There really is no substitute for experience. As I get more and more into fabric dyeing, printing and painting, I not only learn about what effects different techniques can achieve, but also what I will end up liking and using and what not. Sometimes the latter is quite counter intuitive. 

A case in point was when I branched out from painting silk to painting some of my existing boring white tops I wasn’t wearing. A couple of years ago I was mad keen on the new linen jerseys available, and I bought a few metres of white and made a couple of tunics. Problem was, that the white linen jersey was rather thin and quite sheer. You couldn’t really wear the sleeveless tunic I made without a tank top underneath, and what is the sense in that? If it is hot enough to wear sleeveless, would you really want a double layer?

The short sleeve version I also made with the white linen jersey made more sense worn with a tank underneath, but I found that I wasn’t wearing that either. I think the plain white just wasn’t exciting enough, once I got over the novelty value of the linen knit. So it hung in my wardrobe, unworn, but too good to get rid of because of the expensive fabric.

That was until I was all fired with zeal from my silk painting experiences and was looking the next project. So I took the short sleeve tunic, put it on a hanger, stuffed it with a large plastic sheet to stop the fabric surfaces from touching each other when wet with dye and had a go.

It didn’t work as well as I had hoped, and yet it was more of a success than I first thought.


From a technique point of view, the fabric dye didn’t spread nearly as well as it had with the silk. This is because the silk is much thinner and the dye runs and mixes like you wouldn’t believe. With the linen the dye stays put a lot more, which makes WHAT you actually paint on the fabric more important than it is with silk. With the silk, you just slap on the dye any which way, and apart from choosing and balancing the colours, what you actually paint on the fabric is not that important.

Fabrics thicker than silk such as a jersey knit are a different kettle of fish. I didn’t realise this when I painted the linen top, and once I had, it was of course too late. The deed was done.

I tried again with the sleeveless top, making it wetter before I started painting. Better I think, but still room for improvement.

Strangely, even though I felt a little disappointed with the painting job I did, I have worn the tops a lot. They have a relaxed hippy vibe I really enjoy on the weekends. Somehow the fact that they are not good enough to be suitable for work makes them favourites during my time off. Horses for courses, apparently, and that is a part of the learning process too.

But I think apart from painting the fabric very wet, the colour strength is important too, unless you want a particularly dark result. When I later painted some muslin bunny rugs (also called receiving blankets or nursery squares depending on which part of the world you live in), I not only painted them dripping wet, but also diluted the dyes heavily to get a more pastel look. I like the results a lot.



Encouraged I painted some tshirts for DGS where the colours have blended almost as much as with silk. I hung up the tees sopping wet with fixative and slopped on a lot of heavily diluted dye. Sort of like tie dying without the ties.  I used old pantyhose to hang them on my clothes horse and stuffed them with plastic bags to prevent dye soaking through from front to back. The latter may be unnecessary as I realised later.


Once they had been washed and dried I block printed the white dinosaur shapes. I made the stamps with foam stick on shapes I had bought at Eckersley, our local art materials chain. I stuck two shapes on top of each other to a piece of perspex. I think three shapes would have been better  as I kept getting ink on the backing when inking up with the roller and had to wipe it off.

DGS is crazy about dinosaurs and knows all the exotic ones. Unfortunately grandma only had some common garden variety dinosaur shapes for printing, but the shirts went down well anyway. 


…and the back where you can see the colours a bit better…
Pity I didn’t photograph the tees when they were nicely ironed after I fixed the prints. Catching up on that later when they had already been worn and washed was not the same, a long way from the glossy marketing photos on the online RTW sites.

To talk technique for those interested, the dye needs to be mixed with a ‘fixative’ to take properly, which is a soda ash solution and a bit of salt. You can mix this in with the dye and paint it all on together, but the mixture will only be active for an hour before it becomes exhausted and doesn’t dye properly anymore. For longer painting sessions, you would have to mix up your dyes every hour, which is not really economical, because you would inevitable mix up a bit more than you actually need to make sure you don’t run out before you finish a garment. The leftovers would end up wasted. But the Drimarene K alone dissolved in water will last for a long time if not mixed with the soda ash. So instead of wetting the garments/fabric length in plain water, I soak them in the soda ash solution before painting, and give myself more time to use up the dyes. You still get some of the soda ash into the dye as you move the brush from dye to fabric and back again, but not a lot. To eliminate this altogether, you could try squirting the dye on with a squirt bottle. I think this would work particularly well with thick fabrics and t-shirts. You could lay the latter flat and soak the front and back with dye at the same time. Like I said earlier, like tie dyeing without the ties.

For detailed instruction on the dye painting process and dye recipes, please refer to my previous post ‘Silk and Paint! Yay!’