Posts filed under ‘processes in silk painting / surface design’

Hot silk dyes, cool results

Experimenting with new processes in color makes for a really fun collection of spring scarves!


16 April 2010 at 3:57 pm Leave a comment

Playing with Alcohol . . . it’s not what you think!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         Alcohol works as a resist with dyes, so by alternating alcohol washes with silk dyes, you can get some beautiful shading effects.

This silk piece was given a subtle background pattern by using the parfait method (more about parfait on another post).  I used water-based resist to draw my design.   Once the resist had dried thoroughly, I used a cotton swab to dampen the bottom of the petal shape.  I dipped a paintbrush lightly into indigo dye and applied the color to the top of the petal.  I then quickly dipped my brush point into water and washed it over the alcohol area of the petal.  This gives a pretty gradation in color. 


I repeated the technique across the scarf on both the petals and leaves — you can see the rich effect it gives.

Alcohol dries pretty quickly, so you’ve got to work quickly once it’s applied to each area you’ve defined with resist, but the results add a lot of depth and modulation to your silk painting.  Here’s a view of the finished piece, which is listed in my Etsy shopOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


6 August 2009 at 8:51 am 4 comments

Layering Colors and Patterns

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou can add depth to fabric with layers of surface design techniques. For this pastel silk crepe scarf,  I made a dye paste by mixing professional procion silk dyes with alginate to make the dye a good consistency for silk screening. I cut some simple shapes from craft paper and silk screened them onto the fabric, decided that wasn’t enough, and started to play with stamps. I had some moldable foam (from that I heated and pressed against screen mesh and dried reeds to make the geometric shapes of the second layer.

blueleavesxOnce I steam set those colors into the silk, I painted the thickened dye paste onto some rubber stamps I’d made and scattered leaves across the background.  I added a few scattered dots from leaf to leaf with a pencil eraser and voila, a subtle pastel leaf scarf.

You can get more information and see different views of this scarf at my Etsy Shop.

24 July 2009 at 1:35 am 1 comment

Beating the Heck out of Silk

When I first started working with Marcia-the-Mentor, I was astonished at how much she’d do to a piece of silk before she called it finished.  Now she’s got me doing it.

warmcharm3 This started out as a pink scarf that I overdyed with purple.  I used soy wax and batiked leaf shapes over it, then dyed it a darker purple.

I hated it.

I gave it a warm bath in thiox and as the pink and purple were removed, the scarf became pale orange and beige. 

I cut some shapes out of clear contact paper and stuck these to a blank silk screen.  Using Procion MX dyes thickened with sodium alginate, I made a dye paste to use on the silkscreen and made three color passes over the entire scarf:  one yellow, one orange, one a very greyed-out purple.  I just listed this piece at my Etsy shop.

screen1 To the left is the screen I used.  I blocked off one side with paper and duct tape and used only half the screen at a time. 

I later used the larger shape on the left of the screen to use the same process on another silk scarf I wasn’t happy with, pictured below and listed at my shop on 1000Markets.

coolcharm3 This one was done in cooler shades, using the same greyed-out purple dye as well as a yellow-bronze color, and just a touch of pink.

Both of these scarves feel wonderful; I think the hand of the silk softened with each process, although it’s still as strong as ever.   As always, they’re colorfast so you can handwash them in the silk with a little Woolite, or by machine on the gentle cycle.  Drip dry, then touch up with an iron. 

4 June 2009 at 7:07 pm 2 comments

Using Silk Prints

I recently discovered the Etsy shop of The Whimsical Peacock, a supplier of fabrics and print panels who has had a lot of Etsy success with over 400 sales.  She’s mastered the process of printing full color pictures on silk habotai panels without changing the hand (or feel) of the silk.  I’ve purchased a few things from her and have used some of Boticelli2them on scarves. 

The compulsive art historian who lives within me needs to identify the artists, but hasn’t had luck with all of the prints, yet.  The beautiful face above is a detail from the Botticelli painting, Venus and the Three Graces, which hangs at the Louvre.   I fused this graceful image onto a scarf I made from complementary colors of buff and peach colored yardage.  It is for sale at The Joyful Jewel in Pittsboro, NC. 

The colorful silk charmeuse scarf at the left features Alphonse Mucha’s Study for the North Star.   Mucha was a very prolific Art Nouveau artist.  His distinctive women are frequently reproduced in ads, which is the purpose he originally painted them for.  This scarf is listed at my Etsy shop

You’ll have to visit the Black Hills of South Dakota to see the last two scarves in person, as they will be sent to the Dakota Nature and Art Gallery at the end of the month.  To the left is a toast-colored iridescent scarf featuring a print of Alphonse Mucha’s Moet Champagne label.  It’s also embellished with decorated with oil sticks and gutta.  The orientalized woman at right looks like a Thomas Dewing . . . or Hughes?  or Waterhouse?   Obviously, I haven’t identified her yet, but I think she looks quite at home set within the forest I painted behind her.   moet3  forest3

Any budding art historians out there will be eager to use the Smithsonian’s wonderful research tool on American Art.  Joan of Art  tried to identify the last image for me but, alas, she didn’t have any luck either. 

