Friday, March 25, 2011

Tutorial: Steaming silk scarves

I've been painting silk scarves this week, and the dye I used needed to be steam set. So I cobbled together a silk steamer today, following the instructions that I got several years ago in a class given by Karen Leeds.

The bottom part of the silk steamer is a turkey fryer. I found a used one on Craigslist awhile ago, and had it tucked away in my storage shed for just such an occasion.

The upright part of the steamer is a 10" stovepipe from Home Depot.

I used tin snips to cut slits in the top of the stove pipe. The slits are directly across from each other.

Why slits? They hold the metal piece that will be used to suspend the roll of scarves. My teacher used an extra long drill bit. I used a shish kabob skewer that we use for grilling.

Ok, the steamer was ready. Now I laid out my scarves on a roll of craft/butcher paper. They need to be a couple of inches apart from each other so they don't touch and bleed on each other. And they need to be several inches away from one of the sides, so you have room to put the skewer through without puncturing the silk.

I started rolling up the scarves. I needed to smooth them out every bit or so, so they didn't wrinkle.

When I got to the end of one set of scarves, I just laid out another set and kept on rolling.

I've read that you can safely steam a bundle up to 6" thick. I got all 12 scarves into a bundle 4" thick, so I think I was doing pretty well.

Then I taped the bundle closed.

The bottom end of the bundle was capped with taped on tin foil.

The top carefully had the skewer punched through it.

Then I suspended the bundle in the stove pipe by setting the skewer in the slits I cut. You need to make sure the bundle isn't touching anything, and is well above water level.

What water? Oh yeah. Add water to the fryer.

Then use more tin foil, and close in the bottom of the contraption to keep the steam in. Leave a spot that you can bend back and peek in, to check on the water level and add more if you need it. On top put a layer of tin foil, then a couple of old towels, and a weight to hold it all in place. Now, crank up the fryer and let it steam away. The suggestions I read said to let it run for 3 hours, adding hot water as necessary.

After 3 hours, turn off the fryer and remove the lid. Let it cool for about 20 minutes. (Burning yourself is bad!)

Then take the bundle carefully out, unroll it, and hang each scarf up to cool and dry.

The instructions I have say to let the scarves hang for at least 24 hours. Then I can wash and iron them and they'll be ready to go. If I did it right, the colors will be quite permanent.

You can see the earlier and later parts of this project in these two posts:


Washing and Ironing:


  1. What an absolutely wonderful tutorial. I love having this information. I was curious about your loom shape. Almost looked triangular, like your shawl shapes. I haven't seen that before. (I weave on a 56" 8 harness). Anyway, I'm your newest follower and welcome to the Art Blogs by Etsy Artists. Off to do more reading. :) Pam

  2. Oops, meant to put my last comment here! Wonderful tutorial!! Great pictures! And I love triangle weaving! xo

  3. Thanks for stopping by! I'm glad the pictures help. I did wash the scarves, twice, and while some extra dye washed of the color on the scarves stayed put. It worked!

    I have a floor loom also (ok, 2 of them), but the loom in yesterday's post is a simple triangle loom. You remember weaving pot holders as a kid? Similar process. If you look over in my key words there on the left side of the screen, you can click on 'tri-loom' to go to previous posts on the toy. There are a couple relevant entries under 'tutorial', too. With this style of loom I can turn out a shawl in about 10 hours.

  4. pokes at the comment above me... "while some extra dye washed OFF, the color on the scarves stayed put."

  5. I just started painting on silk and I was wondering if you use vinegar in your steaming?!

  6. Nope, no vinegar, just the water.

  7. Thank you for posting this! Your large volume steamer seems to be the easiest and cheepest way to go. This is going on my fiber studio to do list, with my printing table.

  8. Does the foil cap at the bottom seal it? If sealed how does the steam get to the silk? Through the paper?

  9. I need to to thank you for ones time for this particularly fantastic read!! I definitely really liked every part of it and i also have you saved to fav to look at new information in your site. silk sheets king