Decorating Textile Garments and Accesories

Clothes that you once loved but have since become tired of can be given a new lease of life at little expense with new and exciting decorative treatment. The same is true of newly bought items. Plain ties, scarves and tee-shirts can all be transformed from standard items into unique pieces with the addition of a little paint or dye.

hand painted hat

You can use any garment or accessory to decorate using all manner of techniques – from hand painting and dyeing to silkscreen printing and discharge painting. Tee-shirts are good start point for beginners since they are inexpensive to purchase and can be decorated using many of the techniques. If you prefer to practice on a small area, ties or scarves are a good alternative.  For the complete beginner, specialist kits are available which contain everything you will need for decoration, including fabric paints or dyes and a scarf or tie.

hand printed ties

Before beginning work on a new garment, it is important that you wash and iron it in order to remove any dressing which could prevent the paint or dye from being properly absorbed into the cloth. This will also prevent further shrinkage.

hand painted tee shirt

The same is true of existing garments. Make sure that you wash and iron them thoroughly, so the cloth is clean and free from grease. Depending on your preferred method of decoration, you may also need to remove items like buttons or zip fasteners as these may distort the results. For example, it would be virtually impossible to stencil over the button, press stud or snap fastener since the stencil wouldn’t be able to lie flat. Finally, since most garments have a front and a back, it is important that you place the barrier between two layers to prevent the dye or pigment from passing through from one side to the next. Brown paper or cardboard is ideal for this purpose.

hand painted scarf

If you are working on a ready-made garment, you may find it easiest to draw your design in tailor’s chalk first. If you are printing or stencilling, it is best to use your pattern over a large, flat area such as the back of a dressing gown or the base of a skirt. Avoid decorating uneven surfaces, such as where a gathered sleeve meets an armhole, since this will produce uneven results. If you are using the transfer method of printing, make sure that you cut the transfer paper to the size and shape of the garment you are decorating. This will help you when you come to iron your design in place and will yield even results. The same is true of stencils. If you are making the stencil from scratch, it is best to cut it to the same dimensions as the piece of work you are stencilling – for example, a cuff or a collar – so that you mask off all the cloth you want to remain free of paint.

hand painted jacket

If you are good at dressmaking, you will probably decide to make your garment up from scratch using a paper pattern or the equivalent. If this is the approach you decide to take, it is worth considering decorating the pieces of cloth after you have cut them out but prior to making up. This method is particularly useful if you want to match up a design along the seams or if you plan to add special details to pockets or cuffs. The main point to bear in mind if you decide on this approach is to make sure that you take into account the seam allowances. For example, if you are matching a design down a seam, make sure that a part of the pattern isn’t lost in the seam allowance when the garment is made up. Before you start painting, mark the seamline with tailor’s chalk and make sure that your design doesn’t extend beyond that line.

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