Textile Painting Techniques

Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

Have you ever wanted to create colorful, unique clothing or wall decorations? Did you know there are many ways to paint on cloth? In this lesson we will explore some textile painting techniques.


Textile painting is a very old practice. For centuries people have painted on fabric, creating beautiful wearable art and striking wall hangings. You can use many methods to paint on textiles, and in this lesson we will explore a few of them.

For the purposes of this lesson, we will consider painting to be any method using a brush or other manual means to put pigment onto fabric. The result is a single unique work, so each time you make another one, you will have to follow the process from the beginning again.

Now before we get to the actual painting, there's an important step you must take to ensure image permanence. Regardless of what fabric painting method you use, you must first wash the textile in hot water to remove any finishing chemicals or sizing, which is the starch that gives cloth its snap (think of the stiffness of shirt collars or cuffs). These substances will impede the paint from adhering to the textile so you must wash them away. Use a gentle detergent and don't use fabric softener.

Now let's look a few textile painting methods.


Batik is an ancient method of textile painting that has been practiced in Africa, East Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East. The most developed form of batik is probably done in in Indonesia.

Batik can be done on silk, cotton, wool, or even leather. The cloth is stretched on a frame and laid out horizontally. Using melted wax, you brush or draw on the fabric in the design areas where you don't want color to stick. Some people use a natural bristle brush while others use a tjanting, a tool similar to a pen that allows you to draw with the wax. The wax serves as a resist, a substance used on fabric that prevents the color from sticking.

Now you can begin the painting process. Start with the lightest color you want to use and paint it on to the fabric. Let it set for a period of time (usually between 12 - 48 hours), then add another layer of wax and another color. You'll repeat this process for each color you want to use - and the more colors, the more detailed and complex your design. The paint doesn't stick where the wax is, so by using different colors in layers, you can get interesting effects. When all coloring is done, remove the wax (traditionally, this is done by boiling the fabric) and the cloth is ready to display or to use as wearable art.

Example of a contemporary batik painting by Russian artist Ekaterina Rebezha, 2013
batik example

Serti and Yuzen Silk Painting

Now let's look at two methods of painting on silk. Serti is a silk painting technique that originated in France. Yuzen is a method of Japanese silk painting that's been around for centuries. We'll discuss them together because they are very similar. Both use methods that also involve a resist and paints or dyes.

Again, start by washing the silk. Then rinse and dry it. When the fabric is slightly damp, iron it using the silk setting. You don't want wrinkles because they'll show up in the final painting.

Now stretch the fabric onto a frame so that it's tight, but not so tight that it tears. Then outline your design on the fabric. This is where we see the difference between serti and yuzen. In serti painting, the traditional resist is gutta, a thick substance from a type of rubber tree. In yuzen, the resist is a thick mixture made of natural rice paste and soybeans.

Example of painting on textiles. This man is carefully applying paint inside the closed segments of his design, using a method similar to serti or yuzan techniques.
image of textile painting

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