How to Hand Paint Silk

Display your artistic ability on silk for an elegant look.

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Materials and Tools:

stretcher bars
smooth white habotai silk
silk tacks
fiber-reactive concentrated liquid dyes
ungutta resist
Chinese brushes or watercolor brushes
baking soda and urea in chemical water solution
mini muffin tins and condiment cups
rock salt
table salt
paper towels and rags
marking pen
silk steaming rig (pot, fabric-holding system, heat source)
newspaper and blank newsprint
light table or window
masking tape
iron and board
picture frame
cotton sheeting
stretcher bars with primer
staple gun


1. Stretch a piece of smooth white habotai silk over a wooden frame that's a bit bigger than the intended size of the painting.

2. Using a squeeze bottle of ungutta resist, draw the lines of the desired image.

3. When the resist has dried (it will look darker), add chemical water to concentrated liquid silk dyes and mix the desired colors and tints. Using a watercolor style of painting, brush colors on the silk, dropping bits of rock salt onto the wet dye to create pebbly textures. Because the silk is so absorbent, the dye spreads by itself and stops at the lines, where the resist has sealed the silk.

4. When painting is complete, lay the frame over newspapers and carefully remove the pins, allowing the silk to drop onto the papers. Wrap the work carefully into several layers of newspaper, make a roll, insert it into a long bag, and hang the bag in the steamer. Steaming takes 20 minutes in this homemade type of steamer and when using these particular dyes. Most other dyes require longer steaming and more sophisticated kinds of steamers. Note: Some people steam a single painting at a time in a giant canning kettle, by turning the roll horizontally and coiling it.

5. After 20 minutes of steaming, remove the roll, immediately unwrap the art and hang it to air for several days — the longer the better, as this helps set the dye. Put the painting in a white basin in the sink and fill it with hot water, allowing the water to flow over the top. Hot water releases the resist, allowing the wax in it to float to the surface and be flushed away. This process is continued until the water runs clear of excess color and wax particles.

6. Immediately after rinsing, iron the painting until dry.

7. To frame the silk, use a set of stretchers about 2 inches smaller than the painting frame. Cover the frame with a sealant, and staple a stretched piece of white cotton sheet to the back. Laying the painting and the frame face down over it, carefully pin and then staple the art over the cotton to complete the art for hanging.

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