Painted Silk Scarves with Fiber Reactive Dye

8:28 AM Posted In , , , Edit This 4 Comments »
Welcome to my tutorial on painting silk scarves using Fiber Reactive dyes!

This method works best for satin and velvet devore (burn out) scarves. These scarves are a blend of approximately 20% silk and 80% rayon with silk as the base weave of the scarf and the pile or satin part being rayon. Scarves like this have incredible softness & drape and take colors with an intensity and accuracy not expected of scarves with a higher silk content. (Rayon is a color glutton.)

In fact, allow me to say something about fibers and dyes before we get into instructions here. Silk is a protein fiber, like your hair or wool from a sheep - they are all made by animals. Rayon, cotton, linen, bamboo & hemp are all cellulose fibers. They come from plants. These scarves are patterned by silk screening an acid on the back of the fabric that eats away the cellulose (rayon) fiber but leaves the protein (silk) fiber behind. You end up with a scarf that is partly sheer with a soft velvet or shiney satin pattern in it. Dyes formulated for protein fibers do not work on fabrics made from cellulose fibers. Dyes made for cellulose fibers, like the Procion Fiber Reactive dye that I will be using here, work on some protein fibers but the colors often shift on silk.

For instance, you may have a dye that makes a gorgeous, rich teal blue on cotton or rayon but when you put it on silk, the color shifts toward the green/brown spectrum and ends up looking muddy. You wouldn't want that on a 100% silk scarf but for this technique, that color may not end up being a disaster. You would get a bright clear teal blue in the rayon part and a more muted, sheer greenish color on the silk part. Quite lovely, actually.

Here is everything you will nee. You can get most of this from Dharma Trading Co.

- a silk/rayon scarf with a burn out pattern
- water, preferably warm
- salt (non-iodized)
- soda ash
- a bucket
- two or three containers for dye (those large Kool-aid mix conatiners are great as long as the mouth is not too narrow)
- Procion Fiber Reactive dye in 2 or 3 colors
- 2 or 3 sponge brushes that fit into your dye containers
- a large sheet of plastic or plastic shower curtain
- a wooden spoon never to be used for food again
- two or three teeny mixing containers for saturating the dye powder (old film canisters work great- make sure there are no ridges or bumps on the bottom)
- some bamboo skewers for stirring dye solution
- rubber gloves
- face mask for filtering particulates
- set of measuring cups and spoons dedicated to dyeing (not for food anymore!)
- synthrapol or dish detergent for washing
- some old towels for wiping up spills

First I mix my chemical water. I use the following recipe with my ultra filtered rural water. You may want to consult Dharma's techniqes pages if you have very hard water or urban water with lots of chemicals in it. In fact, when I teach classes in Potsdam, I always bring water with me from home. There is something in Potsdam's water that inhibits blues from fixing - your urban water supply may cause similar problems. If it does, find a friend with a rural supply or try bottled water or filtered water for the dye.

Chemical Water Recipe:
1/2 gallon warm water
1/4 cup soda ash
1/2 cup salt

Mix all of this in your large bucket until the salt and soda ash are dissolved. Some of it may remain in suspension - using warm water helps everything mix more quickly.

Put two cups of chemical water into each of your dye containers and put a few drops (maybe 1/4 tsp) of chemical water into each of your teeny mixing containers. You are about to mix your dye.

A word about colors here: Dyes are transparent and blend like crazy. That is wonderful when you put the right colors next to each other - blue near green or fuschia will blend into beautiful shades of aqua or purple.

Fuschia next to green will turn into mud, and it might not be a nice mud.

While you are still new at blending colors, it is best to stick with two or three colors on the same side of the color wheel. Choosing a pale peach, a firey red and a red violet will give you a nice warm blend. Using blue, green and yellow will give you a mix of bright greens with blue and yellow "edges."

Never, never, never put yellow and purple, red and green or blue and orange next to each other unless you know what they are going to do or are prepared for a surprise.

Put on your face mask (don't worry, you get to take it off soon) and add 1/2 to 1 tsp dye powder to each of your teeny mixing jars. (My recipe calls for 1/4 to 1/2 tsp dye powder per cup of chemical water. Using a full 1/2 tsp will give a deep, vibrant color, using less will result in soft, pastel shades. Dyes with an * after the color name on the bottle require twice s much dye powder.)

Allow the dye powder to sit for a few minutes in the film canisters to soak up the chemical water you dribbled in there earlier. They should soak up the water fairly quickly and start to look like a paste in the bottom of the jar. Some colors do this more readily than others.

