Mixed-Media Fabric Art Gone Wild

cate prato

fabric art t shirt
Experimenting with 'messy' painting
on my husband's t-shirt.

I've talked about my husband's drawing skills in this space, but I've neglected to mention that he also paints. The reason is, he paints walls and trim, not canvases.

But his painting is relevant to a mixed-media blog because at the end of the day, both his paint job and his clothes are works of art. The paint job is neat and perfect; his clothes are as messy as if someone used them for a palette.

Nick's uniform (jeans and an undershirt) is speckled with drips, drops, and drabs of paint that become more interesting the more he works and the more paint colors he uses.

I particularly like his jeans, where he wipes off his hands.

When he has worn a pair of his painting jeans to the point where they are falling apart, I take them and put them in my fabric stash. All that good, painty denim has so much potential.

But I had never thought of using his t-shirts as fabric art until I read Alisa Burke's Sew Wild: Creating with Stitch and Mixed Media book. I'm very familiar with Alisa and her expressive style, and love the way she encourages novice and more experienced sewers to let loose and explore, rather than be intimidated by rules and patterns.

cozy jersey scarf fabric art
'Cozy Jersey Scarf' from Sew Wild
by Alisa Burke.

The minute I opened Sew Wild and saw her Cozy Jersey Scarf made out of painted and distressed old t-shirts, inspiration struck. I grabbed one of Nick's painty undershirts (he'll never miss it), and built upon the spatters with my own combination of acrylic paints, textile paints, water-soluble screen-printing inks, stamps, and surface design tools.

stitch sample
A wildly stitched sample.

I tried not to think too much, and, like Nick's painted jeans, the messier the t-shirt fabric got, the better I liked it.

Same thing with the stitching. Following Alisa's "go wild and get messy" approach, I stitched over a swatch of the painted fabric (backed with craft felt) as loosely as my machine would let me (I can't lower my feed dogs to do free-motion embroidery).

At first I didn't like the look, but I heard Alisa whispering in my ear: "Do more." So I kept going.

Finally, I added some marks with a Sharpie®, just to experiment. Hmm, interesting.

Alisa believes in simple tools and processes that you can combine freely. I asked her about her art via email.

Cate: A lot of your work has a graffiti look; what else inspires you visually? 

Alisa: While I am typically known for lots of my graffiti inspiration, it is actually just one of many things that inspire me. I most often pull inspiration from nature (the beach, flowers, colorful landscapes, etc.) and always try to look for inspiration in everyday things. I can't seem to not see inspiration: a crack in the sidewalk, the color palette in a plate of food, shadows that are cast across the water-things that might go unnoticed often end up being used for inspiration in my work.

alisa burke free-motion stitching
Alisa's mixed-media stitching from Sew Wild.

Cate: You write on fabric a lot. What are some of your favorite marking tools?

Alisa: Yes, when I am creating my own fabric I typically write and draw on fabric and the tools I use are very basic. My favorite is just a permanent black marker or black fabric marker; you can do all sorts of fun stuff with just a marker. I also use a small brush that I dip in watered-down fabric paint or acrylic paint.

Cate: What is the biggest (or most frequent) mistake people make when it comes to design? 

Alisa: Probably not understanding color and how to use it. It is tempting to go wild with color or, on the flip side, only stick to colors that are safe and maybe even boring. But taking the time to really learn about color, how to use it, experiment with it, and plan it out will really take a design to the next level.

Alisa includes a chapter on Color, Pattern, and Inspiration in the book, which is made up of half instruction, half projects. True to her "no rules" approach, she encourages you to mix up the techniques and projects to suit your interests and whims. Anyone who likes to combine mixed-media and stitch will want to get a copy of Sew Wild.

Frankly, I can't wait until the next time my husband takes his shirt off.

P.S. Do you use distressed clothing to make fabric art? How? Leave a comment below, and feel free to include a link to an image to upload a picture on our Facebook page.


Blog, Fabric Art


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.