Originally Published: August 25, 2017 6:03 a.m.
CONCORD, N.H. — With bright splotches or pale washes of color, watercolor paintings certainly can brighten up walls. But why stop there? Applying a watercolor effect to fabric and covering pillows with it lets you display abstract artwork on your sofa or bed as well.
Looking to add some decorative contrast to my gray couch, I recently tried three tutorials on achieving a watercolor look on fabric. I then washed and dried the fabric to make sure the colors wouldn’t wash out. While the basic techniques — brush strokes on fabric — were similar, they used different materials and slightly different procedures. All were easy enough that I’m brainstorming other ways to put them to use — napkins, coasters, zippered pouches and more.
Here’s what I found, with each method rated from 1 to 10, with 10 indicating the least expensive, easiest and best results:
The Brit + Co website (http://go.brit.co/2uFtdYV ) features a tutorial for making watercolor-effect table linens, but the method is easily adaptable for pillow covers as well. The directions call for using a sponge brush to dampen small portions of fabric, and then painting on the damp area with a liquid paint that has the consistency of water and spreads like dye. While I followed the directions, I did wonder if it would be easier to just wet the entire piece of fabric at once by running it under water and squeezing out the excess rather than wetting small portions at a time.
The paint recommended for this project, Jacquard’s Dye-Na-Flow, is considerably more expensive than the materials used in the other techniques (about $5 for 2 oz.), but because it’s made for textiles, no other product is needed to make it permanent on fabric.
This method produced vibrant colors that stayed true even after washing and drying.
The owner of the Lovely Etc. blog (http://bit.ly/2uM3RZO ) describes her mission as “creating lovely for less,” and her technique for watercolor pillows was indeed the least expensive of the three I tried.
Her method involves mixing about three drops of acrylic craft paint with 10 drops of fabric painting medium and a few tablespoons of water, and then painting onto fabric. Small bottles of craft paint can often be found for about a dollar each, and fabric painting medium — which produces a washable, permanent substance than adheres better to fabric — for a dollar or two more.
This technique was really easy, but unfortunately, my results were somewhat disappointing compared to the image shown in the tutorial. I painted abstract circles with light red, pink and lavender, but as the fabric began to dry, the colors faded to pale pink, and all definition between the shapes was lost. I didn’t, however, notice any further fading after washing and drying the fabric.
Of the three techniques I tried, this one from the blog Tidbits (http://bit.ly/2i8GmEi ) was the only one that used actual watercolor paint. But because the paint on its own would wash out, it also uses fabric painting medium to make the paint colorfast.
While the tutorial calls for using solid watercolors, I used student-grade liquid watercolors because that’s what I had on hand. In this method, you paint with watercolors on the fabric and then, using a clean brush, swipe over the fabric with a mixture of fabric medium and water. That adds an extra step compared to the technique using craft paint, but the results were better. I don’t know if that’s because of the type of paint or the technique, however.
Like the fabric paint method, the colors stayed bold as they dried, and after a trip through the washer and drier.