29 May 2009 at 12:26 am 3 comments

Silk Painting, the basics

Han_dynasty Silk painting is a truly ancient art.  Silk has been cultivated for over 3500 years, and people painted on silk well before the invention of paper.   Batik cloth seems to have originated in India around the second century C.E and spread throughout Asia over the years.  Batik uses wax to “resist” areas exposed to dyes, leaving the waxed areas the original color of the fabric before it’s dyed.  The best known examples of batik are stamped in repeated patterns.   batik

Around the fourth century C.E., Indonesian artists discovered they could use the sap of the pallaquium tree as a resist.  This substance is known as gutta, a rubber-based product that can be stamped or applied in a fine line.  In the past few decades, water-based resists have been gutta developed.  To remove wax resist from a piece requires ironing it between sheets of absorbent paper; removing gutta requires dry cleaning; water-based products can simply be rinsed out with water.   Thank goodness.

Just as the tradition of batik techniques vary greatly around the world, there are also many different ways to paint on silk.  All the methods fall into three general categories:

  • OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         Immersion:  You can immerse the fabric in a dye bath for all-over color.  There are lots of ways to bind the fabric before immersing it, resulting in patterns which vary from free as tie dye to as controlled as Japanese shibori.  To make the piece at right, bird shapes were stamped onto grey fabric — then immersed in wine-colored dye.
  • Direct application:  By laying your fabric flat or stretching it taut, you can use a brush to paint or dye.*  When you apply color to any fabric, the colors runs naturally from one fiber to chardischdetanother, creating beautiful free flowing areas of blended color (as seen on the left).  sealscarf8If you want to keep the colors from spreading into each other, you must apply a finish to the surface of the silk, just as you apply gesso to a canvas.  Note how the watery layers behind the sea lion do not blend into each other, but look like separate stripes?
  • Gutta serti:  Sertir is a French verb meaning “to contain.”  This method emphasizes drawing, as the gutta/resist is used to outline areas of color.  The dye is applied with a paintbrush, and spreads naturally over the fibers until it meets the gutta/resist line.  The figures at right are surrounded by a white line, because that’s where the resist was.

I use the serti method

      most of the time, because I like the graphic quality of the outline, but also because I think it’s magic to watch the color travel from the paint brush to the resist line.


The photo on the left shows a silk scarf stretched in my studio.  I use a stretcher frame designed and distributed by Moyers Studio.  Whether painting a wall hanging, yardage, or a scarf, the method is the same.  All fabrics must be prewashed and ironed.  I sometimes plan my design elaborately, using grid paper and a light table to enlarge it as needed.  Most of the time, however, I just freehand my design directly onto the silk.  I stretch the fabric on a frame and draw the design using clear resist.  Once the resist has dried, I apply professional silk dyes with paintbrushes — one in each hand and at least one in my mouth.

The process is meditative, yet immediate, since I must work quickly to keep up with the movement of the dyes.  Once I’m satisfied with the painting, the color is allowed to set for a day or two.  The fabric piece is then rolled in newsprint, wrapped in aluminum foil, suspended over a steam bath, and steamed for 1-3 hours.  Now the piece is colorfast.  After it “cures” for a day or two, I rinse out the resist lines in warm water, let it drip dry, and then iron.  If the hand of the fabric has been affected by the chemicals used to mix the dyes, it gets a bath in professional fabric softener, is dried and then ironed again.

I could go on and on.  Different fabrics accept color in entirely different ways.  Preparing different types of dyes involves a lot of chemistry, and each brand’s chemistry is unique.   Variations in humidity and altitude will affect the action of the dyes.  It’s difficult to mix a good brown with French dyes, and turquoise dye smells entirely different than yellow.

I think most artists are secret alchemists, loving the magic of applying color and line, whatever the surface.  Being a magician is a powerful and addictive business!


*Paints dry as a coating on top of the fabric; dyes bind with the fibers and become part of the fabric.  Paints will affect the hand, or feel, or the fabric when they dry.  Dyes do not change the hand, and the fabrics feel smooth and lush — what people think of when they think “silk.”

17 April 2009 at 12:20 am 10 comments

Beautiful Ladies . . . and two giraffe

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         I love the look, feel, age and stories surrounding the rock art that’s found all over the world. It is always so elegant, with an economy of line that resonates with modern sensibilities. “Beautiful Ladies” is the name given to the women in this piece of rock art from Chad (below, left), which I’ve used in both the orange wall hanging (below, right) and a piece of wearable art, the vivid green scarf at right.

These bountiful, full-figured women are etched with beautiful geometric designs.  It’s difficult to fathom the age of this art, thought to be more than 3,000 years old.  Human figures are much more common in African than in European rock art.  The giraffe are also stately and beautifully drawn on the Nigerian rock art example I used as a starting point.  (These giraffe are the largest known petroglyph in the world.)  The scarf is covered with ancient glyphs found in archeological sites in Turkey and explained in Marija Gimbutas’ book The Language of the Goddess

clip_image004 clip_image006 clip_image008 clip_image012

If you click on any of the pictures above, you’ll go to sites where you can read more about African rock art and the work of Marija Gimbutas.

The green scarf is for sale at The Joyful Jewel in Pittsboro, North Carolina.  Do say “hi” to my friend Mariah if you stop by!

16 March 2009 at 7:53 am 1 comment

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