DIY Fabric Painting with Dye on Drop Cloths

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I am excited to experiment with this technique more (I know there’s a lot I need to still figure out), but I’m pretty happy with how the fabric painting/dyeing technique worked out with the drop clothes I used for our mudroom makeover. I wanted this project to be as inexpensive as possible, but I didn’t want to just use some fabric I had laying around. I wanted it to be kid-friendly and playful.

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I used a few bottles of liquid RIT I had laying around in Apple Green, Lemon Yellow, Denim and Rose Pink, and then diluted them down a bit with water. The main leaf color is Denim, which is sort of a purpley-black-indigo.

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But first, I cut out all the pieces I needed to make the three box cushions before I started (and I included generous seam allowances just in case the fabric shrunk after washing, which it did). To make sure all the patterns would match right and would wrap down the edges, I careful marked out all the center spots of the X pattern.
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I used different sizes of brushes to apply the patterns, which I wanted to all feel organic (leaves and insects in abstract patterns). I used a 1″ foam brush to do the main pattern and I love it the most. I want to do a whole room of curtains in just this pattern!

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The girls wanted to help and I wanted more color in the pattern, so we kept going with colors and shapes. We added really loose versions of bees and dragonflies and just some circles for splashes of color.

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I love how the fabric looked at this point and part of me wishes we would have stopped here, but I didn’t know what would happen to the dye if we didn’t set it. I figured it would be disastrous if (when?) watered spilled on the fabric, so I threw it all in the washer on cold and delicate. I wish I would have hand washed them all, which I think would have left the background a little more cream and less blue and maybe would have left a little more color in the pattern.

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The soft dreaminess is still nice though and I wasn’t about to redo all my and the girls’ hard work, se we just went with it. :)

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I think the white piping helps brighten things up a little.

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Any tips on setting dye without washing it all out? I can’t wait to try round two of fabric painting!
  1. I think with Rit you need to use their Rit Color Stay Dye Fixative. Just a glance online shows that people have had a lot of fading without it.

    With other brands you can typically use soda ash, I think, to set the dye.

  2. Em

    I've always done a heat-set with a hot iron on the reverse side before washing, but I think the dye fixative would still be a good idea!

  3. Usually white vinegar works to "set" the color. I always soak new dark jeans for a bit prior to washing the first time.

  4. I use Rit dyes quite often and always add in the salt that is recommended on the box. It causes a chemical reaction that helps retain the color.
    Even so I do find that the color does fade a bit.

    I do like the soft look that was achieved with your project though! :)

  5. DR

    My mom always said a vinegar or high salt water soak to help set color.

  6. liz

    For fabric paint/dye I use for screen printing, you need to heat set it. So I either iron it, or throw it into a dryer for a while to heat it. I have done fabric dying in the past, and have done a batch in hot water on the stove, so heat might be a thing!?

  7. Amy

    I don't have any tips but just wanted to say I think the fabric looks good either way – both the colour and the muted result are fun! From the photos I would never know that you did the leaf technique yourself!

  8. Sadie

    I would have washed the fabric first. A lot of fabrics come with sealant on them which can actually prevent the dyes from sticking. So pre wash. For example when tie dying my student's t shirts I always have to pre wash them all. Then if you wash too much stuff together, the color can get muddied just by washing them together. I had my classroom do tie dye shirts and anything over 5 and tshirts would come out less bright. I also recommend letting the dye sit without washing it for like 72 hours and then running it under really cold water. Than when you wash it put vinegar in with the wash. Let air dry the first time and do not put in the dryer.

  9. td

    All of the tips here are right on…you need what's called a mordant, either salt or vinegar. those are the easiest and most easily available. Heat will also help set it, but wash in cold. I really like the pastel colour you achieve by mistake, though!

  10. Love everything including fabric painting to designing. I will use this fabric painting in my bedroom.
    Designer Rugs

  11. am i missing something, are you going to also include how to make the cushions?

  12. Carrie

    Love how this turned out. I have the same question as one of the commenters above: how did you make the cushions? I would love to see the process.

    Thanks!

  13. I would also love a cushion tutorial sometime. But wanted to say that I really love the pattern you came up with. I've been curious about doing something like this for a while with drop cloth, now i will have to try it. Love this post!

  14. This mudroom looks great. I have worked a lot with batik and fabric dye. You set it with salt. Just wash in cold water the way you did, but add a good amount of salt and washing soda to the water instead of detergent. You can also use a bucket of cold water with salt and washing soda if you don't want to use the machine, and this might be better if your machine has an agitator. Good luck!

  15. I was totally going to work with this same drop cloth brand to make some inexpensive curtains, but shied away from it when I read on the package that the cloths are flammable. Maybe it's not as bad on cushions, but I just had this vision of a candle getting too close to the curtains and causing more dollar's worth of damage than the money I would have saved on making the curtains themselves. Did you read anything about that? Am I being overly cautious? I'm not sure if it's an obligatory warning and maybe all curtains are technically flammable or if drop cloths are more flammable bc of the material they're made of…

  16. Tori

    I use those Shout color catcher sheets when washing dyed items. i find it helps keep the colors from running too much.

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