Design your own Fabric: Super Easy Tutorial

Dear Chicago House,

Followers on Facebook have already had a sneak peak at this fabric design project.

use sharpies to design fabric

and now here I am to share more details and give you the ins and outs of how to do this yourself. It is very easy and a lot of fun.

First lets just take a look at the fabric I designed.

fabric designed using sharpies

It looks complicated and time consuming but is actually very quick and easy to do.

How to design your own fabric using sharpies

You will need

  • Sharpies
  • Fine paint brush
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Cotton fabric

Lay your fabric out on a flat surface in a well ventilated area using something like cardboard to protect your work surface.

Simply sketch out a simple pattern (more on that below!). Here is the pattern I used.

fabric designed using sharpies

Then take your paintbrush and dot a liberal amount of rubbing alcohol in the center of each pattern element

fabric designed using sharpies

The alcohol will start to spread outwards and the colors will start to bleed and blend

fabric designed using sharpies
fabric designed using sharpies

The alcohol  drys very quickly and you are left with a beautiful fabric.

The design options are limitless and I went a little crazy creating test patterns but the end result is that you have a whole swatch of example to give you inspiration for your own fabrics.

fabric designed using sharpies


fabric designed using sharpies: patterns


A reader shared a tip for getting the color to stay put. After the alcohol has dried, iron the fabric then treat it with a color fixer – she recommended a product called retayne – you can buy it on amazon here .

I’d love to see any fabrics you make using this technique.

Love from

Creative in Chicago


P.S. Are you following me on Facebook or Pinterest?

43 thoughts on “Design your own Fabric: Super Easy Tutorial

  1. Except one thing.. is it ok for the washing machine.. i guess not. I mean you cannot do anything else then deco that you cannot wash, still it looks very very nice πŸ™‚

  2. I have not tested it in the washing machine yet but my guess is that it will be fine. Sharpie markers are waterproof so the ink should stay put. I will do a test and post the results!

    1. Sharpie will wash out after a few times. I have used them on black jeans to “fix” accidental bleach spots and have to re-apply periodically, but it’s better then tossing a good pair of jeans. πŸ˜‰

  3. I think it would depend on the weave of the canvas. When I first tried the test patches for this project I worked on watercolor paper…except that it didn't work…the paper would not allow the alcohol to bleed enough. Might be the same issue on canvas.

  4. I have experienced BLEEDING from washing the T-shirt even AFTER I had "cured" it in the dryer πŸ™ there was ink where it hadn't been before.

  5. Iron the finished design or put the shirt in the dryer. It sets the sharpie dye, then wash it alone the first time just to make sure it doesn't run

  6. Have bought the pens to give this a go – it looks wonderful! In the UK, rubbing alcohol is known as surgical spirit.

  7. It doesn't work on t-shirts because they are usually a poly-cotton blend. It needs to be 100 percent natural fibre..cotton, silk and perhaps unfinished canvas, etc.

    Have learned this from other craft projects.

  8. Is it helpful to pre-wash the new t-shirt first? Do shirts still contain "sizing" that prohibits the setting as they used to?

  9. In the UK, rubbing alcohol is known as surgical spirit.
    And in French, does someone know what is the name of "rubbing alcohol" ?
    Alcool Γ  brΓ»ler ? Alcool chirurgical ?

  10. I so want to try this! To set the pen you need to heat set it. You can do it with an iron set on cotton, no steam and iron whatever fits under the iron for about 1 min. 10-15 seconds. Then move the iron and do that on the next part. You can do the dryer too just make sure you either do it alone or only with a few things. Make sure the dryer is hot enough. I was told that the dryer won’t heat it all but if it’s alone or only with a few things the whole thing should be heat set. Oh yeah, you do have to wash the sizing out of the fabric. The last thing you can try is a tub of warm water and lots of salt. I learned to do this when I bought a pair of tie dyed pants and didn’t want them to run on my dad’s undies when I washed them with our laundry. You leave it in the warm salt water for half an hour. You could leave it in longer but 1/2 hour is the least time you can leave it in for. I do rubber stamping on clothing which is how I know all of this. I can’t wait to try it on a canvas bag that I have. I will post a picture of how it looks when it’s all done.

  11. I did this today on an old, stained shirt that I just wanted to make presentable again. First attempt went very well for me — I’m not at all artistic! I used an eyedropper to apply the alcohol and learned to pour a little in a cup after I had to fish the dropper out of the bottle of alcohol. I’d love to post a pic, but I don’t know how! πŸ™‚

  12. I love this – I had an entire stack of white tees, waiting to become washrags. I used the ones that are still in good shape, and have three adorable new shirts:)They’re all hubby’s, so I cropped them. Thanks for this, I don’t have the resources to actually tie-dye, and I think these are prettier anyway!

  13. Fun to do and very pretty. We did t shirts, 100% cotton. I let ink set 24 hrs. I heat set it with hot iron. I set the ink again by treating with retayne. The colors washed out. Not entirely there is a ghost of your design left. The kids were disappointed. You need to be able to wash tshirts.

    1. Glad you enjoyed the project but sad to hear the colors washed out. I am working on a way to make this permanent and not ghosty!

  14. I am going to do this with a quilting group. I want it to be successful so I experimented some. Setting the color is important. If you put a square or section of a quilt with marker , I don’t want it to fad. Thank you for new ideas in this matter.

    1. Setting is a hot topic and from other readers it seems to depend on the fabric you use. Some ideas

      • Prewash the fabric to get rid of any sizing
      • Set by soaking in salty water
      • Set with a hot iron or dryer
      • Mist with soda ash
      • Set with white vinegar

      I havn’t actually tried any of these but I would recommend you have a test run to see what works best for you.

      Great idea for a quilt and I would love to see your results. You can submit your finished projects here

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