Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Silk painting with gutta

I had an opportunity this past weekend to take a class in a different style of silk painting than my usual wet-in-wet salt sprinkled fare. See, I'm involved in a historical recreation group, and one of the trends recently is to fly silk painted heraldic banners. They add so much to the atmosphere, and are lovely to behold!

The banners we did this weekend used silk scarves, black gutta, and Dynaflow dye bought from Dharma Trading Company. The class was taught by the very talented Dorothea M'Queyn. She had made us stretcher frames from pvc pipe before we got there, so we could get right down to the creative part of the fun.

Here's what we did:

Habotai silk scarf
Dynaflow dye
pvc stretcher frame, a few inches larger around than the scarf
straight pins
rubber bands
water color or sumi brush
black gutta in a metal tip dispenser
ironing cloth

Dorothea set up the frames for us. We put a straight pin diagonally in the hem in each corner of the scarf, and used the rubber bands to go around the pin and the frame to hold the scarf onto the frame by the corners. Then we went down the sides of the scarf, putting pins in the rolled hem. They lined up point to head all the way down the sides.

Then we used the rubber bands to go around the pins and the frame, stretching the scarf taut on all four sides. We would put a rubber band on one side, then do the one on the opposite side, working back and forth across the scarf to try to keep it more or less squared on the frame.

Here is a good shot of how the rubber bands worked. Once the scarf was stretched on the frame, it was time to figure out our design. You can do this part free hand, but we found it easier to pin a paper pattern underneath the silk. The silk is thin enough to be able to see through it to the pattern.

Then we lightly traced over the pattern with pencil, right on the scarf. We needed to do this very lightly, because the pencil lines might show through on the finished banner.

Then we traced over our pencil lines with the gutta. Why gutta? When you put silk dye on the silk, it spreads until it either runs out of oompf, or runs into a fence. Gutta is your fence. So when we put the gutta down, we needed to be very sure not to leave any gaps in the fence where the color could sneak free. Once we got the pattern drawn in with the gutta, we left the project to dry over night.

The next morning, Dorothea had an array of colors for us to choose from. You can use the dye straight out of the bottle or you can mix your own custom colors. (That is what the little containers were for.) She uses an eyedropper to measure the colors into the mini containers. A little dye will go a long way.

And now, it was pretty much a paint by number type of day. With some of the colors, we went over each area two or three times to get a vibrant and even coat of color.

Some of the work got very intricate.

Very, very intricate!

When the work was done, it was time to take the scarf off of the stretcher frame. Underneath the pins, there were spots that the dye hadn't been able to get to. So we went back and touched up these spots.

Once everything was dry, we ironed the scarves to set the dye. We put the scarves gutta side up, and covered them with a muslin ironing cloth. Each section got ironed for about 9 minutes. When we moved on to ironing the next section, we either flipped the cloth or got a fresh cloth, so the gutta lines wouldn't transfer to other parts of the banner. After this process, you can spill Pepsi on the banner and the dye won't run. (Yes, I know this.)

Here's how mine turned out. I'm very pleased with it! Since it is heraldry, I made my pattern 'big, bold, and butch', so you can make it out from a distance. The charges read left to right, from the higher ranking items to the lower. (Kingdom of Atenveldt populace badge, then the Barony of SunDragon populace badge, then my own heraldry, then my motto with laurel leaves denoting my highest ranking award.) I still need to sew ribbons onto one side so I can fly it. I so look forward to seeing this one fluttering in the breeze outside of my pavilion at an event!


  1. Wow. I love this process. Great tutorial. Your banner is great. Bold!

  2. very cool. I'm a new follower from Blogging Buddies, and I just love historical reenactments.

  3. Thank you Melissa. I love teaching the silk banner class each class is so different. Over the five years I have meet some talented people thank you for the wonderful blog.
    In service, Dorothea M'Queyn

  4. Thanks for stopping by, everyone! And Dorothea, I really appreciate your willingness to share your knowledge, and your skill in teaching. Thank you again!

  5. Amazing!!! I do silk painting in my spare time and have really grown to love it- hoping to produce a series of scarves soon :)