Three Weeks Without a Stitch

I sew a lot, and the only way three weeks without it is possible is when I am travelling. We had a lovely holiday in Austria in autumn (their autumn, our spring), and here are a few photos to share.


Hallstatt, one of the oldest continuous settlements in Europe, dating from the Stone Age.

Famous Austrian cakes, yum! Low calorie of course ( — ha, so NOT).

Stroll through Graz revealing hidden gems.

Riegersburg Castle with amazing views.

Sojourn in the mountains.

A day trip to Udine in Italy.

Wine festival on the Hungarian border.

Beautiful old house and barn.

On our way to  Munich airport, to fly home, a fabulous baroque palace, Schloss Schleissheim.

The Michele Oka Doner Dress

On occasion I have heard some of my women friends say that they  wished they could just wear a uniform, to make daily dressing and getting out the door easier. Something flattering and easy care, that they know will look good and of which they have a never ending (and preferably perfectly ironed) supply. I personally could live in silk harem pants and loose tunics, although I wear all sorts of other things too.

But I heard of an artist, a sculptor, who literally wears the same dress, in different colours and fabrics, all the time. Apparently she once bought the original dress in a shop and liked it so much that she kept getting it copied from then on. Her name is Michele Oka Doner. Here is an article about here and her work.

She looks pretty good, doesn’t she? I love her work too, you should google it and have a look. While I don’t think I would have the discipline to stick to one perfect dress for years and years, I wouldn’t mind just one copy of her dress for myself.

As luck would have it, I had just the right pattern in my stash. I found it years ago in an Italian magazine and have used it several times, but the mag is probably in pattern mag heaven by now.  If you want to get your hands on something similar, the StyleArc Toni Designer dress below is very close.

The tutorial on how to shorten it shows the pattern pieces:

To make the Michelle Oka Doner dress you need to take out the centre front seam and make a simple round neck instead of the collar. You also need to add the arm scyes and sleeves from a pattern that fits you well in that area. Here are a couple of my own previous versions.

For the cowl I made a trapeze shape, self lined, about the width of my shoulders at the bottom and considerably narrower towards the top. The fabric is an off white ponte. It will show the dirt like crazy, but winter white is so dressy and a good colour for me too. I wore the dress for a big zero birthday party and felt very chic.   🙂

After I published this post Harriet Snow commented that the Tina Givens Iris pattern is also very close, or a ‘dead ringer’ as they say in Australia. This gives anyone wanting to make it another option. The sleeves are cut on in this version, which by necessity makes the bodice looser at the top. I prefer a closer fit in this area, but the Tina Givens version is undeniably closer to the original.


And a look at the pattern pieces:



One More Time…

… because it was so much fun. After my last silk wrap did not quite work out as I planned, I thought carefully about what might have gone wrong and I think I came up with a reasonable explanation. Once you know what went wrong, it’s not too hard to put it right.

Silk dye has to be made permanent with the addition of a fixative. I use soda ash (plus salt and a couple of other things, but the soda ash is the important fixative). You can add the soda ash to the dye solution and paint it all onto the fabric together. That makes sure that there is sufficient fixative available to bond dye and fabric permanently. Going with this method sounds like a no-brainer, but there is a downside to it. Once you mix the soda ash with the dye, the mixture has a short life span. It only lasts for about an hour before the dye capacity deteriorates. Anything left over after a dye session has to be discarded. To avoid this you can keep the soda ash and the dye separate, in which case you can then keep any left over dye in the fridge for weeks, until the next project. I guess it is a way of conserving dye, which is expensive. But in my case, because of the large pieces of silk I like to use, it is possibly false economy. Letting the dye mix lack enough soda ash to fix the dye into the fabric during the painting process makes the painting process ineffective, and therefore wastes dye just the same as throwing away leftovers.

Before I realised this, I have tried to keep dye and fixative separate, by soaking the silk in the soda ash solution, then squeezing it out a bit and hanging it up onto my frame. If I was working with cotton jersey, the fabric would be capable of soaking up and holding quite a lot of the soda ash liquid, enough to fix the dye once it is painted on. But silk is VERY thin. Once I have hung it up it is still wet, but the amount of soda ash solution in the fabric is not a lot.

