Silk painting: Experimentation

This is something that I have no experience of and, I feel, no real affinity for.  However, someone very kindly ‘donated’ a starter kit for me to play with.  I rang my friend Nola to see if she wanted to have a day of messing about with silk paints, only to find she also had a small stash of relevant goodies to add to the mix.

Seemed like it might be fun – little did I know!

sp1On arrival I found Nola very enthusiastic, very organised and with a supply of silk scarves to keep us going, but better yet with a fabulous gadget I’d not come across before.  For those of you already proficient at hand painting/dyeing long scarves you will probably be aware of this super framing system.  The four struts are fully adjustable, meaning that whatever large piece of silk you want to work on can be accommodated, whether it be long and narrow, square or rectangular.  I’m guessing that you could even remove one strut and make it into a triangular shape.  How cool is that?

My impression is that the struts are purchased in pairs, similar to painters stretcher frames, so you can choose the lengths that most suit your work.  sp2There is a system of small very fine hooks attached to elastic bands which are placed around the frame and carefully pushed through the silk to hold it firm whilst working.

It takes a bit of time to get the scarf in place, and would probably be harder if you were working alone, but once I got the hang of it we moved along quite quickly.

Sorting through our materials we decided to melt some crackle wax and apply it to the fabric.  Neither of us ever having done this before, we weren’t sure how it was supposed to crackle and how thickly to apply it.  Anyhow, we heated and painted, then heated and painted, until we got a grid drawn on each end of the scarf.  We then tried crumpling up the area to get cracks.  It was fun and a bit random, so we then drew some swirls in the spaces.

Nothing like attacking a creative project with absolutely no pre-planning whatsoever.  So unlike me!

sp3We had some clear wax (not the crackle type) so we drew some resist marks along the length and then started painting.

sp4You can see where the paints sit on top of the wax resist.  We spent some time painting this area so the colours would, hopefully, filter through the cracks and give a pattern.

sp5Here is the finished scarf after drying and ironing away all the wax resists.

Overall it’s not bad for a first go and the colour scheme is quite good.  However, the silk has lost some of its floaty quality and stiffened up a little.  I’m guessing that the ironing, which both sets the colours and removes the wax, isn’t sufficient to really take 100% of the wax out.  So I need to wash it a few times to try to soften it.  Obviously this can’t be put in water that is too hot, being silk, but I’m hoping that any residual wax will be removed and it will return to its original state.

We then set-up a scarf that had been previously dyed.  Nola wasn’t happy with it and wanted to add patterning and more colour.  She randomly painted on huge swathes of hot wax and then delicately applied a gold gutta in squiggles.  It took a bit of trial and error to get fine lines but the effects were looking pretty good.

sp6It takes quite a while for the gutta to fully dry, about 24 hours I think, so we couldn’t work any further on this one.  We left it on the frame and put it in the sun to dry.  I haven’t seen the final outcome and need to get a picture to see how it came out.

sp7Still with a bit of time before I had to leave, we laid a scarf out on clingfilm, dampened it with a water spray and started adding colours and encouraging them to mix.  The length was then scattered with rock salt, and some finer sea salt.  I drew some noughts and crosses on the ends to see what would happen.  Of course, without a wax resist they just expand and become very ‘blobby’ – not great, but we were just playing.

More clingfilm was put over the top and the whole thing was tightly rolled, for me to get it home.  Once there, I laid it flat for a couple of day, until dry and the salt had soaked up some of the paint and created patterns.  It was truly a horror trying to brush the salt off at the end.  These items have to be ironed, using a cloth to protect them from the heat, to set the paints and I’m sure I’ve still got salt within the fibres.

So I’ve got to do another good long hot ironing to satisfy myself that the colours are permanent before I start massaging it in water to dissolve the remaining salt.

All up an interesting fun day but not something I want to pursue in any great length.  I prefer dyeing, probably natural dyeing, and printing rather than silk painting.  I find the colours a bit lairy and I definitely haven’t worked out any subtlety of application and colour.


About Claire B

I'm a passionate printmaker, paper-maker and a poor sketcher (which I'm working to improve). I've stitched from early childhood and am a perpetual student, loving learning and participating in everything creative.
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2 Responses to Silk painting: Experimentation

  1. Nola says:

    We found yesterday that we had to scrunch the bejasus out of the areas with crackle wax… we were too gentle with it! We also feel we do not want to use wax again as long as we live… too slow and fiddly. Also research says the best method of getting the wax out is to boil the cloth for a few minutes, leave it in the pot to cool, weighted if necessary, and then skim the solid wax off the top.

    • Claire B says:

      Thanks for the info Nola. I ironed and ironed my scarves but the handle of the fabric hasn’t returned to the lovely softness it was originally. Hence I’ve just put them away, but now I’ll boil them as per your instructions because I know there is both wax and salt still in the fibres.
      And I agree about the crackle wax. Very hard to use and crackle to get any meaningful painterly effects.

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