This project takes a plain piece of inexpensive fabric and turns it into an elaborate, metallic custom print using spray paint and layered stencils.
This isn't my first spray painted fabric project, but I think it's one of my favorites. Spraypaint is fantastic on fabric because of the shading and gradient possibilities. The only other way to do this sort of thing is with an airbrush, and though I have one it's kind of annoying to use. Spraypaint comes in great metallics, too. All of the elements of this skirt are stenciled. You do get a bit of haze in places, but that is a desirable effect to me - if you wanted perfect lines you could screen print this instead. It's fairly ambitious, but the results are super special and I felt like it was totally worth the effort. My brocade pattern includes unicorns, dinosaurs, boxing robots, deer, squirrels, mermaids, seahorses, lightning, butterflies, hearts, stars, and jackalopes. It's been affectionately referred to as "bad-ass brocade" (apologies for the inappropriate language and alliteration.) Don't put anything into your pattern that you're not prepared to talk about when you're wearing this out, because people will want to talk about it.
This instructable outlines how I designed my skirt pattern, how I designed my stencils, and how I actually did the stenciling. I hope you make something awesome with these directions!
Step 1: Supplies and Equipment
You will need:
Fabric - I used a light blue broadcloth, but most fabrics would work. Smoother fabric is better, fabric that has any loose fibers or pilling will pick up spraypaint differently and those imperfections will be magnified. The paint stiffens the fabric, too, so take that into account. You'll need enough fabric to make whatever you're making plus a little more. A commercial pattern will give you a yardage, buy a bit extra for testing things on. Natural fibers are generally more receptive to paint than synthetics, and do a paint test before you do a lot of work.
A Pattern - Commercial patterns can be super, I made up my own but I've been sewing forever. Skirts are fairly simple so making up my own was easy. I'll talk about how I made my pattern in the next step, but definitely use an existing pattern if you're more comfortable with that.
General Sewing Supplies and Notions - I'm not really teaching you how to sew here, there are a ton of very useful instructables on the basics of sewing. A commercial pattern will tell you what zippers/buttons/elastic/etc your pattern needs.
An Iron - This is vital. Iron your fabric and iron it again. The smallest wrinkle will catch spraypaint unevenly, leaving you with fabric that looks permanently wrinkled.
Spray Paint - At least on fabric, the best coverage comes from flat paint, the worst from gloss. Pick the right colors for your look, but get flat if you can. Gloss will work, but your fabric is likely to end up stiffer than with a flat. I used a metallic silver, a purple and a black. It should be fairy obvious that color selection is completely up to you. Test your colors on scrap fabric before committing. They can look very different layered over other colors. One can of each color was enough, but you might need more if you go bigger.
Cardstock - To cut into stencils. Heavier is better, but heavier is also harder to cut. If you plan to use your stencils a lot of times go heavy, if you're only using them a few times go with a lighter weight.
Cutting Tools - Something sharp to cut your stencil with. An exacto knife, a utility knife, a disposable knife, whatever. Don't skimp on sharp blades. Sharp blades make better cuts and reduce your risk of injury.
A Sheet of Cork - This is optional, but you may choose to pin your stencils down into cork to keep them in place better.
A Dust Mask/Safety Glasses/Gloves/Air Purifier - Any time you're dealing with dust or solvents breathing protection is a good idea. If you're doing this casually a dust mask should be enough, if you're working with spraypaint a lot upgrade yourself to better breathing protection. Safety glasses will keep the paint out of your eyes. Rubber/plastic/nitrile/vinyl gloves will keep the paint off your hands. I'm an artist that works with art materials a lot and I didn't really believe in air purifiers until I bought one. I have a small desktop model (around $35 at a big box retailer) and I've been amazed at the improvement in air quality since I started using it. This is a great investment if you're going to do a lot of questionable things to your indoor air.
Newspaper - You'll be making a mess, protect your work surface or appreciate it's new painty facade.
Waxed Paper - You'll use this between layers of fabric to keep your paint from bleeding through. Waxed paper peels of most painty things pretty well.
A Fan - If you're impatient this will speed things along.
Step 2: Sewing Pattern
By all means feel free to use a commercial pattern. This is how I designed my pattern.
