalk Paint by Annie Sloan can be quite durable. However I have not yet made anything with Chalk Paint that I washed frequently, so I can’t personally speak to its ability to withstand frequent washing. I think it would be fine for items that aren’t washed much. As mentioned above, I’ve painted lamp shades, rugs, and tote bags with Chalk Paint.

Stencil Creme from Royal Design Studio — I love stenciling with this Stencil Creme paint because it was specially formulated to use while stenciling. It’s thick and heavily pigmented, so it’s less likely to run under a stencil. It also has a metallic sheen that I like. I have limited experience with washing fabrics with this paint, but I did accidentally get some Antique Gold Stencil Creme on jeans. I’ve washed those jeans many dozens of times and the paint hasn’t come out. I know you can get paint off fabric with rubbing alcohol, but it’s not noticeable on the jeans so I just left it alone. I’ve mostly used Stencil Cremes on fabrics that I won’t wash much, like the big teal blue cushion in the closet nook, and table runners.

A Final Word about value

Because I’m saying this last doesn’t mean it’s least important. This DIY idea should not at all diminish the importance and value of bona fide talented textile designers. Their creations astonish me. I know I don’t have the ability to do that myself. (At least I think I don’t.) Not all of us can create designs from nothing, and not all of us have the time or resources to do that. If you feel that describes you, and you want to try your hand at this, this is an option for making beautiful textile designs yourself.

Questions?

If you have any questions, please comment and I will try to answer them!



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  1. Pingback: Oh Boy, I Really Want a Charpoy | Nomadic Decorator

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