Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tutorial: Silk Scarf Painting

I've been working (ok, playing) with silk scarf painting the last couple of days. See, I'm part of Celtica!, which is a choir that is associated with the Irish Cultural Center in Phoenix, AZ. The ladies in the choir tend to wear all black for performances, but we decided that a touch of color would be a lovely addition. So I volunteered to dye up a batch of matching silk scarves for us. I ordered my supplies through Dharma Trading Company (http://www.dharmatrading.com/), and they came in the mail within a short amount of time.

Here's the silk scarves, as they came in the box. This particular batch is 8" x 72", in habotai silk.

The first thing I did was pre-wash the scarves, to get any oils or residue off of them that might block the dye. I just tossed them in the wash, twice, with a bit of Dharma's textile detergent. Well, that was a mistake. The tossing them in the wash part--not the detergent. I should have put them in a lingerie bag instead of letting them run loose in the wash. You wouldn't think that silk scarves could knot up into a mass that would take a half hour or so to untie, would you? Well I didn't anyway. I know better now. I had to iron them after that, too, because they were all wrinkled from the knotting.

These are my materials, also from Dharma. (Well, I had the sumi brush hanging around left over from art classes.) These dyes will need to be steamed to set the color, which will be a bit of a pain. But I took a class on silk painting a few years back, and this is what the teacher used in her own art work.

I stretched the silk onto the frame that I picked up from (yes, you guessed it) Dharma a few years back. I wanted a very fluid, wet-on-wet- watercolor effect, so I lightly sprayed the silk with water.

I have four colors of dye that I'm working with. I want the colors fairly evenly scattered over the scarf. I started by laying out squiggles of the dark blue...

...then added the green for the second color...

...then the third color...

...and the fourth. That gave me the underlying movement to the pattern, and made sure the colors were fairly evenly distributed.

Then I went back and filled in all the white space. I paid special attention to the edges, to make sure the rolled hem actually took the color. Since I'm not really wanting hard edges in this scarf, I took just water on my brush and scrubbed the color edges, blending them together.

Then I scattered salt crystals on the still damp dye...

...and very lightly spritzed the scarf with water to make sure the dye could bleed and blend during the drying process.

Why salt? It sucks in the surrounding dye, which makes really cool patterns and textures. This is a watercolor painting trick.

After the scarf was dry I brushed up all the salt, and set it aside to use again. The salt is lightly blue now, but as long as I am working on the same color way I'm not too worried about dye transfer.

Here's the finished scarf! Well, it is finished with the painting process. Now I need to let it sit for at least 24 hours. Then it will be time to steam the silk to set the dye. 24 hours after that I can wash and iron the scarf and it will be ready for wear. (You can bet that I'll be using the lingerie bag this time around!)

I really like the way these turn out. I love the watery, organic patterns that this technique gives. It is a combination of color choice and placement, with a healthy dose of serendipity thrown in with the blending and salt. Each time I make one, I decide part way through that process that this particular scarf is my very very favorite one. This could get to be very addictive! I think once I get this batch done (I'm working up a dozen of them) I want to get some more variety of colors, and make up some for the Etsy shop. Because I don't want to stop playing!

You can see the next parts of this project in these two posts:

Steaming: http://tangibledaydreams.blogspot.com/2011/03/tutorial-steaming-silk-scarves.html

Washing and Ironing: http://tangibledaydreams.blogspot.com/2011/06/washing-and-ironing-hand-painted-silk.html


  1. Beautiful! It looks like a watercolor painting! I'm sure the women in your choir are going to love them!

  2. We are going to look so good and wonderful. Thank you so much Lissa.

  3. Definitely beautiful, I love the color choices and appreciate the quick primer on technique!

  4. Love your colors and for years we (another weaver and I) have been struggling with how to steam our scarves after dyeing. Can't wait to show her your tutorial!! Beautiful work! xo

  5. Thanks for stopping by, all of you! I had such fun with these scarves. I glad you could share part of that with me, at least vicariously. :)

  6. Melissa - what stretcher frame did you get from Dharma that's big enough to accommodate a scarf? The only ones I've found are squares or rectangles that simply aren't long enough.

  7. Deluwiel, Dharma sells an extension kit to go with their basic stretcher frame. I use the two together to get the long skinny shape I need for the scarves.

  8. When I attended a wedding I wear a bolero scarf that looks elegant.
    silk bolero scarf

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