Spraying cloth for cross-stitch

So, I’ve had some people asking me about my cross-stitch backgrounds and how I do them. I figure others might be interested and stumble upon this and maybe it’ll be helpful somewhat.

I mostly use aida as I’m new to cross-stitch and it’s cheap at Michael’s and often findable at thrift stores for even cheaper. Plus, like I said, I’m new to cross-stitch so there’s still a whole lotta mistakes and twisted stitches and crap like that, and I don’t wanna “ruin” a piece on expensive cloth.

Dumb, but there it is.

Anyway, I’ve seen on FlossTube where ladies like Vonna tea dye and coffee dye to get a cool mottled effect, but then I haven’t gotten around to experimenting with that. Plus, I like instant gratification.

So, I thought I’d give the fabric spray paints a try, especially after doing a fabric painting class down at Kaleidoscope Quilting recently where we worked a bit with those.

And so you can see my materials for this piece of cloth above: a pack of neon small sprays and a few bigger ones. The little ones are more watery (aside from their glowy-ness from the “neon”) and the bigger cans are thicker, but it all depends how you use them as well.

Big cans: Spray lighter from a distance for lighter coverage and closer and with overlapping passes for thicker coverage. I don’t really do the thicker coverage as I’m always going for something less uniform, plus if you get a thicker layer, it’s a bitch to find your holes for stitching, and I imagine it would make it damn near impossible to find your threads to stitch over on linen or evenweave, so light spraying is the way to go and use a darker colour if you want it darker. Or just use dye (I’ll get around to experimenting with dyes one of these days when I have a longer attention span.)

Also, pressing down fully gives a more even spray cloud, but kinda half-pushing down on it makes it splatter.

These big ones dry pretty quick even on wet fabric and tend to lay on top of the fabric.

Small bottles: These are more liquid with weaker colour and will take a long time to dry on the wet fabric, so you can wipe it around a bit if you want after spraying. They also tend to “sink in” to the fabric a bit more, almost like dyes will, but they don’t always.

So, they both have their plusses and minuses, hence why I like using both.

Both sizes: wipe the nozzle off as soon as you’re done spraying. The instructions say to turn the can upside down and spray for 5 seconds, but in my experience, they still spray when held upside down and this just results in more clogging. At the very least, be sure to hold a wad of paper towels in front when spraying upside down, because otherwise you’re getting an unexpected blast of colour somewhere you probably didn’t want it. :p

Anyway, my process…

1. Wet and crumple the cloth.

This allows for texture where the spray will “catch” on one side of the crumple more than the other. You can skip it, I guess, depending what you’re going after. I prefer the cloth be wet, though, as it lets colours blend more smoothly, especially with the little bottles which are more liquid.

2. Semi-smooth it when laying it out.

I use a drying rack in my laundry room because it’s easy to move around and the right height for me, plus the wet fabric will tend to droop a bit between the rack bars, lending more variation in light and dark. You can use whatever surface is convenient.

Use some paper towels or newspapers to protect from overspray and absorb the moisture as the piece dries.

3. Spray time!

I went with blues and white for this piece because I have at least a couple winter/Xmas patterns en route from eBay, so a nice frigid-looking background is in order for those.

So, I wanted a darker underlay—if that makes sense—to give depth with lighter on top because it’s supposed to be snowy, but other times I’ve worked light to dark. Kinda feel it out depending on the effect you want.

And I wanted a darker “sky” blending down, so it’s a gradient. Other times I’ve made it more vignetted with dark corners, all depends on the design of the patterns that will be done on the piece or the effect you want.

So, my steps:

(You can see I haven’t changed my paper towels from my last couple spray jobs, lol.)

You can see in these last couple why I went with the darkest colour first: the lighter mint and white sprays lay on top of that and help make it sorta look like it’s snowing.

Lastly, I gave it an overall spray of the neon blue to give a bit of evenness, plus to tone down the white, as I expect I’ll have large areas of stitching white floss, so I wanted the white to be present in the spray but not too much of it. The blue spray will make the white floss pop more.

And then it looked and felt “done,” so I stopped there.

4. Leave it alone until it dries.

Usually this takes a day for drying to the touch. It takes 3 days for the sprays to cure fully, so if you want to wash and press your fabric before stitching (say, you’re putting it in a hoop or Q-snap or scroll frame), make sure you wait a few days first. The sprays have laundry instructions and are designed for use on T-shirts or whatever, so they certainly can be washed after curing.

I will give this warning: I stitch in hand as much as possible, so I haven’t tried putting one of these sprayed pieces in a hoop. Which is to say I don’t know off-hand if a hoop will end up creasing the fabric more or rubbing off the spray paint. I’d recommend testing it with a scrap first if you’re a hoop stitcher, especially if you like to leave things in the hoop or frame even when you’re not stitching – do the process on a 5×5 scrap, let it dry, then put it in a small frame and see what happens with it after moving it around and leaving it, etc.

I doubt a Q-snap or scroll frame would have much impact, especially if you put felt between the Q-snap and the working piece like a lot of people seem to do. But then, those tend to be used on larger pieces with a whole lot of of margin around the stitching area.

I can tell you that for in-hand stitching, the sprayed piece will feel very stiff initially, but will eventually soften up as you hold it. That’s not that different from unsprayed aida, though, since they seem to size the Hell out of it at the factory. It does seem to hold crumples a bit more than plain aida, though, but not to the point where it can’t be ironed out when your piece is done.

If you’re going to iron it, you need to iron it from behind, but that’s the same as any stitching work, really. Check the instructions.

BTW: you can also use stencils, etc. I’m just not into that look so I haven’t experimented in that direction.

Final results:


And for comparison, here’s a couple others I’ve done this week for other projects:

This one was still wet when photographed. Also, I did the sprays from the big cans first, thought it was too heavy, and immediately rinsed and rubbed off most of it in the sink. It leaves a bit of residue with its own interesting texture, but you have to do it immediately. Like “Oh crap, I don’t like that look” and as soon as you think that, pick it up and rinse it off, crumpling the fabric up again and opening it under the water to see how it’s looking.

Then I re-sprayed with a lighter touch and more of the small bottle liquid-y paints.

Don’t count on being able to get it off entirely, though it’s easier if you add a drop of liquid laundry detergent or even dish soap as you rinse and rub. Like everything, if you think you might want to do this on purpose, experiment to get a feel for it.

These last couple are photographed a week afterwards, they were a bit more vibrant when wet as there’s a lot of the liquid sprays on them, especially the yellow and grey one, which was much darker when wet. Now, I like it the way it is, but it’s something to keep in mind when doing this, and you may well need to layer more when things are dry.

The big cans tend to be a what you see is what you get, but then, they dry very quickly as well, so you have a better sense.

(LOL @ starting Halloween patterns a few days before Halloween… well, I’m not late for Halloween 2017, I’m early for Halloween 2018. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)

Anyway, TL;DR: spray in layers, experiment, see what you get.