I stood in front of a full length mirror with a fabric tape measure. First I decided where I wanted my waistline to fall, then I decided on the length I wanted for the front and the back (which wasn't the same because, like many humans, I'm not perfectly symmetrical front to back.) I was shooting for a hemline that was parallel to the ground or slightly longer in the back.
I went through the skirts I had to get a sense of the circumference I wanted for the lower hemline. In this case I wanted more than a pencil skirt but not too much fullness. A lot of fullness would have created folds that interrupted the hard earned pattern, and I've been walking everywhere lately so I've noticed that fuller skirts have a tendency to flip up in the breeze at inopportune moments. (Is there an opportune moment for flashing your underthings in public?) After finding a skirt that seemed right I measured the hemline, then wrapped the tape measure into a circle around me to make sure it seemed right in front of a mirror.
At that point it was all about deciding on the height of the waistband (2 inches), planning my styling, plotting it all out, adding seam allowances and cutting it out. I didn't make a proper pattern, I just took notes on a sheet of paper then drew my shapes directly onto my fabric. I had mostly rectangle and near rectangles so it wasn't difficult. If you decide on lots of flare or curvy shapes make a paper pattern. You can buy butcher paper at a lot of big box stores and it works super for this task.
My waistband was the shortest length I could get on over my hips, and then I elasticized the back half of it. I wanted to keep the front of the waistband smooth. I pleated my fabric to fit into the length of the waistband, making sure it was pleated with the pattern (in this case, so the purple stripes were the outside of the pleat). I also added a large bow on the back of the skirt and made one for my hair because if anything around me slows down for long enough I put a bow on it.
Step 3: Designing Your Stencils
My design is a conglomeration of things I had designed and bits and pieces from a lot of free dingbat fonts. If you're making this for yourself use whatever you like, but if you're making it to sell respect the licensing on the fonts you're using. (Actually, if you're making something like this to sell you'd better do some serious durability testing. I can't speak to how well this paint will last if it's being used by someone putting it in the wash regularly or having it dry cleaned.)
I designed my entire skirt ahead of time at 50% scale in Illustrator. Inkscape would work just as well for free. I design everything I can in vectors by habit for future versatility and scalability. These are all (roughly) symmetrical designs, which really seems like the key to getting that brocade feel. The jackalope was put together from a bunny from one font and antlers from another. The robots were already a pair, I just centered them and added some stuff around them. I added lightning, starbursts, butterflies and hearts anywhere there were awkward gaps. Try not to have any 'islands' because they're a pain in stenciling. If you must have islands you'll need to pin them in place with the cork I talked about in the supplies and equipment step. Print out your designs at the right size, double check that they'll fit, then cut them out. Also mark horizontal and vertical lines at the halfway point to help you line things up later.
I'll admit to cheating a bit here, I was having some other things lasered out so I had my stencils lasered, too. Lasering paper is pretty cheap, and this would have been a massive undertaking to cut by hand. Lasers need vectors to cut, which is part of why it's important for me to design that way. I would have done a lot fewer or simpler motifs if i'd cut them by hand.
Step 4: Sew Some of It Together
Whether your pattern is commercial or designed yourself, be sure to sew any panels together before you paint. I really thought this over before I started, but one of the things that makes hand painted fabric special is that you can adjust your design to fit exactly. By sewing the skirt into a tube before I painted it I was able to make the seam almost invisible. The exception to this is if there are any ruffles/pleats/etc, or, like in my case, if you want to make part of it different. I wanted my waistband to contrast with the main part of the skirt, so I painted them separately and then sewed them together. I hemmed my skirt when the painting was finished, too.
Once you've done your initial sewing, IRON IT WELL. Flatter fabric paints better.
Step 5: Mark Out the Motif Placements
I wanted a metallic highlight behind each of my brocade motifs. I planned my design so that motifs fell at quarters, halves and eights. My skirt was a perfect tube before finishing, so I folded it half, marked my center points for motifs with tailors chalk, and folded it again to mark other areas. Depending on what you want you could measure for marks, fold in sixths, whatever. The important part is to plot the entire skirt before you start painting and then look it over to catch any mistakes. I had no problem painting over small chalk marks but if you're worried about it try it on a swatch or mark them some other way.
Step 6: First Layer of Paint
Before you start painting mask off your work area and get your safety gear together. Put a piece of waxed paper inside the skirt to keep paint from bleeding through.
