Coloring Fabric for embroidery

colored fabric flower embroidery

Coloring Fabric Experiment

Do you want to explore a few different ways of coloring fabric for your embroidery work? I know I do! I’m pretty excited to dive into this because I haven’t tried it yet and I’ve been itching to play with a variety of mediums to see which will become my favorite!

While crayons and watercolor are pretty popular for coloring fabric I really wanted to try a few other things which I pulled out of my stash of art supplies and here are the mediums I’ll be trying out:

  • Prismacolor colored pencils
  • Crayola crayons
  • Dr. Ph Martin’s Watercolor
  • Winsor & Newtons Gouache
  • FW Liquid Acrylic
coloring mediums like ink, crayons, paint

I’m going to test each medium on cotton linen. I want to know how easy it is to apply them, how well I can get them to fade from dark to light, and how colorfast they are. When all is said and done I’ll pick my favorite and make a cute little embroidered flower with the winner so you can see how it turns out.

Before we start, I want to mention that coloring fabric should come before stitching it. I think it’s pretty obvious that if you try to add color after you’ve finished your stitches you could accidentally stain or transfer some color to your thread by mistake, especially if you’re thread is light. Let’s try to avoid the spewing of f-bombs!

So, transfer your pattern to your fabric, color, then add your stitches last. You’ll be much happier this way. Okay, we got that out of the way and it’s now time to dive in!

Colored Pencils and Crayons

I colored in several boxes using colored pencils (A-C) and crayons (D-G) and they both went down smoothly and easily. It’s not difficult to add layers and fades from dark to light and they held their vibrant colors. They behaved very similarly to each other.

colors on fabric

When I ran a q-tip lightly across each box I was able to pick up some pigment so I decided to run a hot iron over them with a paper towel in between to pull up any excess color. I was hoping this would set the colors in. Colored pencil continued to smudge and crayon still smudged a little but it wasn’t bad.

To remedy this, I used Mod Podge as a light varnish. Not only did it keep the colors from smudging but there was no obvious film! I did try this with Liquitex matte varnish and even though it was matte it came out looking like gloss. If you want a glossy finish it will still work, and I say go for it! I just prefer matte for the most part.

Now, Mod Podge is pretty thick and when I used it straight out of the jar I really didn’t like the result. It looked kind of filmy which dulled the colors even after drying, and I think it even moved some of my colors around which is not what I want, ever.

To get nice results with Mod Podge it needs to be thinned down with water and lightly brushed on. Be careful not to paint outside of your color otherwise your brush could pick up some pigment and transfer it elsewhere.

Once it’s dry gently run a q-tip over the surface to test it out. If color is still rubbing off give it one more thin layer.

Without Mod Podge, colored pencils will smudge easily (more so with thicker layers) and crayons will need to be heat set. And in both cases, you’ll have to be careful not to smear any colors. Personally, I’ll be using Mod Podge anytime I color with these two so I never have to worry about it. 🙂

Dr. Ph Martin’s Watercolor…

Ink and brush

I absolutely love Dr. Ph Martin’s watercolor which is in liquid form but you can use other watercolor brands which are much less expensive and it doesn’t have to be liquid. I just prefer it since I’ve been using for the last 15 years but this will be the first time I use it on fabric.

I drew some leaf shapes, tested & compared the concentrated version to the transparent version to see how much a difference there might be. Here’s what happened…

ink test on fabric

After painting them into several leaf shapes & allowing them to dry, I discovered that the transparent watercolor (in red) was just as bold as the concentrated version (in blue).

You’ll notice that the blue leaves on the left are a disaster. I probably used too much watercolor or water which caused it to spread out. The second column looks much better as I used less watercolor and gave it a bit more wiggle room.

When I painted in the last column of red I added some extra wiggle room and dabbed the back of the fabric to remove any excess water and waited for it to spread to the edge. Instead, it didn’t spread much and left me with white space.

