Backyard Art Camp: Rothko-Inspired Fabric Art

I am simply delighted to be participating in the Backyard Art Camp series that Jane at Buzzmills and Melissa at A Happy Stitch organized! There have been so many amazing projects for grown-ups and their kiddos this summer, all inspired by established/famous artists. I hope you like the one I have for you today.

Rothko Inspired Fabric Art smaller jpeg

One of my very favorite artists is the abstract expressionist painter Mark Rothko. He is most famous for his abstract, nonrepresentational art that features bold color and simple shapes, which Rothko said was the best way to show deep emotions. He made this type of work, called Color Field Paintings, beginning in the 1940s and kept finessing it until his death in 1970. Having seen a few of his works in person, I can tell you that standing in front of his paintings– or rather standing in one because they are so big– is an incredible experience. His use of color makes the canvas pulsate and you realize how much you can feel from a few colorful shapes when an artist like Rothko has created them. The project I came up with inspired by Rothko’s work builds off of his ability to use shapes and color to express emotion.

With my Wee One, we started this project by looking at examples of Rothko’s work and talking about them. We watched this video which talks about the process Rothko used. We looked at numerous paintings and discussed what colors and shapes he used, then the Wee One said what each piece made him feel. This one was “quiet sadness”. This one was “happiness and energy”. I asked him what feeling he wanted the art we were going to create to have and he said “Happy sunshine.” So that was our starting point. Here’s what we did:

Happy sunshine

Rothko-Inspired Fabric Art


  • unbleached muslin
  • embroidery hoop
  • Kool-Aid in various colors/flavors
  • vinegar
  • scissors
  • sewing machine
  • white glue
  • websites/books about Rothko (here are a few possibilities: Artcyclopedia,  National Gallery of Art (examples of both his early work and examples like this project is based on), Google Images), Mark Rothko by Jeffrey Weiss

After you have looked at examples of Rothko’s work and discussed it, cut your muslin into various sized pieces, making sure you have a couple large enough to use as your background fabric. Add 2/3 cup vinegar to a pot of water; add in unbleached muslin and let the water come to a boil. Turn it down and leave the pot on the heat for 20 minutes. Turn off heat and let sit 5 minutes; then drain water. **Obviously steps involving boiling or hot water should only be done by an adult.


Let your kiddo pick out what colors of Kool-Aid to use. Talk about what feelings each color creates and have him or her decide what overall feeling they want their art to cause. Choose colors accordingly.


My little guy decided happy sunshine would have orange, red, red-purple, and lime green.

For each color, add one packet kool-aid, 2 cups cold water, and 1 cap of vinegar in a pot or bowl. Experiment with color theory and mixing colors, too!

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rothko3Add your cooled enough to touch fabric to the pot and let it sit for 10-20 minutes; make sure it is fully immersed in the dye.

rothko7 rothko8 rothko9 rothko10 rothko11Wring out your fabric and put each color in its own plastic bag overnight.


In the morning, rinse your fabric so the excess dye washes out, then let it dry. I threw the warm colors (oranges, reds) in the dryer on high for 30/35 minutes, then the lime green in the dryer. I dried them separately so the green wouldn’t end up all red. Iron. Now it is time to put your art piece together!

rothko project8

Have your little one choose two pieces of the fabric to be the background. Talk about how different colors next to each other or putting one fabric on top versus on bottom changes the feeling and look. Stitch the two chosen fabrics together.rothko project

Press the seam open.rothko project2

Lay the background fabric on top of your embroidery hoop and look at your other dyed fabrics. Decide what basic shape and how many shapes best convey the emotion you want to express.rothko project3 rothko project4

My little guy played with rectangles and squares of various sizes before settling on one good sized square. Pin it in place and stitch the shape(s) in place. The raw edges of the shapes mirror Rothko’s painted feathered edges.rothko project5 rothko project6

To finish your fabric art, trim the fabric to about 2 inches from the edge of the embroidery hoop. Pop the fabric back out and put a thin line of glue around the outer edge of the inside hoop. Put your fabric back in, stretch it smooth and snug. Then flip it over and use a running stitch to gather the backside of the fabric. Go all of the way around and make a knot when you get back to the beginning.
rothko project7 rothko project9 rothko project10 rothko project11


rothko art rothko art2

Art historian Dore Ashton said Rothko’s painted “surfaces were velvety as poems of the night.” The hand dyed natural muslin, layered with different colors on top of each other, mimics this quality.

I hope you make your own Rothko-inspired art! It is a great way to explore color theory and emotions with your kiddo. Please feel free to post links to what you make in the comments.


Here is the list of the other fabulous bloggers making great projects for you to get creative with your kids:


10 thoughts on “Backyard Art Camp: Rothko-Inspired Fabric Art

  1. Pingback: Michaelmas | Feathered Nest Studio

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  3. Pingback: backyard ART camp :: rothko-insired art from feathered nest studio | a happy stitch

  4. Oh my goodness! I love this project and I really appreciate that it happened over the course of a few days and had different stages…nice for kids to see a project operate like that sometimes! So many are quick and easy, I think my kids appreciate something slow, too. I turned out so beautiful. I can’t wait to try it at our house. Thanks for joining in!!

    • I’m so glad you like it! We often do short & quick projects, but my little guy really does enjoy a project that has multiple steps and a process to follow. AND it was so much fun looking at Rothko’s work together and then picking an emotion to try and create! I hope you and your kids get a chance to make something similar. 🙂

  5. Jennet, thank you so much for joining us in backyard art camp! I love this project so much! I love the different levels of it, and how there are so many different ways for kids to explore art and creativity! Beautiful job.

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