So when I then take a big brush and a lot of liquid dye to rapidly cover the silk with my all-over undercoat (usually the lightest colour), I probably end up washing a lot of the soda ash solution out of the fabric with the dye that drips through the fabric to the ground. This first coat gets fixed with what soda ash there is, but the next, darker colour probably has no soda ash left to act as a fixative. Hence it washes out. To make matters worse, with the previous project I also used a soda ash solution that I had made up weeks beforehand, maybe not such a good idea.

I did notice that a lot of dye washed out of that previous, unsuccessful wrap when I rinsed it, lending weight to the idea that there was not enough soda ash available to fix the dye into the fabric.

So with the next project I made sure to supply lots of fixative. I soaked the silk in the soda ash solution as before, but tried not to squeeze it out too much. Then I put some of the fixative solution in a spray mist bottle and made sure the silk was throughly soaked before I started painting it with the dye. After the application of the first coat of dye I sprayed again with the soda ash solution. Then I put on the next coat. Then more soda ash spray, another, darker colour and finally another spray with the soda ash.

This is it wet.

To stop the inevitable drying process to be too fast, I I started late in the day after the sun had gone out of my yard and only an hour or so before the daylight started to fade. When I checked five hours later in the dark at 9pm, the silk wrap was still very wet. Not much dye came off on my fingers, telling me that most of it had been fixed into the fabric. Success!

So here is the wrap once washed and dried. The colour is still nearly as intense as when it was wet. It is the first time I have achieved this, usually the dried colours have been less intense. I am not sure if it is due to the red/pink colour scheme, or because I sprayed so much fixative onto the silk during the painting process. I am hoping for the latter.

Scrumptious, even if I say so myself. I used slightly different colours this time, as it is for DDIL, who requested a ‘dark pink’. I hope she likes it!

I think in future I will just add the fixative chemicals in with the dye. I am getting quite good at judging how much dye I need to mix up for a project, and to be honest, I am not that fond of dye jars in my fridge. There is enough edible junk in there without any strange chemicals that someone might drink by mistake. I will keep spraying with the soda ash solution though, at least when painting large pieces. Small scarves are probably OK  without extra fixative, although it might help to make the last coat, usually the darkest colour, more pronounced.

What on Earth ……?

Silk painting is simple and rewarding, and yet from time to time you get a completely unexpected outcome. Of the kind you wish you hadn’t. Fortunately it is almost impossible to make a piece of silk look bad. So even if it didn’t turn out the way you expected, it will still look beautiful.

A case in point is my latest project. I had been thinking about a wine red silk wrap, possibly crushed. My inspiration was this gorgeous red silk wrap from Amalthee Creations.

I started with a piece of white China silk,  2m x 1.5m machine hemmed with silk thread so the thread would take the dyes along with the fabric. I stretched this out on my brand new frame DH made me out of plumbing tubes. It is 2.5m x 1.5m, a little unwieldy but about the size I need for painting yardage. Scarves and wraps are smaller, but can still use this frame.

I propped it up on the lawn with the old garden chairs I have been using to attach the silk to for painting, and tethered it to the clothesline to stop me from accidentally knocking it off its perch. One of these days I will get proper clips and stretchable rope to fix my silk into the frame, but for now I am using the masking tape and pin method. You fix masking tape to the frame, preferably multi layers,  and pin the fabric onto this. It is cheap and reusable, and until I find suitable clips it will be good enough.

So I stretched my silk onto the frame, not too tightly because it wasn’t necessary for this particular project. I just wanted the silk to be horizontal enough so the rock salt I was intending to use would not roll into the centre. Rock salt? Yes, despite my inspiration being a solid colour, I wanted colour variations. I wasn’t sure and wanted to keep my options open whether to crush the scarf at the end or not, and a solid colour uncrushed would be too boring for my taste.

Rock salt works by sucking up the dye and the result are  interesting patterns. This is what it looks like. The white spots are the salt, which will be washed away, and the patterns form around the salt.

One word of warning if you do anything using salt over lawn. You must be very careful that the salt doesn’t drop onto it, because salt will kill vegetation, PERMANENTLY. Nothing will grow there ever again as long as the salt stays in the soil! In my case, when the silk was dry, I unpinned it and folded it up very carefully with the salt inside, enlisting DH’s help, so the salt would not escape until it was washed out in the laundry tub.

