Silk Painting Demo

Although I’ve been doing artsy things for a while, I’ve only been a silk painter for the last year and a half. It started with a silk painting class I took at the St. Louis Craft Alliance on Delmar. I was hooked, and I have been silk painting ever since! From my initial classes I have changed many of my methods for doing things, thanks both to the creative exchange I have had with fellow silk painters and to my handyman husband, who has designed many of the more efficient tools I use to paint.

A lot of people have asked me about how I make my scarves, especially when I show them the scarves and they feel the softness of the silk against their cheek. So, I decided to feature a demo of the silk painting process. I apologize in advance for some blurry photos (all of which were taken on my cell phone.)

I made the following scarves using the Serti technique. This is a French technique which allows you to “paint inside the lines,” so to speak. Because traditional silk dyes bleed when you paint them onto silk, one must draw lines to contain the dye using either gutta (which has a latex base) or a water-based resist method, which usually washes out after the dying is complete.

Here, I am making a lilac scarf with a blue background using Jacquard water-based resist, which is heat set and permanent. You’ll notice I alternate between two scarves: one in gold and one in silver. Although I decided I liked the look of the resist, I didn’t like the hand of the silk (it had a plastic feel) when the scarf was done. You could call this a fail, but it works for demo purposes and was certainly a learning experience for me.

Here is the process:

First, the silk must be stretched on a frame. In this demo, I used pine bars covered with duct tape and I pinned the silk at its edges with push pins. Although I initially learned this method of stretching, I have since graduated to a much more efficient stretcher system. But more on that on a later blog.

Next, I drew the lilacs free hand using the resist applied from a plastic applicator bottle. Here is the design in its working and finished state.

Once the resist dried, I applied the first background color of dye. For these lilacs, I wanted to paint the background first and then focus on painting the design last. I wet the entire scarf with clean water. Next, I free-brushed the first color of cyan in various spots. Finally, I filled in the white spots with marine green, which is a unique shade of blue. (I use Jacquard green label dyes, in case anyone wants to know.)

While the design was still wet, I scattered salt on the entire background. The salt I used here was the Jacquard silk salt, but I’ve found kosher salt (found at your local grocer) is cheaper and just as good. Why salt? It’s because the salt technique adds texture to the background and creates a starburst pattern, since the dyes are attracted to and absorbed by the salt.

Here are some close-ups of the salt technique against the pattern, yet to be painted. When the piece dries, you will see the starburst effect start to emerge.


I brush the salt from the background after it has dried and recycle it for later use.

Finally, the last step is to paint the pattern itself. Here are the silver and gold scarves side-by-side. Since I did this freehand, there are variations in the patterns. Often, I sketch a pattern on a separate piece of paper and trace it onto the silk before I get started, but not here. Each scarf is unique!


Once the entire scarf is dyed and dried, the silk must be steam fixed. This allows the dye to chemically bond with the silk, so it doesn’t bleed out when the scarf is washed. Steaming is a time-consuming and expensive process, so I will leave this topic for a later blog as well.

After the steaming is done, I usually wait 24-48 hours to let the scarves rest. Then I wash the excess dye from the scarf, rinse until the wash water is clear of dyes, and blot the scarves well with a towel. While still damp, I iron the scarf–in this case on the backside because I don’t want the heat-set resist to gum up my iron.

The finished scarves are now ready to display, sell, give away, or wear.

So that is the silk dyeing process in a nutshell. More about painting, stretching, and steaming later!

Thanks for visiting,



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