I tried this dabbing method with the heart. I painted my watercolor closer to the edge and was even able to add extra color at the bottom without bleeding outside of the shape.

Controlling how far your watercolor spreads is doable but it does take some practice. Overall though, this is not my favorite medium for embroidery work where you need color to stay within the shapes, but it’s certain to create some lovely abstract pieces if that is something you love!

Since both concentrated and transparent seems to behave and look very much the same I don’t think one is better than the other, but I would definitely run a color test on scrap fabric first. It’s possible that there are some transparent colors that will be super light once dry so I would highly recommend doing this.

Also, remember that watercolor isn’t permanent so be careful handling your work as you add in stitches. You won’t be able to wash your embroidery either. And, while Mod Podge worked great with colored pencils and crayons using it can lift up watercolor pretty easily and you may not always like the results.

Winsor & Newton Gouache…

If you’re not too familiar with gouache, it’s a lot like watercolor but is paste-like and is opaque. It can be watered down to give it transparency though. Here are my results:

The colors were thinned with water and I was able to control how the colors spread on the fabric with more ease, and it faded beautifully. The color were vibrant and stayed within my shape for the most part.

I did use a wee bit too much water in one of the leaves which resulted in a little mishap but overall I prefer it over Dr. Ph Martin’s watercolors as it seemed easier for me to work with.

Again, gouache isn’t colorfast and will bleed if you get it wet so be careful as you handle your embroidery.

FW Liquid Acrylic …

It’s now time for FW liquid acrylic and I have both the original version and a Pearlescent version which has shimmery effects and is just gorgeous! I was super excited about coloring fabric with this because it being acrylic meant it would stand up quite well to the colorfast test! Yay!

As you can see, it resulted in beautiful color that stayed within their boundaries and it was quite easy to create a little fade. There was just a tiny bit of bleeding where I laid down a thin layer of water before adding the acrylic. Again, that’s me getting used to the medium and overdoing it with water.

So not only does the FW liquid acrylic produce lovely color and stay within the lines, it also passes the colorfast test so it can withstand being handled as you stitch.

One of the things to remember about acrylic is that once it dries it can be a little more difficult to blend smoothly so if you’re coloring in a large area I’d recommend practicing that on a scrap piece of fabric first.

My Favorite Method

In the end, the FW liquid acrylic won my heart with crayons following right behind it! I mean, the colors are beautiful and they fade out from dark to light quite beautifully. It’s pretty easy to control so I don’t have to worry about colors spreading where I don’t want them to be, and they are colorfast. I’m also in love with the pearly effects from their Pearlescent line! I mean, who wouldn’t be?!😍😍

liquid acrylic on fabric

It costs more than crayons and color pencils, but a few drops really go a long way and can add pops of color to quite a bit of embroidery work. I think it’s well worth it as it will give you some beautiful results and last you a long time.

I’ll definitely be reaching for my FW liquid acrylics and crayons for future embroidery work!

At the beginning, I said I would be coloring fabric with the medium I like best so here’s my cute little flower with the shapes painted on using just two FW liquid acrylic colors, green and orange.

I was pleasantly surprised by the orange which faded into a yellow towards the top of the flower! Isn’t that pretty? I love the extra depth it gave me without any effort.

And here is the flower with the stitches in place. The design is super simple but adding color makes it fun & playful! The colors look beautiful, don’t they?

colored fabric flower embroidery

Whichever method of coloring fabric ends up being your favorite you’ll find that extra pops of color can make your embroidery work a little more magical! I’m all about experimenting and playing with new methods and materials, and this was truly a fun one for me!

If you have other methods you love or tips you’d like to share I’d love to hear about them!

I’ll share a post in the near future where I’ll add color to cute little embroidery designs which you’ll be able to download for free and follow along. Keep an eye out for it!

Thanks for sticking around and happy coloring + happy stitching!


p.s. Don’t forget to join my newsletter to stay updated and to get your hands on a cute floral embroidery pattern!

Floral pattern made with 5 basic embroidery stitches

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