Triumph for the first-timer . . . painting silk
Easier, faster, safer with new ready-to-apply colorants
Let color flow: the new liquid dyes for painting silk are so easy
to use that even a novice can produce a richly colored design in just a
These ready-to-apply colorants, now arriving in American crafts
stores, are available in many shades, and they’re much safer than
traditional fabric dyes for home use (still, don’t use dye
containers afterward for food or drink). Some are in applicators so
simple you just draw with them, as with a felt-tip pen. The latest
products–those we used–come with their own fixative, so you
needn’t steam the silk after dyeing to set the color as required by
some types of silk dyes.
In contrast to the multiple applications needed for batik, you can
complete a painting in one sitting. The interaction of the dyes with
silk, salt, and alcohol will surprise and delight you, and the dyed
fabric retains beautiful suppleness and sheen. Your creation can become
a scarf, wall hanging, lampshade, or pillow.
An informal workshop with friends is an enjoyable way to start and
to minimize the initial investment in materials. Under supervision,
children as young as nine got good results in our testing.
Plan your design–it can be something as simple as parallel bands
of color. A rough sketch on paper may help. Then set up a practice
stretcher so everyone can experiment a bit and see how colors look.
The new imported dyes
Liquid dyes for silk come in a wide range of colors, sold in
4-ounce bottles costing $2.60 to $3 each.
Tinfix and Super Tinfix (more concentrated), made in France by
Sennelier, now come in a version with fixative already mixed in the dye,
as does the French dye Prince Fix by Le Prince. These can be thinned
with a mixture of equal parts of water and alcohol.
P$aeb$aeo’s S$aetacolor, also French, is used with a fixative
bath; you can buy this dye in bottles or in flow-pen applicators with
which you draw directly on the silk.
Seidicolor, a German product, requires that you brush a thick
liquid fixative over the finished work.
Dyes are sold at crafts or art-supply stores. If you need help
finding them, write to Silk Painting Report, Sunset Magazine, 80 Willow
Rd., Menlo Park, Calif. 94025.
Silk: what kind, where to get it
Available in craft or fabric stores, lightweight Hobutai or China
silk is suitable for beginners. At a width of 45 inches and weight of 8
momme (or 4 lb.), it costs about $5 a yard. With more experience, you
may want to try more expensive silks of different weights and textures.
Do not cut silk; tear it to desired size for your project. Prewash
it in lukewarm water with liquid dish detergent; rinse; allow to
air-dry, flat, until damp, then iron at “wool’ setting.
Assembling the supplies
Besides the silk, here’s what you’ll need to get started.
Wood stretcher bars. Available at art stores in many sizes, these
fit together to make frames to hold silk flat; four 24-inch bars cost
about $4. You could also make your own stretcher frame.
Masking tape (change with each painting) to keep dye off stretcher
Push pins or tacks to fix silk to frame.
Apron to protect clothing.
Clear gutta, a resist with the consistency of liquid rubber, used
to keep colors from bleeding together. Water-base gutta, ready to use
without dilution, is also available; this takes longer to dry, and, if
retouches are needed, you must wait until it dries before you continue
painting. Washing removes either kind.
Colored gutta (optional) tinted gold, silver, or black. Note:
colored gutta survives washing but disappears in dry cleaning.
Rubber-cement thinner (solvent) to thin gutta and clean
applicators. Omit this if you buy water-base gutta.
Wooden skewer for mixing gutta, thinner.
Plastic squeeze bottle with (optional) metal-tipped applicator for
spreading gutta in thin lines of uniform consistency.
Liquid dyes. Only a few colors are needed; you can mix and dilute.
Experiment first to see how colors react when applied to silk.
Small plastic containers to hold mixed dye colors. Plastic
cocktail glasses cost about 5 cents each.
Spray bottle of water to dampen silk.
Glass or plastic bottle with cap for storing a mixture of equal
parts water and alcohol for diluting dyes.
Rubbing alcohol for diluting color and for special effects.
Glass jar or plastic bucket for washing brushes.
Dropper for measuring dyes and for applying alcohol.
Watercolor brushes, foam brushes, and long cotton swabs for
Salt of various kinds (rock salt, table salt) for special effects.
White vinegar to help set dyes.