Painting the way I did gave me an effect that isn't practically possible with custom printed fabric because it's metallic, and would really only be attainable with an airbrush unless you find a company that would print metallic ink in a gradient (which probably isn't too common, and definitely not available through a company like Spoonflower.)
The most important thing while doing this is to think about your hand movements so you can duplicate them over and over. Practice on some newspaper or something until you can make circles of the same size over and over. It's easier than it seems, and if you're doing short bursts of paint you'll have a bit of error room. I was painting a small circle around my dot in the center and then filling in the circle. Your method will probably vary.
Let each area dry thoroughly before moving the fabric around. If it folds back on itself the paint will kiss off into unpainted areas. Rush at your own risk.
Step 7: Second Layer of Paint
I marked out my skirt again, this time with pins at the top and bottom. I went with 16 stripes, again with the halving and halving again.
This stencil is simple - it's cardstock taped together with packing tape. I taped four pieces in a row top to bottom, then sliced it in half the long way. I taped it back together with an inch wide gap to make inch wide stripes. I folded it so that the top and bottom pieces of cardstock wrapped into the skirt. This held the stencil in place well.
I lined up the stencil centered over a pair of pins, added newspaper to mask the rest of the skirt, then pulled the pins. I painted from directly above the skirt (painting at an angle will encourage the paint to fly underneath the stencil.) I painted from a bit further distance because the paint cans I was using put down a lot of paint very quickly and being up higher helped distribute it properly. The paint I was using also had a nozzle that could be turned to affect the way the paint sprayed so take advantage of that if you have it. Turning the spray sideways helped me use the paint more efficiently.
Paint a stripe, let it dry, paint a stripe, let it dry, until you have all of your stripes in place.
Step 8: Third Layer of Paint
Mark your placements again. You should be good at this by now. They should line up over the silver highlight areas.
Use the lines you added to your stencils to get them into just the right spots. Pin your stencils down into cork or weigh them down to hold them in place. Wrap heavy objects in newspaper if you'd like to preserve their aesthetic purity.
Light layers of paint from directly perpendicular to the surface will give you your best results. Practice on something you don't care about to check for any bleed spots. If you use pins put the pins in the same place when you move the stencil or you'll stencil tiny pinhole dots onto your fabric.
Step 9: Heat Setting
There really aren't fabric directions for spraypaint, but most fabric paints tell you to heat set your work so I did it with my spraypaint, too.
Put a sheet of blank paper over your painted design and another between your ironing board and your fabric and iron it. I went really hot without trouble, respect your fabric content and error to the cautious side. Don't use paper with ink on it because heat is great way to transfer ink. If paint gets on your paper use a fresh sheet, if it transfers once it can transfer twice. Don't ruin a garment over a sheet of paper. I kept my paint hot for about 30 seconds. I can't say for sure that it helped, but I'm sure it didn't hurt.
I didn't bother to take a picture of ironing, I hope you don't mind.
Step 10: Paint Any Remaining Parts
I added a bit of painting to my waistband and bows. Paint and heat set those parts, too.
I managed that drip pattern by putting my finger (wearing a glove) further forward so that some of the spray pattern hit my finger, collected and dripped. Sometimes paint nozzels clog in ways that make nice splatter patterns so I save those to use when I want a special effect, too. Most of the time you can pull the spray nozzles off of paint cans and switch them with other nozzles.
Step 11: Finish Constructing the Garment
Interface anything that needs interfacing. (Iron on interfacing is your best friend if you want bows that stay perky.) FInish up the skirt the way the pattern tells you to. I sewed the elastic into the back half of the waistband, hemmed the skirt and sewed it into the waistband. I always make every effort I can to hide any raw edges, and I zig zag finish anything I can't hide (and anything I can hide, especially if it will be in a high abuse area.) After spending all of that time on painting don't nancy out with the finishing. Better finishing means you'll get more use out of what you've made.
I pin my bows in place so that I don't have to run them through the wash and make them mushy looking. I'm hand washing this skirt to make it last, but that might be overkill. Use your best judgement.
Wear it! You may want to give it a bit of time for the solvent smell to wear off, but it will. Mine was gone in a day or two.
First Prize in the
Krylon Summer Projects Contest