There are several options for painting on knits. You could use actual dyes and paint the individual threads or you could use specialized products for painting fabric. One of my favorite products is Tsukineko All-Purpose Ink.
Tsukineko All-Purpose Ink
This craft ink is known for it’s blending capabilities and can create a watercolor effect when layered. It is washable and dries quickly. It can also be used on wood, paper, leather and other porous surfaces. It is water-based and non toxic. All-Purpose Ink must be heat set on your knits for permanence. If you are layering colors, you will need to set each color before adding another to prevent bleeding.
Steps For Painting On Knits
Depending on the stitch pattern used, you may need to wash and block your finished knit before painting. You may also want to make a small swatch to test colors on before painting your finished project.
- Lay the knit piece flat on a table with plastic or some protective layer underneath.
- Choose your colors. Three seems to work well, but use as many as you’d like!
- Use the droppers to paint from by dropping a small amount (a little goes a long way) into the water wells.
- Using a stiff brush or fantastix stick, apply the ink from the container onto the desired knit areas. You may need to let dry and add additional coats.
- When using stencils, a special rounded dome brush or thicker stencil brush is helpful.
- For smaller knit stitches or painting individual stitches, a firm brush tip works well.
- When “painting” is completed, the piece needs to be “set” with heat. This can be done with an iron, hair dryer, or by placing in the dryer on air / rack dry setting.
- After setting the paint, it can be laundered. I like to use a product called Eucalan for this.
Recommended Stitch Patterns
Paints work best on smooth surfaces, so stockinette and reverse stockinette stitch are both good choices. Other stitch patterns I’ve found to be successful are those with a bit of relief, such as the blind buttonhole stitch pattern. You can see that being painted in this post. Slip stitches would work well, too. Mosaic, a form of slip stitch patterning, works especially well. Openwork patterns can be fun, too, depending on the pattern.
Techniques to try
- stenciling – stencils are probably the easiest (and safest!) way to apply these inks to your knits. Stencils are widely available at craft stores. You can also make your own with freezer paper. There are several tutorials online if you do a search.
- washes – a spray bottle for water is good to have for applying washes. The fabric can be sprayed before ink is applied for more accurate results, or after (a little more risky- ink can splatter).
- layering – these inks layer very well. Allow each layer to dry before applying another.
- “paint by stitch” – great for mosaic knitting. Literally paint your stitches! You’ll need a fine tipped detail brush. Lowe-Cornell brushes are the best I have found for this.
- free-form – if you got the drawing gene, go for it!