Tutorial – fabric painting with school glue resist

This is a little project that I enjoy doing – just for fun.  I am a huge fan of Quilting Arts Magazine, and after reading an article a couple of years ago about silk painting, I thought I might give it a try.  My lovely ladies in my blog banner are all sewn using free-motion techniques on painted silk.By using a resist of some sort, I can keep paint from bleeding into other areas of the fabric.  Silk is notoriously receptive to wicking paint, water – sometimes that’s just what I want.  However, if I want a recognizable pattern, I need to set boundaries for the paint.  One traditional resist is wax.  By drawing melted wax on fabric, then painting over it, the wax will resist the paint.  The wax is then removed and the areas covered by the resist reveal the original color of the fabric.

Now, I need more “gear” like I need a hole in the head – and although wax isn’t a huge investment, come on.  So, when I read another article in Quilting Arts about using school glue – the blue gel type – as a resist, I knew this was something I could handle.

For the base fabric, I have used 100% cotton muslin or silk.  Cotton is lovely, but there is nothing like the luminosity of silk.  The basic steps are all the same -

You’ll need:
100% cotton or silk (I like to use the midweight 12mm silk)
Blue gel school glue
Fabric paint – thinned to a watery consistency, or special fabric paint just for silk (I’ve used Dyna-Flo or Setasilk)
Scrap fabric
Freezer paper
Parchment paper
Optional:  Plexiglas square – I got mine from the wonderful guys at the local hardware store for a couple of bucks.  Instead, you can use plastic trash bags to keep your workspace clean.

First, iron the cotton or silk that you wish to paint to the shiny side of the freezer paper so it adheres to the fabric.  This will keep the fabric from curling when you apply the glue resist.

Apply the glue directly to the fabric.  Here I used a scribbly line design.  The trick is to move fast enough with a thin bead of glue so it doesn’t puddle.  Allow the glue to thoroughly dry.  After the glue is completely dry, peel off the freezer paper.
Next, set up your workspace to paint.  This is my plexiglas square.  I do all my fabric painting on it.  You could probably use a plastic trash bag to start with – just tape it to your work surface so the work surface stays clean and stable.  Cover it with the spare “drop” cloth.  I reuse an old piece of muslin over and over – then recycle it into the backs of some of my greeting cards.  It will absorb some of the paint the seeps through your top fabric.
Using your thinned fabric paints (or the silk paints which are already very thin) fill in your designs.  Go slowly so you can see how the fabric wicks the paint.  If you spray a bit of water on the fabric, you’ll notice that the paint wicks differently.  Also, you’ll discover that painted fabric doesn’t so readily wick new paint.  This is the fun part!
On this piece, I’m making what will be a black and white design.  The areas with the glue with be white on the black ground.  I’ve found that the colors do tend to be significantly lighter than when applied.
Allow the painted fabric to dry thoroughly.
Using parchment paper to protect your iron, heat set the paint.  The glue is still on the fabric.  It is very important to do this.  Oftentimes I will let the fabric cool after ironing and “cure” (my word, not the manufacturer’s) overnight.
Put the painted fabric in hot tap water, as hot as you can.  Allow the fabric to soak and the glue to dissolve.  You can feel if there is residual glue on the fabric because it is slippery and gummy.  I rub the fabric to get as much off as I can, then I run the fabric through the washer set on hot (yes, even silk!) with an old towel.  Feel the fabric for any residual gummy glue and remove by running hot tap water over it again.  Do not put in the dryer.  Hang to dry, or many times I iron straight out of the washer.

The color on the silk samples does wash out a bit – I’ve come to like the sort of faded beach-y look.  The fabric paint definitely changes the feel or “hand” of the fabric.  It feels a bit more substantial than the plain silk.  That’s OK for what I need.  Cotton is not nearly as cranky – and it’s so much fun to have my own designs!  I use this for headbands and greeting cards.  I’ve painted full length scarves too – so cool!

This entry was posted in A Bunch of Tutorials, Painting Fabric with Glue Resist and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to Tutorial – fabric painting with school glue resist

  1. draw4fun says:

    Love it, love it, love it! Great tutorial and the photos came out great too. I’ve always admired your icon and banner. Now that I understand how you made it, I love it even more. Thanks so much for sharing.

  2. Laura says:

    Hi Chris,
    Thanks so much for posting your link on the sketchbook challenge page. Your tutorial is wonderful and just exactly what I have been looking for!

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  8. Michele says:

    I LOVE this tutorial. I have always admired hand painted fabric and thought there was no way I could do it, but after reading this I KNOW I can! I also love your Whimsical leaves project you submitted to the Transformation Challenge!!! Keep up the awesome work and you now have a new fan.

    • Chris says:

      Hi, Michele – I’m SO glad you enjoyed the tutorial! I love to use the glue resist method of fabric painting and it’s really cool that other people might enjoy it too. Thank you so much for stopping by – and come back soon! Chris

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  10. Irene Dunne says:

    Thank you so much! I was trying to find an alternate resist to the gutta, and how to work with silk, when I found your blog! I’m so excited, because it now is cost doable for me.

    • Chris says:

      You are very welcome, Irene. I’m so glad to share the technique – patience is needed to remove the glue, but it’s not difficult nor expensive. Thanks for stopping by!

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  12. Sara says:

    Would this technique work on say, a white hoodie, to protect some nice crisp edged diamonds. And instead of fabric paint would it be possible to use like rit dye cause I’m looking to get a nice dark black everywhere else.

