Watercolor Dress {and tips for painting fabric}

Watercolor Sundress and Tips for Painting Fabric // you & mie

So I have exactly one project coming out of this Kids Clothes Week, but I’m pretty damn excited about it!  The (optional) theme for this season was Kid Art and while this dress was probably the last thing I needed to make, I got really excited by the idea of getting Yuki involved in creating a one-of-a-kind garment for herself.  I had all sorts of ideas like fabric painting, stenciling, iron on transfers, etc.  But I knew I didn’t have much time so I could only pick one thing.  If you know me, you know that I looooove fabric painting (like this cardigan, this hat and bag, and this dress) and I thought Yuki should have a go at it since she loves painting too!

Watercolor Sundress and Tips for Painting Fabric // you & mie

I went through my stash looking for plain white knit, but I didn’t have enough.  Then I found this cream double gauze that Frances sent me awhile back.  Ooooh, I knew it was perfect!  Whenever you’re painting or dyeing fabric, it’s best to work with natural fibers since it holds dye the best.  I knew the double gauze would be a great canvas to paint and make a comfortable dress to wear.

Watercolor Sundress and Tips for Painting Fabric // you & mie

I use these Pebeo Setacolor Transparent Fabric Paints (affiliate link) and I absolutely love them!  I love the watercolor effect and how it doesn’t leave the fabric stiff.  This is not a sponsored post of any kind, I just really enjoy working with these paints and I’ve learned a lot each time I’ve tried it so I thought I’d share some tips.

I knew I couldn’t just give Yuki the paints and let her go to town – I’m just too much of a control freak to do that.  Plus, the paints are permanent and I knew I wanted to approach the project as something special so she really took her time on it, instead of just slapping paint all over and calling it done.

Watercolor Sundress and Tips for Painting Fabric // you & mie

The first thing (and possibly the hardest) is to balance having control with letting go.  This is especially helpful when painting with a preschooler, but also something I try to keep in mind when I’m working myself.  Things don’t often come out as I want them to.  It’s never going to look “perfect” or precise, but that’s part of the beauty and quirkiness of this kind of paint.  I’ve had plenty of failed projects as well as creative discoveries.  It’s really an experiment every time.

The first few times you work with these paints, just play around and explore.  Different fabrics, different amounts of water, different types of brushes, will all affect your result.  Be sure to wait to see how it looks when it dries too.  Colors will often appear lighter when completely dried, so keep that in mind.

Watercolor Sundress and Tips for Painting Fabric // you & mie

Be sure to put everyone in clothes that can be stained or an apron/smock and work on a surface that you don’t mind getting stained.  Finding a large enough surface is really hard, since the paint will easily soak right through, but I have this old cutting mat that was warped from heat and I’ve started using that as Yuki’s “art” mat.  It is plenty stained and cut up and works perfect for this kind of project.

Next, I recommend cutting the fabric to the general shape and size that you’ll need for your project.  Painting a huge piece of fabric is a bit daunting and difficult.  It helped to break it into several smaller pieces.  It helps to tape the edges of the fabric down to keep it from moving.

Watercolor Sundress and Tips for Painting Fabric // you & mie

I told her that we could only pick three colors and I showed her an old painting of hers that I wanted to use as our palette inspiration.  But as soon as I took out the paints she grabbed the neon pink and bright yellow (the neon pink is not a part of the set, I bought it separately – affiliate link).  So I suggested turquoise as the third color, mixed it up and we were good to go.  I introduced one color at a time which I think worked pretty well.  It kind of explains why the first piece (front of the dress) has distinct color blocks while the back (the second piece we painted) is a little more color-all-over.

With these paints, the amount of water you add will dramatically affect the way it looks and behaves.  The less you add, the thicker the paint and the more distinct your strokes will be, the more opaque the color.  The more you water it down, the more faint the color will be and also the more they will bleed together.  So it’s really up to you and the look you’re going for.  I like something in between so I add a bit of water to the paints and also spray the fabric down with water before we start painting to help get that water color look.  Again, you’ll have to play around with this before figuring out what’s just right for your project.

Watercolor Sundress and Tips for Painting Fabric // you & mie

You can see how the diluted paint bleeds when applied to the damp fabric.

Yuki pretty much painted the first rectangle by herself (front of the dress), then by the second rectangle she started to lose steam so that was more of a collaborative effort.  Then she needed a break and we were going to come back to paint pieces for the bodice and straps.  But she was over it and never returned to painting.  So another tip, if working with kids, is to keep the activity short.  I could tell that if I tried to get her to do more painting it would be forced and not be fun for anyone.