Once the silk had dried I thought it looked lighter than I had planned. With the salt all over the fabric applying a darker coat would be problematic, so I decided I would apply a darker red where it WAS possible, which was along the borders. I mixed up a more concentrated batch of dye and set to work. 

The darker dye defined the edges of the scarf nicely and rivulets of the darker red ran from the raised edges towards the centre, a very nice effect. I was quite proud of my creation.
Imagine my surprise when I had washed and dried the wrap and ended up with this. None of the darker edges had taken and even the salt patterns were very faint.

The wrap is still nice, the beautiful silk just shines through. I could have either left it or crushed it and it would have made a beautiful wrap. However,  I wanted to have a go at darkening the red, as I had it in mind for a friend of mine, and she loves that colour.

So I overdyed the wrap in my camping washing machine I use for immersion dyeing. The mix was 1.5 teaspoons of red, quarter teaspoon of black and half a teaspoon of yellow. The yellow is to stop the mix from going too much into purple, as the black is blue based. This pushes the dark red a bit more into the brown and makes it a nice deep burgundy.

Not bad, even if I say so myself. It looks a bit multi coloured in the pic, but is solid all over. The salt patterns had pretty much disappeared. I also dyed a plain white piece of silk chiffon at the same time and it came  out exactly the same colour, even though it had started out white and the other piece pink. Interesting.

I would love to know why the dark edges I originally painted on the wrap did not take. All I can think of is that I let the fabric dry before painting them on. Maybe that is not such a good idea.

I painted another scarf before I started on the red one, where I painted all the colours on rapidly before anything had a chance to dry. The result was reassuringly predictable.

The dimensions were 1.5m x 0.4m, which makes a nice infinity scarf, folded in half and looped doubly around the neck.

… And the same in black and red…

More Babies!

Our family has had two new additions, little Clara Rosa born last October and now little Edward George born in April. They are both absolutely gorgeous and grandma has been busy sewing.

Baby Edward, known as Teddy, has a lot of clothing from his big brother, but with a new baby you want some new clothes as well. His mum wanted a wrap jackets and harem pants, so grandma dug into her baby fabric stash and made this outfit. It is a newborn size and won’t fit him for long, but at least he won’t get lost in it. The buttons could be a safety concern, except that in 50 years of sewing not one of my hand sewn buttons has ever come off, and I sewed these on extra carefully.

The top is the Newborn Kimono pattern from Purl Soho and the pants are the tiny harem pants from All Sewing Patterns. Both patterns are free.

Little Clara has recently started on solids, and her mum has requested some serious coverage bibs. I came across the idea of the bapron, or baby apron on Pinterest.

You can buy the pattern at Craftiness is not Optional, but I made mine from an online picture I found after a Google image search.

To get the pattern, I used the method described in my post How to Print a Pattern from a Sketch. As a size guide I used an RTW t-shirt I had on hand. I am sorry not to be able to show these off on my cute DGD, and will remedy this asap when I visit her in Shanghai next week.

This version is a sinfully expensive Marimekko fabric, but nothing is too good to be gunked on by a precious granddaughter! Fortunately there is enough left for a pretty Marimekko dress for her when she is a little older.

The other version is a jersey knit bought at Remant Warehouse, cheap but cute, and best of all with koalas to remind her of home.

I backed all the bibs using a pink towel found in great-grandma’s linen press after she passed away and we cleared out the house. Nice touch I think. Great-grandma would be pleased her towel has been put to such good use.

African Zombie

I’m not sure if there is such a thing as an African zombie, I think zombies are native to the Caribbean, aren’t they? But what else can you call my latest block printing motif, when I only has one eye and hair standing up in all directions?

Last time I went to Rathdowne Remnants in Melbourne, I picked up a piece of brown linen from one of their remnant bins. It seemed a really good quality, but I could see why it was still for sale when there was not a lot of other linen left: the brown colour was especially unappealing. But I thought I could do something with it and so it came home with me. Then, when I came across some African graphics online I thought a couple of them would be the right look for my linen piece.

I have always liked the combination of black and brown, it is counter intuitive but somehow the black gives the accompanying brown a sort of coppery-gold appeal. And African looking graphics compliment those colours well.

