Monday, January 9, 2012

Silk Painting - Class 1

Mmmm - silk!  I love the way it shimmers and almost seems to glow.  At one time, I was doing quite a bit of silk painting, but haven't for awhile.  I'm ready to get back to it!  For the next month or so, I'll be using my Monday posts to present a mini-class on silk painting.  Join me and create five gorgeous scarves!

People have been cultivating silkworms and weaving silk fabric for at least 5,000 years - long enough that its origins are swathed in mystery and legend.  Silkworms are fed mulberry leaves and then spin a cocoon from the silk fiber they create.  Each cocoon is actually one long strand of silk - between 600 to 1,000 yards!  Several strands are combined to form a silk thread, which is then woven into silk fabric.  One of silk's allures has always been its wonderful sheen.  Silk fiber is constructed in such a way that makes it reflect light from several angles, almost prism-like.  It's tremendously strong.

This short video from the American Museum of Natural History shows silkworms and gives a short demo of how the thread is unwound from the cocoon.

There are different methods for dyeing or painting on silk.  Silk dyes are painted directly on silk fabric and them steamed to set the color in.  This is the way to get the most vibrant colors, however the dyes can be a little temperamental at times, steaming needs either special equipment or a home steaming set up, and doing the final cleaning of the resist lines can be difficult, sometimes requiring dry cleaning.  Another option is to use silk paints.  These vary in the vibrancy of colors and how color fast they really are, but there are good ones that are easy to use and a good way to get ones feet wet while learning.  If you fall in love with this art form, you'll probably want to try the dyes.

Equipment and Materials:
I buy my materials at Dharma Trading Company.  There are other places you can order supplies from - Google "silk painting supplies" and you'll come up with several, most of which I haven't ordered from, though, so I can't vouch for them.  Dick Blick Company carries some silk painting materials - I've used them with success for other art supplies.

To silk paint, the fabric is first stretched on a frame.  There are lots of different frames available - my husband makes mine (instructions below).  If you purchase a ready made one, I recommend buying an adjustable frame.  You want the open area of the frame to be 2 to 3 inches larger than your fabric.

This is the one I'm currently using for the scarves I'm working on.  It's constructed in a way that lets you take it apart for storage.

To make this, you'll need:
*4 pieces of wood, 3 feet each.  Mine is made from poplar 1x2's.  Pick a wood that you can stick a push pin into.  I like painting 30 inch square scarves (that are actually about 31 inches), so these dimensions work well for me.
*4 2-inch threaded bolts
*4 wood inset nuts
*4 washers
*electric drill
*corner clamp and 2 other clamps
*allen wrench

1.  Put one board at a right angle with a second board.  A corner clamp and clamps to hold the wood to a work surface will hold everything in place.

2.  Make an indentation with an awl as a start for the drill bit.

3.  Select a drill bit that is slightly larger than the outside diameter of the bolt threads, so the bolt will slip easily into the hole.

4.  Drill a hole through the first board and into the second board.

5.  Using a drill bit that is the size of the inside of the wood inset nut, drill a hole in the second board.  Go in the depth of the nut.

6.  Put a nut on the end of an allen wrench and screw it into the second board.

7.  Line the first board back back up with the second board, insert a washer and threaded bolt, and screw into place.

8.  Now you're done with one side - repeat with the other sides!

Silk Painting Materials
*Setasilk silk paint - I've been really happy with these.  The colors are bright and color fast.  It's a very thin paint that acts much like a dye, so the silk is still soft and drapes well.  Dharma sells a starter set that has a nice assortment of colors.
*Pebeo water based gutta - gutta is used as a resist in silk painting.  This one stays put while you're painting and then easily washes out when you're finished.  If you're following along with me, get three clear and one black.
*silk scarves - I like the 30 inch habotai silk scarves from Dharma.  To follow along with me, you'll need five.
*fabric wash that's safe for silk - Synthrapol, Dharma Fabric Wash, or mild liquid soap or baby shampoo plus white vinegar.
*Chinese suspension hooks
*assorted sizes of foam brushes
*soft brushes that hold a bit - Chinese calligraphy brushes work really well
*1/2 inch elastic - odds and ends will work, or about a yard
*push pins
*a stapler

Okay - time to gather up the materials!  Here's a sneak look at our first project, next Monday.

Happy Creating!  Deborah


  1. I love silk paints, its an interesting work but need some patience too..I really enjoy whenever I paint on silk! hmm
    do share more lovely creations my dear :)

  2. I love the tutorial on the frame. Painting silk is one of those things I always plan to get around to trying. This is the perfect opportunity to do it, thanks so much for sharing!

  3. Thanks so much for your silk painting tutorials. I've seen several other ones that describe steaming the scarf once it is painted to set the colors. Do you find that ironing the scarf sets the colors well? I'd much rather do that than have to build some tubular steamer contraption. Many thanks!

    1. If you use a silk dye then you will need to steam your piece to set the color. Silk paints can be heat set. I use Setasilk paints and have been very happy with the results and the bright colors!