About 10 years ago, fiber artist and painter Teresa Shippy found a great use for her ever-expanding collection of vintage tin tiles. With some basic plain cloth and paint (and lots of experimentation!) she learned to “transfer” her tin tile designs onto fabric, making one-of-a-kind artwork.
With her permission, today I’m sharing Teresa’s method for creating these gorgeous, painted fabrics. Follow along and give it a try for yourself!
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Here are the supplies you’ll need:
Start with white or off-white natural fiber fabrics, such as cotton, silk, or linen. You can often find these in vintage/thrift stores, purchase them in a fabric shop, or buy bolts of them at great prices from a local wholesaler. (Natural fabrics tend to absorb color best and pick up more of the design, which is why Teresa uses them.)
It’s also preferable NOT to pre-wash fabrics, unless they’re vintage, in which case you should wash them once in advance to ensure that they’re clean and to test them for quality.
Next, collect a few tin tiles, wrought iron pieces, metals, or anything else that has an unusual embossed surface. Tiles or unique metal forms of art can be found at salvage yards, thrift stores, or local garage sales, while new tiles can be purchased at your local hardware store.
Don’t just think of tins, though; keep your mind open to any cool, reasonably flat form that has an unusual surface that could create a textured design on fabric. You will be surprised what may get tossed out as trash that could be used as a template. Even something like a vintage dress form can create a completely different and unique design.
Lastly, you’ll need some sort of water-based paint, which you can find at your local crafts store or online. Setacolor paint by Pebeo is a wonderful product and can be found online from Dharma Trading, but of course, acrylic inks and pigment dyes can also be used and are available at just about any art supply store.
A variety of wide-mouth jars or bowls (for mixing the paint) are recommended, and both brushes and small rollers can be used for applying the color, although Teresa uses mostly 1 to 4 inch wide brushes. Synthetic brushes are okay, but stay away from the really inexpensive ones because they tend to shed bristles.
All right, let’s get started!
Set out your template, preferably on a wooden table or plywood. Just make sure your table or board size accommodates the size of your template and fabric.
Wet the fabric, wring out the excess water, and lay your fabric over your template as taut as possible. Smooth the fabric so you can see the indentations of the tile, leaving approximately 2 inches of fabric all the way around the perimeter of the template.
Press a dry paint roller over your wet fabric until all air bubbles are removed. Keep your fabric wet and pulled tightly over your template, then secure your fabric with thumb tacks or small nails, so that the wind (or a careless movement) does not shift it by accident.
Now the painting fun begins.
It’s best to start out with three colors, such as light, medium and dark blue. Mix up the lightest color of blue with approximately 1 tablespoon of blue paint to one cup of water, and apply this to the fabric. Choose a brush or roller that you’re comfortable to apply the paint. Larger brushes are great for a larger tin and for applying paint evenly across the entire piece.
This first application of color will dry slightly lighter than the color you see because of the wet fabric, so don’t be surprised when that happens. For your darker shades of blue, double or triple your paint to water portions. You can even premix 3 or 4 jars and cover the jars with foil until you are ready to use them.
After the first layer is dry, apply your premixed medium shade and allow it to dry. Then, follow that layer with the darkest shade.
At either of these stages you may choose to use a smaller brush and accentuate the details of your tin tile, rather than just brushing over everything. And, keep in mind that because the fabric has dried, you will get a slightly more intense color for your second and third layers. Dry fabric absorbs more paint than wet fabric, as well, so keep that in mind when pre-mixing colors.
NOTE: Ideally your work area should be exposed to the sun, so that as you work, the fabric will dry. A clothesline nearby is good for hanging the fabric at the very end of the process as well.
After you are satisfied with the first two or three color layers on your fabric and the fabric is completely dry, a final color can be applied with a clean, dry, sponge or brush.
Step back and take a good look at your design to determine what your contrasting color should be, and where you should add it. This color will accent your work by picking up and drawing attention to all the indentations of your beautiful tin tile.
Start this stage by loading up a wide dry brush or sponge with paint and thoroughly blotting out the excess onto a towel. Test the application by starting at a corner of the piece, then work through your entire piece to obtain the desired results. If you’re using a template that’s got some deep indentations, you will want to use a little more pressure to really get in the grooves of the template and reveal every detail within the tin showing onto the fabric.
The final step is to “heat-set” your fabrics after the paint and fabric is completely dry. Heat setting can be accomplished with an iron or by hanging the fabric in sunlight, and in fact, it’s best to do both. Iron the finished fabric several times and then (whenever possible) leave it hanging in the hot sun on a clothesline to cure. Your iron will collect paint residue from this process, so it’s best to use an old iron.
If you want to wash your fabric after that, only use a mild detergent and a gentle wash cycle. However, many times Teresa chooses not to wash the fabric because even gentle washing can break down the textured feel of the fabric.
Creating your own fabrics offers many new opportunities for beautiful mixed-media pieces. Teresa often uses her tin tile fabric designs as backdrops for her portrait pieces, like in Women of Substance, below.
I’d encourage you to check out more of her work at her blog as well.
And of course, as you get more comfortable with the process, you can always experiment and come up with more complicate fabric designs. There are many ways to enjoy your original art, but it’s most important to have fun, enjoy the process and make it your own.