But what to make out of the fabric? When I bought it, I had a sleeveless maxi dress in mind. Not a bad idea, except that I don’t wear dresses a lot. I feel too dressed up, if you pardon the pun. What does get worn, day after day after day, are tunics over pants. With my linen being a bit over 2m, I decided I had enough for a long sleeve tunic with a modest cowl.

For a pattern I used an Vogue 8542, now OOP. It is meant for knits and very oversized. I have made it up many times, always in a size 8, which goes to show how much ease there is. But this time I was using a woven, and therefore I went two sizes up to a 12. Possibly a little over the top, as the fit through the upper bodice is quite loose. I did want the dropped shoulders for comfort and to be able to wear a long sleeve tee underneath in colder weather, and the downside is the looser fit. If you want to read up on the details of the sewing process, please go to my entry on Pattern Review.

On to the printing details. Please skip these if block printing is not something you are interested in.

I always start my new printing session on paper, to make sure the block is carved properly and no extra bits show up. It also allows me to work out print placements and patterns. This time I was using two blocks, so this was particularly important. You want the finished piece to have a nice even distribution of motifs and a pleasing balance of fabric and ink.

I usually cut out my garment pieces and print them in the flat. I could print the whole fabric length, but that is a lot of extra work. I do join the shoulder seams on the front and back pieces, because the print placement around the face is important. I don’t overlock/serge the seams because it would add extra bulk that will show up when you place a print over it. With this project I also had a centre back seam, which I ironed flat with the seam allowances apart for the same reason. If you need to overlock it can be done later.

I did a grid of one motif first and then filled in the other one in between. When placing the motifs I use my hand or fingers as a guide (a whole hand’s width or so many fingers between motifs) and also the motifs themselves, i.e. how far to overlap the rows. I am reasonably good at this, but if you are starting out you may need more help with a ruler or a piece of thread placed across the fabric piece.

One bonus of using black paint was that I found colour penetration on the fabric to be especially good. Probably because I have been printing pastels for a while which are heavily mixed with super cover white, a paint that is quite thick. The black in comparison is much more runny. I also wet the foam roller first, squeezing out the excess, but the depth of the roller stays wet, stopping the paint from getting gluggy as it builds up in the foam over time. I use the foam roller to ink up my block, and the quality of paint it deposits is important.

I fix the ink in the hot dryer once it has air dried on a clothes rack. The inks I use are screen printing inks called Permaset, an Australian brand but I think they are available overseas as well. If you want a detailed explanation of the printing process in my posts Block Printing on Linen and Leaf Print Version 2.

Here are a few more pictures of the finished tunic.


Linked to blogger party RUMS

Live and Learn

There really is no substitute for experience. As I get more and more into fabric dyeing, printing and painting, I not only learn about what effects different techniques can achieve, but also what I will end up liking and using and what not. Sometimes the latter is quite counter intuitive. 

A case in point was when I branched out from painting silk to painting some of my existing boring white tops I wasn’t wearing. A couple of years ago I was mad keen on the new linen jerseys available, and I bought a few metres of white and made a couple of tunics. Problem was, that the white linen jersey was rather thin and quite sheer. You couldn’t really wear the sleeveless tunic I made without a tank top underneath, and what is the sense in that? If it is hot enough to wear sleeveless, would you really want a double layer?

The short sleeve version I also made with the white linen jersey made more sense worn with a tank underneath, but I found that I wasn’t wearing that either. I think the plain white just wasn’t exciting enough, once I got over the novelty value of the linen knit. So it hung in my wardrobe, unworn, but too good to get rid of because of the expensive fabric.

That was until I was all fired with zeal from my silk painting experiences and was looking the next project. So I took the short sleeve tunic, put it on a hanger, stuffed it with a large plastic sheet to stop the fabric surfaces from touching each other when wet with dye and had a go.

It didn’t work as well as I had hoped, and yet it was more of a success than I first thought.


From a technique point of view, the fabric dye didn’t spread nearly as well as it had with the silk. This is because the silk is much thinner and the dye runs and mixes like you wouldn’t believe. With the linen the dye stays put a lot more, which makes WHAT you actually paint on the fabric more important than it is with silk. With the silk, you just slap on the dye any which way, and apart from choosing and balancing the colours, what you actually paint on the fabric is not that important.

