Making cloth uniquely yours

While fabric stores are full of beautiful cloth, many of the designs are the same from store to store. Adding surface design techniques like embroidery or printing, allows you to personalize your fabric and turn it into something uniquely yours.

“Surface design” is an umbrella term for any technique that changes the surface of a fabric. Many of these techniques are thousands of years old but when applied to commercially produced cloth, they look fresh and new.

Stitching on printed fabric

Courtesy of Kate & Rose

Stitching can be used to accentuate an existing pattern or design, or to add texture and depth to a fabric. Techniques like cross stitch, embroidery and embellishing with beads can add interesting new layers to existing cloth.

Batik fabrics

Batik fabrics

Dyeing with commercial or natural dyes can totally transform the appearance of your fabric. Dye can be applied to an existing fabric or it can be used to create something vibrant from plain white cloth. A resist, like wax, prevents dye from reaching the parts of the fabric covered by the wax. This technique, known as batik, can be used with multiple colors of dye to create fabric with complex patterns.

Printing on fabric

Courtesy of The Printed Fabric Bee

Printing uses a stamp or other carved surface to add paint to cloth to create a pattern. One stamp can be used repeatedly to cover a large piece of fabric in the same design.

The library has some great books on surface design techniques. Here are a few to get you started:


View complete list

These techniques are just a few of the many ways you can create your own custom cloth for your future projects. Also check out the Surface Design Association for more information and to see work by some of their hugely talented members. They might even inspire you to try something new.

Brea Black is the Art Librarian and Book Arts Curator in the Alice C. Sabatini Gallery. Her favorite thing is to share the wonderful world of artists' books with the community. She also leads the Arts & Crafts team and teaches workshops on bookmaking, altered books, and a variety of crafty topics.