A TECHNIQUE DRIVEN Blog dedicated to mastery of surface design techniques. First we dye, overdye, paint, stitch, resist, tie, fold, silk screen, stamp, thermofax, batik, bejewel, stretch, shrink, sprinkle, Smooch, fuse, slice, dice, AND then we set it on fire using a variety of heat tools.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Distressed Door Tutorial - Wood grain and peeling paint effects

The idea of painting over your carefully quilted work can be daunting. When I first started out I used the scraps of wadded fabric I use to test the tension when machine quilting and   parts of disastrous quilts beyond recovery. Encouraged by the results, I started preparing quilted samples specifically with painting in mind – you can use all kinds of fabrics, the wilder the better!

What I suggest as a first exercise is to prepare a simple sampler of 3 or 4 different fabrics 

For Painting you will need:

  • Palette/painting knife ( preferably metal as it is more flexible but plastic is fine )
  • Thick acrylic paint ( I use Liquitex ‘heavy body’ but any brand will do ) Look for those in tube like oil paint, avoid runny acrylic paints . Basic primary colours will be sufficient , although cream coloured ‘Unbleached Titanium , is a useful addition.
  • Palette  ( disposal ones with tear-off   sheets of coated paper or a plastic or paper disposable plate)
  • Drawing board (or piece of sturdy cardboard)
  • Masking tape ( 2 inch )
  • Rags/ kitchen towel for cleaning
  • Box easel (optional) for propping up drawing board when painting
  • Plastic sheeting and newspaper to protect surfaces , apron and/or old clothes ( acrylic paint is permanent once it dries)

  • In this photo of a door, you can see the paint still remains in some of the pattern of the woodgrain. To simplify these lines for quilting patterns, print out a large copy (A4 or A5 ) of the photo on paper and draw over the principal lines with a felt tip


  • Look for fabrics that match some of the colours in the underlying wood:  greys, creams,  browns, taupes  in a variety of textures In this sample I used (left to right) an open weave ‘shot’ cotton, a silk dupion and a printed cotton
  • Make up a quilt sandwich with low loft wadding and machine stitch lines using wood grain patterns ( aim for a mixture of lines close together and further apart).

  • Trim off excess wadding and backing and mount on drawing board / piece of study cardboard with masking tape. A taut surface works best for painting: tape one side and pulling fabric fairly tightly, tape the opposite side, then repeat  top and bottom ,making sure the tape overlaps at the corners. You may wish to prop up your drawing board on an easel  while painting (box easels are cheap and also good for storage of paints , brushes etc) 
  • Apply pieces of masking tape as stencils (torn edges give nice effect)

  • Squeeze a small amount of acrylic paint in your chosen colours directly onto your palette (in this case a selection of blues and white). One colour will work perfectly well but mixing 2 or 3 with a palette knife gives variations which make it look more interesting

  • Applying the paint with a palette knife takes a little practise. Load the palette knife with a small quantity of paint and boldly scrape the knife across the ridges of the fabric. Working fairly quickly means the paint doesn’t settle into the quilting ’hollows’, allowing the underlying fabric to show through. Be fairly sparing with paint to begin with – you can always add extra paint  but can’t take it off !  
  • Once you are satisfied with the painting, leave it to dry ( at least  a couple of hours)  and make sure you remove any paint from your  palette knife with a rag and clean it in water.

  • A palette knife is also useful for removing the masking tape stencils, especially when they have been painted over.

  • Review your piece – you might want to add extra stencils and paint. It may look slightly darker and duller in colour once it has dried as the acrylic medium the paints contain turns from white to transparent as it dries.
  • Trim to size and bind. A facing which doesn’t show on the front in my preferred method of finishing quilts


  1. Beautiful! What a great technique. Thanks.

  2. This a wonderful technique. Definitely on my winter work list. thanks

  3. Looks amazingly like pealing paint on old wood! The quilted grain is amazing.
    When simulating old wood with dyes, I have done a dry brush technique in a dark colour of thickened dye for the wood grain with some lighted tones brushed over top.

  4. Thanks for this great idea. One question I have is whether you ever add fabric medium to the acrylic paint for a softer hand to the fabric. When I've used acrylic paint on fabric the result has been very stiff, which is fine for an art quilt, but not so good for a more functional quilt.

  5. Fabric Medium - For a softer handle I would be inclined to use the pigment rich Golden Fluid acrylics or acrylic inks with fabric medium or use thickened dyes
    I've only ever used acrylic paints on art quilts so I'm not bothered by the stiffness ( and with heavy body paints I like the impasto effects)

  6. Amazing work and the door looks super. Thank you for the detailed description and good pictures.

  7. This is a fantastic and detailed tutorial. Thank you!!!!


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