    • Chris says:

      Hi, Sara. I’m so glad you stopped by -

      I’ve never been able to make the glue to make clean sharp square edges – like the crisp diamonds that you want to make. The designs I’ve done are fluid and curvy. Glue can be a little uncooperative when you’re trying to get sharp corners. It spreads out a bit on the fabric and tends to give softer, rounded edges to shapes. Points? Forget it.

      I strongly suggest that you test your technique on a scrap of the same type of fabric that your hoodie is made of before you tackle the actual hoodie. I think the glue will work as a resist just fine – I just don’t know if you’re going to get the control over the lines like you want.

      (I’m assuming you’re going to paint the dye on rather than soak it – if you soak the fabric in hot water with a glue resist, the glue may start to dissolve.)

      Good luck and let me know how your tests go! Take care – Chris

  13. Hi Chris. Love your blog!! My daughter Chris and I have an online quilt kit business and also vend at quilt shows. One of the things I will be demonstrating at our next show in the fall is using the blue gel school glue on t-shirts as a resist and then painting them with liquid fabric paint. This is such a great technique for kids since it is so easy and fun. After seeing your tutorial using the same method I would like to know if you would mind if I reprinted this trutorial for a hand-out. I could reformat it as a PDF with your name as artist & your contact info. Please let me know what you decide. Thanks so much. Carol Holsopple

    • Chris says:

      Carol – What a lovely note! Of course you may reprint the tutorial and use it for a hand-out. I am honored.

      School glue resist painting is such a wonderful, easy project – I use it to make headbands, art quilts – all kinds of simple projects. Sometimes it’s just what I need to kickstart myself into a bigger, more complicated project!

      Thanks so much, and best of luck with your business -


  14. kajimo says:

    Thank you so much for all the wonderful information. I would like to know if you can use the glue resist with fabric dyes and then use the steaming method, will the glue dissolve when steamed or will it effect the colors of the dye??? I know steaming the fabric makes more brilliant colors, but what happens to the glue????
    Thanks Again,
    Thank you!

    • Chris says:

      Hi, Kajimo –

      I have not used fabric dyes – I have only used fabric paint and I prefer to use Dye-na-flo paint because of it’s blendability and the fact that it doesn’t change the “hand” or body of the fabric too much. However, batik uses wax to create the resist areas – I have no idea what would happen if you used glue with dye then tried to remove it with steam.

      When I wash the glue out of the fabric, it softens in the hot water, then sort of rolls off the fabric with a little rubbing. Glue does not affect the colors of the paint at all because the paint is not absorbed by the glue (thus it “resists” the paint.) I would imagine that it would not affect the dye colors for the same reason, but again, I have no experience with it.

      I love the look and feel of dyed fabric, but I have neither the space nor funds to invest in all the gear that goes with dyeing fabric. I was looking for an alternative to creating my own art quilts without all the hassle of dye so I’m afraid I’m not going to be much help.

      Thank you so much for stopping by, and I’d love to see a picture of your work!

      All the best – Chris

  15. Wow that was strange. I just wrote an extremely long
    comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t
    appear. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again.
    Regardless, just wanted to say great blog!

    • Chris says:

      I’m so sorry that your comment disappeared – I’ve had that happen occasionally and it’s frustrating -

      Take care and thanks for stopping by – Chris

  16. Julie says:

    Hi Chris,

    My daughter and I did some 100% cotton T-shirts using your directions and Dye-Na-Flow. Do we need to avoid the dryer with them? We want to give them for Christmas!



    • Chris says:

      Oh, Julie, I’m so sorry that I didn’t see your comment before now!

      I hope you did give the tee shirts for Christmas and I would love to see a picture! The trick to most fabric paints is heat setting it with an iron. I have washed and dried (in the dryer) several pieces and they seem no worse for the wear. Since tee shirts are worn more often than some of the things I’ve done, I might be careful and turn inside out to wash, but in my experience, it is pretty darn permanent.

      My apologies again for my delayed reply – Thank you so much for stopping by and trying the technique –

      All the best for a wonderful holiday and a happy and healthy new year!


  17. elahe says:

    dear Chris
    i love painting on fabric and as i have alittle experience i prifer to use Paraffin insted of using glue, and sorry about my hand writting mu knowlage about english is so low.
    yours sincerly,

    • Chris says:

      Dear Elahe –

      Thank you for stopping by! I want to try to use paraffin sometime – I use glue is because it doesn’t require any other special tools and is inexpensive to do. I love the look of paraffin resist -

      Your English is fine and I am happy that you sent me a note! Take care -

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  19. Kristie says:

    Do you simply use water to thin your fabric paint or do you use a fabric medium to thin it? I don’t want the color to fade much if I can avoid it, I’m worried thinning it with water will cause fade. Thoughts?

    • Chris says:

      Hi, Kristi – I use Dyna-Flo fabric paint, which is very fluid already so I don’t need to thin it at all. If I were going to use a regular viscosity acrylic or fabric paint, I would use a fabric medium to thin it out.

      Thank you for stopping by! All the best – Chris

  20. Cinda says:

    Hello there! I could have sworn I’ve been to this blog before but after
    browsing through some of the post I realized it’s new to me.
    Anyways, I’m definitely delighted I found it and I’ll be book-marking and checking back often!

  21. Beulah says:

    So going to try this! The temperatures are in the upper 90′s this week…I need a distraction from the heat….these will be perfect! Can’t wait to experiment!!!

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