Create Your Own Wall Art: How to Print on Vintage Fabrics

printing on vintage fabric

Who needs paper when you can use gorgeous vintage fabrics?

Need some art to spruce up a boring wall? Back away from the paper and check out your fabric stash instead. Here’s how to print on vintage fabrics to make your own custom wall art.

Sure, prints on paper can be really cute and fun, but vintage fabric has a couple of advantages over plain ol’ paper. First off, vintage fabric is reclaimed. That means that unlike the paper you pick up at the office supply store, there’s no impact associated with your medium. Vintage fabric also comes in such unique, beautiful prints. The pattern becomes part of your finished piece.

Choosing Your Inks and Fabrics

When you’re choosing vintage fabric to print on, cotton or cotton blends are your best bet. Skip anything with a loose weave, because your print will come out looking a little wonky. You also want to skip coated fabrics like oilcloth. The plastic coating makes it really hard to get ink to adhere without priming, and you don’t want to cover that beautiful print up with primer.

You also want to make sure your ink will show up on your fabric. If you’re planning to print in a beautiful, lemon yellow, you probably don’t want that bright yellow and orange floral as a background. Make sure your ink contrasts nicely with your fabric, so your design will pop!

As inks go, you have a few good options. Since wall art doesn’t have to stand up to things like washing, you can branch out a bit here. These are a few options you have:

  • fabric paint
  • screen printing ink – the type for fabric or paper will work fine for wall art
  • acrylic paints
  • house paint

Printing Techniques

What I love about printing is that you don’t need brush skills to make a nice-looking design. You can go as high- or low-tech as you want with your printing.

Screen Printing – Screen printing is best if you’re going to be doing multiples of your design, since burning a screen is either a lot of work (if you do it yourself) or kind of pricey (if you use a service). You can burn your own screens, if you’re feeling extra-DIY, or you can use a service. I’ve gotten custom screens from Anthem Screen Printing, and they do a great job. You just design your art on your computer, send them your artwork, and they burn and ship your screen.

When you’re screen-printing on fabric, make sure you tape your fabric to your table, because otherwise when you lift your screen, the fabric will come, too, and that’s how you get unsightly smudges.

Block Printing – Block printing is a classic fabric-printing technique that’s a lot like stamping. With block printing, though, the idea is to create a pattern. You use the block to repeat your print over the whole fabric. I’d check out sites like Etsy and eBay, where you can find cool, vintage printing blocks to make all kinds of designs.

Stamping – This is probably the lowest-cost option, and it’s a lot of fun! If you have a stash of stamps, you’re pretty much good to go. Just use a paint brush to apply your ink or paint of choice to your fabric, then carefully stamp away on your fabric. You can also check thrift stores and yard sales for old stamps. If you want to be super DIY about it, you can even make your own felt stamp to create a one-of-a-kind design.

No matter what technique you use, you’ll want to let the ink dry completely, and then flip your art over and use your iron on high to heat-set the ink. Remember: you’re ironing the back of your design, not the front.

Have you guys done any printing on fabric? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments.

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