How to Paint Silk for Quilting

Create your own fabric designs with an ancient Japanese dyeing method.


In this tradition, a special smooth wax is brushed onto silk with a natural-bristle brush to serve as a resist to the dyes used. Dyes are also brushed onto the fabric in the areas where those colors are a desired part of the design. And when you get to the quilting stage, consider these tips:

  • Use nylon monofilament for quilting to allow the dyed fabric to shine. For extra sparkle, try rayon thread.
  • Baste with small, fine safety pins.
  • Use free-motion quilting to complement the design, working slowly and deliberately to prevent the silk from puckering.

Here's how to paint your own silk:

Materials and Tools:

design sketch transferred to drawing paper, outlined with a black marker
fabric pencil
100 percent silk crepe de chine
stretching frame with hooks or thumbtacks
silk dyes in assorted colors
dye dilutant
small containers for mixing dyes
watercolor brushes (No. 10 round brush, 1-inch flat brush)
2 jars of water
blending brush
2-inch-wide foam brush
4 ounces of beeswax
6 ounces of paraffin
electric deep-frying pan
natural-bristle brush (sumi brush)
cloth towel for wiping brushes
paper towels
embroidery hoop
silk steamer


1. Pre-wash the silk to remove any sizing or other fabric treatments. Iron it to dry.

2. Stretch the silk on the stretching frame, making sure to make it as tight as possible.

3. Lay the design under the stretched silk and trace it onto the fabric with a fabric pencil.

4. Stretch a small piece of silk on an embroidery hoop for testing dye combinations.

5. Wearing loves, mix the desired colors of dyes, test them on the silk in the embroidery hoop and wait for the dyes to dry to see their true colors. Most dyes should be mixed with a small amount of dilutant according to the manufacturer's instructions. Avoid inhaling the dye fumes as much as possible.

6. Brush a wash of clean water onto the stretched silk with the foam brush.

7. Brush the first layer of dye onto the wet silk with the watercolor brushes. Before the silk begins to dry, blend the dye into the silk with the blending brush.

8. Wait for the silk to dry completely.

9. While the silk is drying, put the beeswax and paraffin in an electric deep-frying pan in a well-ventilated area and set the temperature to about 250 degrees. Getting the wax to the exact temperature in the frying pan requires some experimentation, so allow time to figure it out. The perfect temperature for the wax is high enough that the wax paints onto the silk without forming a whitish border but not so high that it begins smoking. Test the wax on newspaper first. Note: Paraffin is a petroleum product, and the fumes are toxic. Keep a cover on the wax pot when you aren't using the wax.

10. Dip the natural-bristle brush into the melted wax and swirl it in the wax for 2 minutes. This prepares the brush for painting the wax smoothly onto the silk. Don't leave the brush sitting in the wax pot-this will burn the bristles and ruin the brush. Always hold the brush in the liquid wax, and avoid brushing it along the metal of the pot.

11. Once the silk is completely dry and the wax is the correct temperature, paint the wax into the silk in the desired areas to create a resist to the additional layers of dye.

12. When the wax has cooled, apply another wash of clean water to the silk with the foam brush.

13. Brush another layer of dye onto the web silk with the watercolor brushes, and blend them into the silk with the blending brush.

14. Wait for the silk to dry completely.

15. Apply another layer of wax to the design.

16. Continue applying layers of dye and wax until the desired effect is achieved.

17. Allow the silk to dry overnight, and then steam-set the dyes according to the dye manufacturer's instructions.

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