Pastel Flower Printed Shirt

What do you do when it is a cold and windy April day with an ice storm in the weather forecast and all you really want to do is get started on the gardening? Sulking is high on my list, followed by getting started on something sunny and summery.

I'd been mulling over an idea for a white cotton tunic or shirt with watercolour-like painting on it. Considering that my painting skills are even worse than my drawing skills, this seemed like an overly ambitious undertaking. But what the heck.

I had a good length of a nicely textured crinkle cotton in the stash to use and drafting the pattern and sewing the shirt was easy. But I was unsure about how to get the painting effect while still leaving the fabric with a soft hand and natural texture. I tried out a number of things and I decided on 2 options - very thinned out Colour Vie or watercolour pencil crayons.

Watercolour pencil crayon on wet cotton
Yes, pencil crayons. I had no expectation that these would work, but have a look at the sample at right. I scribbled on damp fabric and then went in with a wet brush for some more blending. Once dry I pressed the sample with a hot iron in hopes of heat setting the colour. This was about 90% successful. I am really quite amazed by this. Would it be colourfast on all fabrics, or with all brands of watercolour pencil crayons? Might be worth a try. I did nt go this route on the shirt due to the size of the painting area. Would have been a lot of scribbling...

Colour Vie was the best solution. I've mentioned this product before, but it really worth noting again. Love this stuff.  It is non-toxic, uses intensely pigmented colour, cleans up with water and is completely colourfast when heat set. You can use it in so many applications including stamping, screening and direct painting. And most importantly for this project, it can be thinned from it's usual yogurt-like thickness by adding a bit of table salt. This is kind of magical! A little sprinkle and you have a very liquid version that leaves the fabric hand pretty much intact.

I spent the better part of a morning doing some samples and getting the colours right. The hardest part was getting the colours sufficiently pastel, due to the intensity of the colouring system. In the end, I had 5 colours that worked really well together.

The next decision was how I was going to apply the colour. My initial concept was for something that would look like watercolour with a lot of blending but it turns out that the fabric really wasn't amenable to this -  it was too absorbent. The paint went on and stayed where I put it. Even when I worked on wet fabric, there just wasn't much 'flow' happening. This was a bit disappointing, but eventually I worked out that I could stamp the fabric and use the transparency of the paint to achieve a bit of blending. I could live with that.

I cut the stamps from cheap foam rollers for good colour coverage and was ready to start. I wanted the painting to go across seams which meant I had to paint on the finished (or at least semi-completed) shirt. To do this I covered my dress form with plastic and put the shirt on it with inflated plastic bags in the sleeves. This allowed me to paint/stamp in the round. The effect of this was great consistency of coverage over the whole shirt.

Making the first mark onto the pristine whiteness of the shirt was hard (deep breath!) but when the purple flowers looked so good, I was rolling.

Stamp, stamp, stamp. La di dah di dah.

Oh crap.

Do you remember what the sketch looked like? Well, if you did you are one ahead of me. I was having so much fun that I totally forgot that I wanted flowers over the shoulders and down the sides but only part way onto the bodice. I'd been working all the way around. Sigh. This is a more than a bit typical of me. Oh well, nothing to do but keep on going.

Once I had the coverage I wanted, I let the shirt dry and then ironed it (long and hot) to set the colour. This also had the effect of totally removing any texture from the fabric, so I followed up with a quick spritz of water and a few minutes in the dryer to make the texture pop back up. This will be a no-iron garment!

To finish up, I added multi-coloured buttons all down the front (again, diverging from my original sketch), all the while blessing the button hole and button sewing features of my sewing machine.

Done! Does it look like my original sketch? Not a bit. Whatever.

Now all I need is some summer weather and my gardening hat. And maybe a pair of pale pink or purple capris.


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