Artists having been decorating fabrics since ancient times, and the methods of doing so have ranged from the highly skilled to techniques that are so easy that even complete beginners can make beautiful items. Decorating fabric is a wonderful way to experiment with colours, textures and design, and the products you make you can also be used in other craft projects.
The term applique comes from the French, meaning "to put on." Applique techniques "apply" or attach pieces of fabric on top of or overlapping each other. Sections can be sewn together by hand, machine or even glued together. Many different types of fabric can be combined in applique, and there are many patterns available, although many experienced crafters will make their own applique designs. Modern artists, such as British conceptual artist Tracey Emin, use appliques of cut out letters to express written opinions in visual art.
Two of the most popular traditional methods for printing onto fabrics are screen printing and block printing. Screen printing designs are drawn onto a screen and a blocking material used to prevent dye reaching certain parts of the fabric. The dye is squeezed through the screen onto the fabric beneath. In simple block painting, as seen in many folk crafts, a wooden stamp is dipped in dye then printed onto a plain fabric. These printing blocks are available at craft shops and can be used by beginners.
Beads and Sequins
The application of beads and sequins to fabric has an ancient history. From the jewelled costumes of royalty to simple peasant designs, fashion enthusiasts have enjoyed adding sparkle to their clothes. Computer-operated machines are often used to sew on beads and sequins in complicated designs; however, in some places, tiny beads and sequins are still sewn on by hand. In India, mirrors are often sewn onto fabric, providing additional light-reflecting properties.
Embroidery, in which stitches are used to create a pattern on fabrics, is another ancient form of decoration. There are many different stitches from simple back stitches to raised knotted three-dimensional stitches to highly decorative double stitches that use two colours of thread at once. Historically, women would create decorative "samplers" with writing and stitches to show off their embroidery skills. Beginners can practice drawing a simple design on a piece of fabric and filling it in with stitches they know.
Freehand painting on fabric is particularly popular with artists and crafts people working with silk. Modern silk painting gained popularity in France at the start of the twentieth century. Designs using French or French-inspired dyes are usually painted on white silk from Asia. However fabric painting is also popular with young crafters and artists, who use fabric paints to add freestyle designs to T-shirts. Specialists fabric paints are available that give a raised, three-dimensional finish.