Watercolor Sundress and Tips for Painting Fabric // you & mie

Once you’re done painting, you’ll want to let it dry completely.  If the fabric is really wet, I leave it flat to dry.  If it’s not too wet, I hang it up to dry.  You don’t want to hang up really wet fabric because the paint will bleed downwards and drip all over the place.  When it’s completely dry, it needs to be heat set.

Watercolor Sundress and Tips for Painting Fabric // you & mie

Heat setting is what will make your paint permanent and not bleed or fade when it goes through the wash.  Obviously a very important step.  Read the directions carefully, but basically you need to iron the entire painted area, which is another reason why it’s easier to work with smaller cuts of fabric.  Set your iron on the highest setting that is appropriate for your fabric.  I place a thin cloth over my painted fabric because I have noticed paint getting on my iron otherwise.  Hold your iron over each section of the fabric for 30 seconds.  IT TAKES TIME.  A boring step, but you don’t want to skip it.  If I have a really large piece of fabric, I iron it and then, just to make sure, I’ll throw it in the drier on high heat for a cycle (by itself, not with any other clothes or fabric)!  I have no clue if this is helpful or necessary, but I figured it couldn’t hurt 😛

And you’re done and ready to sew!

Watercolor Sundress and Tips for Painting Fabric // you & mie

I used my Fluttering Fields Sundress tutorial to make another dress for Yuki.  She loves the first one and I’ve been wanting to make another.  I made a few changes to the shape of the bodice and then I shortened the ties because the first ones were too long.  But now the back ties are TOO SHORT!  I could barely tie them.  Bummer, I’ll get it right one of these days.

When I saw how bold and stunning the skirt pieces were, I decided to go with a plain solid bodice.  Otherwise, I thought it’d be a little overwhelming.  I think I made the right choice.

Watercolor Sundress and Tips for Painting Fabric // you & mie

This double gauze is so soft.  And I really love the contrast of the natural and neutral cream bodice with the bold and bright paint.  I don’t say this very often about my projects, but I really love how this turned out.

Watercolor Sundress and Tips for Painting Fabric // you & mie

And I think Yuki does too!  It’s exciting for her to see something that she helped make.  I hope that we can take care of this dress and keep it around for a long time.  And maybe someday she can pass it on to her kid!?

I wanted to have the artist’s signature on the dress somehow and I asked for suggestions on Instagram and Facebook and got a lot of great suggestions!  I ended up using a fabric marker on a piece of wide bias tape.  Worked well!  I originally wanted to write directly on the fabric but the ink was bleeding too much in tests and I didn’t trust Yuki to take a pen to a finished dress.  No way!  The back of the tag has the date and her age.

Watercolor Sundress and Tips for Painting Fabric // you & mie

And that’s it!  Yuki’s Watercolor Dress.  It was a really fun project to work on together and I’m really glad that KCW give me the push to try this.  I think I should collaborate with the little artist more often!

How’s your KCW going?



42 thoughts on “Watercolor Dress {and tips for painting fabric}

  1. This is so darling. My kids are so little I couldn’t figure out how to incorporate their chicken scratch into the kcw theme. I love this abstract approach-great dress!

  2. This is my favourite make of anyone’s in a LONG time! Totally amazing and gorgeous! If you don’t mind, I’ll shamelessly copy this one day 🙂

  3. You are so inspiring……thank you! My daughter (5 years old) and I love the dress, the painting and your wonderful tips! Thank you so much for sharing!!!

  4. damn, it’s gorgeous! and on double gauze!! i love how you kept the bodice neutral, it sets off the hand painted skirt so perfectly. i need to get these paints out and play around, this is genius. oh also, see you tomorrow 😉

  5. this is so, so lovely! The color/pattern totally reminds me of some nani iro fabric – that’s how good you and Yuki are! And good call on the pattern, using a simply bodice with a more colorful skirt. The artist tag is such a great detail too – love it!

  6. sooooo adorable. i think yuki has a future in fabric design. gotta get me some of that paint!! 🙂 also, funny you published this post while at MY HOUSE. hehe. come back soon, ya hear?!

  7. Do you think that a linen fabric would be good for this project? Or where is a good place to find double gauze? Thanks!

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  9. I’ve been searching for DAYS to find a tutorial or at least an example of how to a nice watercolor effect with fabric dyes and I came across your post- the bright colors, the looseness of the strokes…beautiful. and was just what I needed to try out the project with the art group I work with. THANK YOU! And i hope what we create with the fabric will be even half as beautiful as this dress!

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