Getting ready to paint
Work in a well-ventilated room, and use plain newsprint of a
plastic drop-cloth to protect work surface from spills.
Assemble your stretcher, cover top edges with masking tape, then
rip silk to fit inside dimensions, plus 1/2 inch on all sides. Pin
fabric to frame at corners, then spray water on the fabric, stretch it
tightly over the frame, and tack it down about every 2 inches. Let the
Working with the gutta resist
You use lines drawn with the gutta fabric resist as an outline to
separate colors and keep them from flowing from one space to another.
Be sure to practice a little before you start your design.
In the squeeze bottle, mix 3 parts gutts with 1 part rubber-cement
thinner (unless using water-base gutta). Let mixture stand for 15
minutes, then stir with a wooden skewer. Using a needle, poke a small
hole in the plastic tip (or use metal tip for a thinner line). Keep the
needle or wire in a safe place to stop the bottle after each use so
gutta won’t dry.
Start with the squeeze bottle in one hand, a paper towel in the
other to help you catch drips when you lift the bottle. Hold bottle
vertically and press gently but firmly, as with a pencil, to make a
line. Draw with an even, flowing movement.
To be effective as a resist, gutta must penetrate the silk’s
fibers; pick up your frame and check reverse side for a wetlooking line.
Close and gaps in the gutta outlines (from above), or colors will bleed.
There are several ways to outline your design with gutta: you can
trace shapes (as we did with leaves); position fabric over a design and
then trace it in gutta; deaw freehand; or use a rule to guide the
applicator as you create a design composed of straight edges. Let gutta
dry for about 10 minutes before you paint. Water-base gutta may take
longer; you can use a hair dryer if you get impatient.
Painting the fabric
Use colorants from the bottle or dilute them with the water-alcohol
solution, but prepare and test them on a fabric swatch first. All
colors intermix, ofter with stunning results. Colors dry quickly.
To avoid a stiped effect created when fresh brushstrokes overlap
partially dried ones, work quickly when painting large areas. If you
cut the background into bands with gutta lines, you won’t have too
large an area to paint as once. Dampening silk with a foam brush helps
color spread faster, though you may have to restretch fabric after
dampening to keep it taut. You can use several colors for the
background; they will bleed and fuse, producing subtle gradations.
Special effects with salt, alcohol
If you sprinkle a bit of dry salt on wet dye, the salt absorbs some
of the liquid, changing the color in an interestingly irregular way.
Try coarse or fine salt: each reacts differently, larger crystals
giving a more dramatic look. Don’t use too much or you’ll
muddy the color and get less effect.
Use a salt configuration as the center of your design, or scatter
salt on the background or around certain shapes. It’s more
effective used on a dark color or on several colors overpainted.
You get lighter (less color-saturated) lines or circles by drawing
on dyed areas with a cotton swab dipped in alcohol or letting alcohol
fall from a dropper.
Eixing the colors
Let your work air-dry on the frame away from direct sunlight for
the amount of time indicated on the manufacturer’s directions.
Then rinse in clean, cool water to which a capful of white vinegar has
been added (use a basin or sink not employed for food). You’ll see
some discharge of colors, especially dark ones. Rinse again until water
is clean. Lay flat on a towel, damp-dry, and iron at a low setting.
Hem silk, if desired, after ironing.
Photo: Ten-year-old sports silk chicken she chose to frame.
Feathers took patience, but color-shadowed background went quickly
Photo: Grownup made scarf with persimmon design. Outlines are
black gutta; orange dye fills in
Photo: Introductory workshop starts silk painters. She’s
filling in background around traced leaf designs. Youngster puts on a
few debs with cotton swab, while Dad works on long stretcher (it’s
supported by two chairs)
Photo: They triumph with leaves and waves (above); on wall behind
her is improvised chart to help select dye colors and dilutions. Pressed
and draped searves (right) look simple or subtle but glow with rich
Photo: 1. On stretched silk, draw freehand or trace shapes with
gutta. Press down gently with squeeze applicator
Photo: 2. Paint small areas of design with swab or small brush. To
fill in fast, use a foam brush on damp silk
Photo: 3. For lighter lines within dyed areas, apply alcohol with
cotton swab (use dropper to disperse color in circles)
Photo: 4. For a marbled effect, carefully sprinkle salt over wet
dye. Coarse and fine kinds vary final pattern