The color I have here is fuchsia and it does not blend well. If this is the case with your dye, carefully dribble a few more drops of water along the side of the container but don't flood the dye. The dye will mix much more evenly and leave fewer "explosions" on the fabric if you turn it into a paste before adding more water. **Heads up! - any color with fucshia as a primary will leave explosions, no matter how careful you are. Using a blender might get around it, but I don't have a spare blender for dye. Just stir the paste really, really well, add water gradually and cross you fingers!**

Once your paste is well mixed, add more water, stir that well and pour it into the dye container. Once all of your dye powders are mixed with chemical water, your powder jars are capped and there is no more dye dust floating around, you may remove your mask. People who inhale dust from the dye can develop allergies to them and cannot use them anymore. That would make me sad so I'm very careful not to breathe my dye powders.

Did I mention that you will also want to be wearing gloves? Dye will stain your hands and possibly dry or irritate your skin. You'll want gloves when you're mixing the dye, applying the dye and washing the scarf out.

Now that you have your dye ready, you can lay your scarf out on a large piece of plastic. Stretch it right out full length with no wrinkles and start applying your dye.

I usually start by applying the lightest color in splotches near one end and work my way down to the other end of the scarf before I add another color. This allows the lighest colors have an opportunity to strike the fabric before the darker colors are added. It is easy to darken a lighter color or blend a darker color into a paler shade but it is almost impossible to dilute a darker color or blend it if the darker color goes on first.

I allow the design on the silk to guide me in color placement but I try not to be too rigid. I blend colors by brushing the second and third colors over into previous layers of dye. Make sure that you blend your colors well, especially if you have one color that is dramatically darker than the others. You can see in the last photo that I did not blend the colors well enough on those two scarves. They will still look pretty while being worn but look a bit splotchy or severe just hanging flat.

Once your scarf is completely dyed, fold the plastic over it and rub the plastic with your hands. This will eliminate air bubbles within the batching plastic and will assure that the dye is in full contact with the fabric.

Now fold the plastic up into a neat little package and let it sit somewhere warm - preferrabley 70-90 degrees for at least 4 hours and as long as over night.


If it is summertime or at least warmish where you are, you can take your plastic outside and open it up. Spray the silk briefly with the hose (make sure the water is cold first) and place it in a bucket. Fill the bucket with icy cold water and allow the silk to sit for 1/2 an hour.

If you are winter bound, open the scarf up in the tub, rinse the scarf under cold water and place it in a bucket of icy cold water for 1/2 hour.

The icy cold water will shock the excess dye particles out of the fibers of the fabric. After the half hour has gone, dump the icy water and fill the bucket with warm sudsy water using Synthrapol, Dahrma's Synthrapol substitute or dish detergent.

Agitate and squeeze the silk gently so as not to tangle the fringe too much. You can even leave the scarf to soak in the warm sudsy water for another half hour. DO NOT throw a finged scarf into the washing machine! When you are done washing, dump the bucket and rinse the silk under lukewarm running water until the rinse water is clear or almost clear. Some very dark or bright colors will not totally rinse out with the first washing.

Hang the scarf to dry on a plastic hanger or a plastic rod on a drying rack. Wooden drying racks will accept dye so that the next time you dry something in that spot, you will get a pretty little colorful stripe on it. Metal may discolor the silk.

Take the time to gently untangle the fringe now while the scarf is still wet. It will take a good ten to twenty minutes but will look so much better and save you so much time and hassle later. Trust me!

When your scarf is dry (isn't it beautiful!) iron it face down, using a thick terry cloth towel under velvet to retain the plush pile. You can also use a wide toothed comb to gently comb the fringe as you iron, but if you took the time to untangle while it was wet, you may not need to. Now it is ready to wear or give as a gift!

Next time you wash your scarf, you can hand wash it in the sink using Woolite or shampoo to help retain those beautiful colors! Don't be alarmed by some color bleeding the first few times you wash, unless you have ultra chlorinated water, you shouldn't have serious color loss.

If you really want to try this but are uncertain about what you might need, the folks over at Dharma are very helpful and will answer your questions expertly. I will also be putting a few scarf dyeing kits in Goblin's Market in the next little while that will include a scarf, three colors of dye - enough for dyeing that scarf - and enough soda ash for one half gallon of chemical water. I will also be leading a Velvet Scarf DyeingWorkshop at the SLC Arts Council on December 6th.


kim* said...

oh oh oh so lovely!

GumballGrenade said...

That is such an in depth tutorial! I'm incredibly interested and bookmarking this! I just posted a tutorial on firing PMC clay on my blog today as well!

Virginia Burnett said...

Thank you! Silk painting is so satisfying - you definitely should give it a try. Putting together the tutorial was fun and not as difficult as I had feared. I've babbled my way through this process so many times teaching classes that the hardest part was getting all of the photos where I wanted them and editing all of my type-os.

Fun tutorial on PMC, gumball! I haven't had many opportunities to play with PMC - but it is definitely on my list.

Prithi Venkateshwar said...

Lovely work...
Thank u for the batching instruction.
I use sodium bicarbonate instead of soda ash to hv shelf life of stock solutn


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...