Silk Painting Session

with Carole Head

Friday 12th August 2022

Carole Head

Carole began the session by explaining that her objective was to explain how and why she paints silk in the way she does and to give everyone a chance to experience her iron fix method while explaining that there are other methods.

Steam fixing silk paint is the traditional method. Jacquard silk paints are a well known make for this. Steaming can be problematic but it does produce beautiful bright colours.  Home steaming gets the best results when done with a vegetable steamer.  You wrap your silk artwork on a piece of muslin and then in blank newspaper.  Condensation is the enemy as drops can ruin the artwork.  Steam fixing works well with a tie dye design and there are lots of examples of this on YouTube and the internet. It is also possible to steam fix in the microwave. Microwave steam fixing needs the wet in wet technique of silk paint and you cannot use gutta.

Example of microwave steam fixing that produced uneven colour and the design was drawn on with fabric pens as the gutta had come off in the microwave.

Iron fix is much simpler and it is Carole’s preferred method. At all the silk painting classes Carole has attended she was expected to stretch the silk onto a wooden frame by pinning it with special pins.  The pins should always be placed slightly off centre from their opposite number and the silk must be taught but not stretched out of shape.   It is possible to get an adjustable wooden frame but even this is not large enough for a scarf.  For long pieces some people use plastic piping and rubber bands.  Once again there are lots of examples of this on the internet.   It is also possible to stretch silk on an embroidery hoop but the size and shape has its limitations.

An embroidery hoop can be used to stretch the silk. Here the butterfly has been outlined with gold gutta before using blue iron fix paint to paint the butterfly.

Eventually Carole discovered Freezer Paper and found it was perfect for what she wanted to do. It was the right width for the silk scarves she wanted to paint. It is possible to get several long scarves out of one roll of 50 square ft Reynolds Plastic Coated Freezer Paper.  Getting the right temperature to make sure the silk sticks to the paper and yet the iron does not damage the silk is tricky. It is then possible to see through the silk and paper in order to trace an outline design straight onto the silk with the gutta.

Example of a design drawn with gold gutta. This was a practise piece.

Solvent based Gutta is a thick substance that is derived from Indonesian rubber trees (Gutta Percha). It is used almost exclusively for the French Serti Technique of painting on silk. Gutta comes in clear, black, gold metallic and silver metallic.Water-based gutta can take up to half an hour to dry and when using gutta straight from the tubes it can come out rather thickly. Using a hairdryer can speed up the drying time.  The gutta gets fixed to the silk at the same time as the paints when the artwork is ironed at the end of the process.  It is best to leave ironing overnight to ensure everything is dry.

A piece of silk divided in four was used to try out different painting techniques on the silk

Everyone was given a small piece of silk that had already been ironed onto the Freezer paper.  People were encouraged to try to blend colours in one square, to paint wet in wet on another, perhaps try to create a tartan design in another and finally, in the fourth square either dilute paint with water or, if time allowed, to try a little gutta design. However the gutta must be completely dry before paint can be applied.

An example of one of the Silk Craft gutta printed designs ironed onto freezer paper and painted with iron on silk paints.

Silk Craft produce a workshop set of ready prepared gutta printed designs.  Everyone was asked to choose a design and the colours that wanted to work work with for their design.  Only a few drops of each colour was needed and this was put into the wells of the a watercolour palette. After dipping the paint brush into a colour it is applied using only the tip to the centre of the area to be painted in that colour. The paint spreads to the gutta outline leaving the paint to spread rather than painting to the outline. To change to another colour, clean the brush and dry it on kitchen paper.  For the background dilute the paint with water so that it is a third parts water.  Apply this mixture as the background colour.  Salt can be used to create a mottled effect.  To fix the paint iron it once it is dry. 

Example of one of Carole’s silk scarves painted using freezer paper, gold gutta and iron fix silk paints.

There are different weights of silk.  Ponge 5 which is very fine was used for this session.  Ponge 6 is slightly less fine and Habotai 8 is thicker and also more expensive.  Carole buys her silk and silk scarves from Silk Craft.

The paints Carole uses are Pebeo Setasilk that can set by ironing on the reverse side of the painted fabric. 48 hours after having been set, the colours resist hand-washing and dry cleaning. Pebeo paints can be bought from Jacksons Art Supplies, Amazon and other outlets.


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