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Fortuny Inspired Tablecloth

Source: Martha Stewart Living, February/March 1992


The textiles produced at the Fortuny factory in Venice, Italy, have long been renowned for their luxurious textures, elegant patterns, and subtle--often iridescent--palettes. Using these stenciling and hand-painting techniques, you can create your own one-of-a-kind Fortuny-inspired tablecloth

Inspiration for your own pattern can come from many places--your imagination, a monogram, patterned fabric or paper, leaves, books of clip art, or a simple geometric shape. Or you can download the stencil we used. Make sure your image has distinct outlines with positive and negative spaces that can be cut into a stencil; thin lines and minute detail will not work.

Tools and Materials
Pattern/motif for stenciling
Magic marker
Graph paper
Measuring tape
Fabric, tablecloth, or runner to be stenciled
Transparent tape
Self-healing cutting mat (or a piece of board)
Mylar (to make stencil)
Utility knife, with extra #1 blades
Paints (we used Liquitex acrylic in chromium-oxide green, iridescent silver, and iridescent gold)
Artist's palette, plate, or small plastic containers
Scrap fabric for practice
Scrap piece of wood board
1 1/4-inch stencil brushes

Adapting the Image
1. Photocopy your image, enlarging if necessary.

2. Fill in the outlined areas with a dark marker to make a positive/negative image.

3. Decide how many repetitions of the image you will need to form your pattern.

4. Sketch the pattern on a piece of graph paper, plotting the number of repetitions and directional variations of the stencil.

5. To determine the size of the stencil, divide the number of repetitions into both the length and width of your cloth, leaving room for a border. Our tablecloth is 35 inches wide by 177 inches long (or 2 feet 11 inches by 14 feet 9 inches). It will have twenty repetitions of the stencil, in two rows of ten, with 1 inch of space between the stenciled images. Thus, we computed our stencil to be 16 inches by 16 inches. Dividing 177 by 16, we calculated ten repetitions down the length of the runner, accounting for 1 inch between the repetitions and 4 inches on each end. Dividing 35 by 16, we calculated two repetitions across, leaving 1 inch between the stencils and a 1-inch border on each edge.

6. Adjust the size of your photocopy accordingly.

7. Alternatively, you can make simple stencils of single motifs, and apply them in a more free-form fashion.

Cutting the Stencil
1. Tape your final photocopied pattern onto a self-healing cutting mat, and tape Mylar, a sturdy, thin, transparent plastic, over it. This way, you can cut directly through the Mylar without first tracing the pattern.

2. Make sure you have a 1-inch border on all sides, from the edge of the Mylar to the pattern.

3. Draw a square within the edge of the Mylar; this will serve as a placement guide when you set the stencil on the fabric.

4. Using a utility knife with a #1 blade, cut out all the dark, or positive, areas of the pattern. Have a supply of fresh sharp blades on hand--changing the blade frequently will ease the cutting and result in a cleaner image.

5. Cut out the smaller portions of the pattern first, then the larger ones, to prevent shifting. A mistaken cut or tear can be patched with a piece of transparent tape.

Mixing the Paint
1. Use acrylic latex that has a medium viscosity and is appropriate for fabric.

2. Choose a color scheme. If you want a rich, yet subtle effect, try one shade of green (chromium-oxide green) mixed with varying proportions of silver and gold to create different shades. Use roughly a 50-50 mix of gold and silver, and add to that a much smaller amount of the base pigment.

3. Mix your colors on an artist's palette, a plate, or in small plastic containers.

4. Use one color for the base coat, and the other two to highlight. Use plain gold, plain silver, and a gold/silver combination to highlight as well.

Stenciling Technique
1. Perfect your colors and technique on a scrap of the material you are using, or one that is similar to it if you are using a ready-made tablecloth or runner.

2. Place your fabric over a wooden board, and lay the stencil in its first position. Secure the stencil to the fabric and board using 4 tacks, one in each corner.

3. If you are sewing your own tablecloth or runner, account for seam allowance when you place your stencil. Hold loose flaps of stencil in place with a spackler.

4. Hold a stencil brush at a 90-degree angle from the surface, so its round, flat tip is flush against the surface. This will prevent the paint from bleeding beyond the edges of the stencil. Lightly dab some color onto the brush (it should be nearly dry) and "pounce" the brush over the surface in quick up-and-down movements. This will create a subtle, stippled effect. Start with the greenish gold, close in color to that of the fabric. This paint, when applied lightly, dries in less than 5 minutes.

5. Once the initial layer is dry, highlight the centers and sides of the patterns with the other colors, layering them.

6. When the paint is dry, move the stencil to the next spot, using the placement guide you drew on the stencil.

7. When you've completed the stenciling, heat-set the pattern in place with an iron, following the paint manufacturer's recommendations.

Try finishing the tablecloth with flannel interlining and a backing of dupioni silk; sew them together with the right sides facing, then turn them inside out, as you would sew a pillowcase.

Georgia O'Neal
Style department assistant
Martha Stewart Living Television

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