Questions and Answers - Painting on Bed Sheets
Hello from California
I am a simple amateur artist, asked by an aunt to paint a huge stage back drop. I have small to tiny funds ($40) to pull this off. I thought of making frames and stretching sheets over that to create my canvas. What will acrylic paint do on 100% cotton? I'll find out with a small test run. but please give me some ideas for budget art work. Thank you for your time. I hope all is well in beautiful Ireland.

My reply to Jeanette:-

I did a show in a hospital ward once. "A Christmas Carol" The Doctors put on a pantomime for the patients. We made a backdrop by sewing several cotton hospital bed sheets together. It worked very well. The secret is in the sealing once it is onto a frame. Yes your idea of attaching it to a frame is a good one.
If I was doing your task I would attack it as follows:-

Prepare my sketch on a suitable scale. I use 1cm. on my sketchpad to 1 foot on the backdrop. Sew the sheets together preferably with a double row of stitches.

Build a wooden frame. This frame and the sheets will come under great tension so I make my frame of 2 inch by 2-inch timber (lumber)

Any supporting crosspieces of timber that run across the centre of the frame must be away from the sheets otherwise your brush will catch on it leaving a line in the painting.

I then attach the sheets to the outside of the frame (I use a staple gun but you can also use big headed nails.) Pull the sheets as tight as possible whilst doing this.

I then seal the sheets with a solution of white emulsion paint plus about a tenth of that of PVA glue. Plus about a fifteenth of water and a spoonful of red paint. It's called emulsion paint in the UK and I think your nearest equivalent is called latex over there. Emulsion is household wall paint and has vinyl in it, which stops it cracking, and also allows the cloth/sheets to be rolled up without cracking. Emulsion is much cheaper than acrylic although you have to buy larger quantities of each colour. The red paint (which of course comes out a pink as it is diluted with the white PVA glue) enables me to see the chalk or charcoal lines I draw on it when marking the cloth out.

Do the sealing in one go (Don't leave it half way through and return to continue after it has started drying.)

Leave the sealed cloth to dry overnight. On seeing it the next day you will find the cloth/sheets have tightened like a drum, to the extent that the frame might have buckled under the strain. I have had a wooden frame break. This cloth is then a wonderful surface to paint on.

Then away I go transferring the original sketch to the big sheet and paint away.

Cost? Well for a cloth about 20 feet long by fourteen feet high I would use about $100 of paint. So I worry that your budget might be too small to cope with the task.


And here's a letter from Shirley on the same subject:-  
I have been asked to paint a huge backdrop for our school.  My principal says to use 900 thread bed sheets.  Since I have never painted on cloth like that, I was wondering if you ever had.  If so, can you explain the process to me.  The idea is to be able to fold up the backdrop when it isnt being used.  I was wondering if the acrylic paint would dry and crack.  He brought a small one from another school and it looks like it was airbrushed. 


Here is my reply:-

Yes I have painted on bed sheets before. See this web page:-
I have also painted on cotton dust sheets. See this web page:-
But there is a problem with using my technique. Once sewn together as a backcloth, I seal the backcloth  beforehand with a mixture of PVA glue and water. Here are more details on this web page:-
But the trouble is (as far as you are concerned) you cannot fold the cloth afterwards, It has to be rolled on a roller. Otherwise the sealing will crack.
Likewise I use ordinary household vinyl emulsion paint for painting the scene. (The vinyl content is important) And here again folding the resultant cloth would be impossible, so again it has to be rolled.
How to solve this problem? I don't know! Perhaps the best solution would be to use Rosco or Bristol scenic paints. But these are very expensive. The plus side of these paints is that they can be diluted with water up to ten times yet still retain their strong colours. Which means an initial expensive outlay but then, after that,  a little goes a long way. Diluted to such an extent would mean the cloth would be able to be folded without cracking. Although that still doesn't solve the initial sealing problem. Perhaps you could use diluted Rosco paint as the initial sealant?
Sorry I cannot be more helpful.
Best of luck with the project.
<< Return to Question and Answer list  
<< Return to list of Stage Sets