Paintstiks on Fabric: How It Started



When I was filling out the entry form for the 2017 AQS Show in Paducah, I realized how far the Paintstiks on Fabric adventure has come in the past 17 years. Here’s what grabbed my attention.



AQS Entry Form

The folks at AQS expanded the section on the entry form to include the most common techniques and embellishments that quilters included in the “Other” section of the previous form.

I only used two techniques on my quilts, so I figured this would be was easy. Hand Embroidery, check. Fabric Painting, check. I scanned through the rest of the list and did a double take when I saw Shiva Paintstiks in the last column. Seriously? Holy buckets!

[Tweet “Holy buckets! Paintstiks are right there on the AQS Entry Form!”]



Color on Paper and Fabric by Ruth Issett

This got me thinking about how my Paintstiks on Fabric adventure got started. Here’s a quick trip down memory lane.

Back in 1999, I was blessed to pick up a copy of Color on Paper and Fabric by Ruth Issett. I remember being very surprised to see the book in a traditional shop in the middle of Minnesota. But, I was excited. I had jumped into fabric dying with both feet, and color on fabric was right up my alley.



Page describing Markal (Shiva) Paintstiks

In the book, Ruth covered a wide range of methods for adding color, including dyes, inks, bronze powders, acrylic colors and Markal Paintstiks. I was intrigued, but disappointed that the only sources for Markal Paintstiks I could locate were in London, Australia and New Zealand.

Seriously? No Paintstiks in the US? I changed my Google search to the odd spelling of Paintstik, discovered Shiva Paintstiks, found a mail order source here in the US, and soon had my first delivery from UPS. (Hooray for brown trucks!) One thing led to another, and I got totally hooked on Paintstiks.

(A bit of trivia for those of you new to this story. Shiva and Markal Paintstiks are exactly the same product. It’s Shiva here in the US, and Markal in markets outside the US. Both are manufactured near Chicago.)



Paintstik rubbing made from felt furniture pads

I rummaged through the closet the other day and pulled out some of the samples I made for teaching my first classes. They look pretty tame today, but at the time, this was all new.



Sheer stenciled images to illustrate transparency

I loved the way Paintstik colors could be very sheer. It was a great way to make transparent images.



Paintstik rubbings made from cording wrapped around a block

Before I tracked down rubbing plates, I relied strictly on found objects or homemade textures. Cording wrapped around a block? Works like a champ.



Stenciled images from commercial stencil (Laura Murray Designs) and masking tape

Commercial stencils that appealed to me were far and few between at that time, but I loved the images created by Laura Murray. (And still do, by the way!) As for the stripes… Those were easy to make by placing strips of masking tape close together on fabric and painting in between. Easy peasy.



Original sample from Paintstiks on Fabric book (made with stencils by Laura Murray)

I found one of the samples from the book and took a quick photo with my iPhone, which led to another OMG moment. The cameras on today’s phones are far better than the digital camera I used to take the photos for the book. But, I digress…



Paintstiks on Fabric book with original cover fabric

Those early experiments led to Paintstiks on Fabric, the book that brought Paintstiks into the quilting and fabric art mainstream here in the US. The first copies came off the press in May of 2005, and it has been one of those books that just keep going and going. After eight printings and more than 30,000 copies out the door, it still feels a little unreal.

I will be forever grateful that I found the reference to Paintstiks in Ruth’s book. The paints were created before I was born. Putting these glorious paints on fabric was not my idea. I did, however, have the sense to say “Sure, I can do that!” when opportunity knocked. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I would not have missed this adventure for the world!

[Tweet “Paintstiks and fabric led to the adventure of a lifetime. Amazing!”]


Your Turn

How did your Paintstiks on Fabric adventure begin? Leave a comment below. I’m always curious to know how people find these marvelous paints.




  1. Cheryl Gebhart on September 22, 2016 at 11:51 am

    I found them at YOUR booth. I don’t remember what quilt show, but I was there with a couple of friends, and I think we all bought a starter set. It’s been many years ago; I think Painstiks on Fabric was your only book at that time. It was probably at Houston. And you hadn’t started making your own rubbing plates yet; you were selling the Royco brand.

    • ShellyStokes on September 26, 2016 at 5:16 pm

      Ummm… that feels like 100 years ago, Cheryl! I’ll never forget the craziness of that first Quilt Market — and doing demos in Laura Murray’s booth during Festival. It was crazy!

  2. Laura Murray on September 22, 2016 at 6:22 pm

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane, causing me to remember my own
    first encounter with paintstiks. We were both vending at a Minnesota Quilters show, and you came to my booth and said: “You have to come to my booth and see this!” Having never seen a paintstik, but already enchanted with surface design techniques, I was happy to follow you back to your booth and see a demonstration. A wonderful world opened up, and I’m still discovering new ways to use to use these marvelous paints after all these years. Paintstiks have been a mainstay both of my art and business since that first encounter. Many, many Thanks!

    • ShellyStokes on September 26, 2016 at 5:18 pm

      You’re so welcome, Laura. I totally remember that show at Rochester. I think we’ve sold a more than a few tons of Paintstiks between us!

  3. Gail on September 22, 2016 at 11:37 pm

    A few years ago I was home recuperating from surgery and caught the programme Simply Quilts and you were on it with your paintstiks – I fell in love – I showed my husband saying I must get some of those. A year or so later we were at a quilt show in the merchant mall with the joy of my life saying “Are these the paints you wanted”. With his encouragement I came away with all the mini sets available (because I couldn’t decide which ones I wanted), the book and some rubbing plates. That day I became the envy of every other woman at the show they all wanted to know if he had a twin brother. I have had great fun with the painstiks over the last few years and now John is about to use them to stencil some decoration on his plain white and black tee shirts. Tomorrow my daughter is bringing over some fat quarters she purchased which she doesn’t like they are too dark – mother will fix them with paintstiks and rubbing plates – and they will be transformed into beautiful fabric for her. So thank you very very much.

    • ShellyStokes on September 26, 2016 at 5:20 pm

      Awwww… you sure got a keeper of a husband, Gail! It’s a very wise man who keeps an eye out for his sweetie’s art supplies.

      I’m delighted that you have enjoyed the adventure. It has been grand!