How To Paint Chiffon Fabric Like A Pro: Another Craft Tutorial

Hi everybody! I’ve taken a few weeks off from posting because I’ve been on vacation. Being away was a fun and exciting change, but one of the first things I had to do upon coming home was to stencil the scarves for an order that was placed right before I left.  I’ve described in detail how I make the stencils for my scarves in an earlier post, but I’ve never gotten around to explaining how I use the stencils on the fabric itself, so that will be the topic of today’s post.

Stenciling fabric is very similar to stenciling on wood or other surfaces. The biggest difference between stenciling a soft surface like fabric and a hard surface like wood is the stability of the object. Stencilers working on a piece of wood or applying a stencil to, say, a wall usually use tape to secure the stencil to the surface. This is not practical for stenciling fabric for a couple of reasons. First, tape doesn’t really like to stick to fabric all that much. Once you get to applying the paint, the stencil will be moving around on the fabric causing your image to distort. Second, unless the fabric you are working with is stretched canvas, even if the taped stencil does adhere, the fabric itself is fluid enough to be moving around from the pressure of the brushes as you paint. The more light weight and sheer the fabric is, like my scarves, the more it tries to move around.

So we can’t use tape. what can we use instead? Weights! Usually, when I paint scarves I use a combination of pressure from my left hand and tile coasters (left over from that project I mentioned in “Three Musketeers!“) as weights on both the stencil itself and the fabric to keep everything from shifting around. With that, it’s usually safe to use the stencil brush on the fabric. However, my skills with this method were tested to the max this week when I tried my technique on chiffon scarves.

Chiffon is a particular weave of fabric with very thin fibers creating a kind of sheer veil that drapes well. Chiffon can be made of many different fabric types besides the traditional silk, such as polyester, and even cotton. I’m using polyester chiffon. Cotton chiffon is very difficult to find, and silk chiffon is best painted with fabric dye; the acrylic paint I use in my projects would wreck the smooth quality of silk, however, the techniques I am going to describe will work just as well with fabric dye on silk fabric

The chiffon I used was much lighter weight than the fabric I usually use with has a a larger polyester thread. As such, even weighted down, the fabric moved too much to be used with a regular stencil brush, and I substituted a regular paintbrush instead.

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Stencil brushes (left) versus regular paint brushes (right) The heavy technique used with the stencil brushes was too much for the fine fabric!

Using gently strokes with the regular paint brushes worked much better than the heavy scumbling of the stencil brushes.

The fibers of the chiffon fabric tend to channel paint along themselves. This creates a splotchy, watercolor effect. This can be very beautiful, but it isn’t what I had in mind for this project, so I used my paint sparingly and stopped short of the edges of the stencil.

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Painting the chiffon. Notice the up-down stroke I am using, this is working with the weave to reduce bare spots.

Working with this material was a great opportunity to practice new skills. To close, I have a short list of steps to help anyone paint chiffon like a pro!

  1. Make sure you are using the right brushes. Soft paintbrushes like you would use for art painting work better than stiff craft brushes.
  2. Use the right paint. Fabric dyes work well on silks but won’t penetrate polyester fibers. Conversely, acrylic paint works great with polyester, but will ruin silk’s softness.
  3. Weights are great to keep the fabric surface steady as you work. You can get creative with what you use for weights!
  4. Use a good work space. Make sure the fabric is spread all the way out, so that there are no creases or overlaps. If you can, the best way to do this is to set up a kind of screen so that the painting surface has nothing but air beneath. This lets you picture the final effect much better as you work. If this isn’t possible (it wasn’t for me) at least make sure that the surface you place the fabric on is wide enough to stretch all the way out.
  5. Paint with the weave of the fabric. This helps you get full coverage and avoid bare spots for a more even look. For a rectangle scarf you will probably be working long-wise, for other cuts, test a small area to which way goes easiest.

There you have it! Leave me a comment below if you have any questions or advice regarding fabric painting. Have a great day!

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