Fabrics thicker than silk such as a jersey knit are a different kettle of fish. I didn’t realise this when I painted the linen top, and once I had, it was of course too late. The deed was done.

I tried again with the sleeveless top, making it wetter before I started painting. Better I think, but still room for improvement.

Strangely, even though I felt a little disappointed with the painting job I did, I have worn the tops a lot. They have a relaxed hippy vibe I really enjoy on the weekends. Somehow the fact that they are not good enough to be suitable for work makes them favourites during my time off. Horses for courses, apparently, and that is a part of the learning process too.

But I think apart from painting the fabric very wet, the colour strength is important too, unless you want a particularly dark result. When I later painted some muslin bunny rugs (also called receiving blankets or nursery squares depending on which part of the world you live in), I not only painted them dripping wet, but also diluted the dyes heavily to get a more pastel look. I like the results a lot.



Encouraged I painted some tshirts for DGS where the colours have blended almost as much as with silk. I hung up the tees sopping wet with fixative and slopped on a lot of heavily diluted dye. Sort of like tie dying without the ties.  I used old pantyhose to hang them on my clothes horse and stuffed them with plastic bags to prevent dye soaking through from front to back. The latter may be unnecessary as I realised later.


Once they had been washed and dried I block printed the white dinosaur shapes. I made the stamps with foam stick on shapes I had bought at Eckersley, our local art materials chain. I stuck two shapes on top of each other to a piece of perspex. I think three shapes would have been better  as I kept getting ink on the backing when inking up with the roller and had to wipe it off.

DGS is crazy about dinosaurs and knows all the exotic ones. Unfortunately grandma only had some common garden variety dinosaur shapes for printing, but the shirts went down well anyway. 


…and the back where you can see the colours a bit better…
Pity I didn’t photograph the tees when they were nicely ironed after I fixed the prints. Catching up on that later when they had already been worn and washed was not the same, a long way from the glossy marketing photos on the online RTW sites.

To talk technique for those interested, the dye needs to be mixed with a ‘fixative’ to take properly, which is a soda ash solution and a bit of salt. You can mix this in with the dye and paint it all on together, but the mixture will only be active for an hour before it becomes exhausted and doesn’t dye properly anymore. For longer painting sessions, you would have to mix up your dyes every hour, which is not really economical, because you would inevitable mix up a bit more than you actually need to make sure you don’t run out before you finish a garment. The leftovers would end up wasted. But the Drimarene K alone dissolved in water will last for a long time if not mixed with the soda ash. So instead of wetting the garments/fabric length in plain water, I soak them in the soda ash solution before painting, and give myself more time to use up the dyes. You still get some of the soda ash into the dye as you move the brush from dye to fabric and back again, but not a lot. To eliminate this altogether, you could try squirting the dye on with a squirt bottle. I think this would work particularly well with thick fabrics and t-shirts. You could lay the latter flat and soak the front and back with dye at the same time. Like I said earlier, like tie dyeing without the ties.

For detailed instruction on the dye painting process and dye recipes, please refer to my previous post ‘Silk and Paint! Yay!’

The Technicolour Dream Coat

Lately I have been fascinated by 1920ies flapper dresses.

Aren’t they absolutely gorgeous? They must have been such a fashion revolution after the tight corsets and enormous skirts of earlier eras, a complete reversing of the silhouette everyone was used to. I can just imagine the outcry of ‘no waist’ and ‘hopelessly frumpy and shapeless’. But they were a major turning point in fashion, much for the better as far as comfort and ease of movement are concerned,  and their aesthetic has stood the test of time.

So when DH announced that he had organised a party to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary, naturally I thought that this would be the occasion I had been waiting for to make myself a flapper dress. But when I thought about it a bit more rationally, I realised that a) I didn’t have much time, b) I had absolutely no experience with any kind of embellishment and c) no design wanted to pop into my head they way they usually do. Then the party was going to be on a boat, and it is usually pretty cool on the water in the evening, and to top it all of I just wanted to enjoy a nice time with family and friends without imposing a formal dress code, which would mean shopping hassles and expense for a goodly number of them.

So let my nearest and dearest feel comfortable and enjoy themselves in ‘smart casual’, which most people have at the ready, and I will wear what I want, as I usually do, but not so over the top as a lace, ruffle and bead ecrusted flapper dress. Not that I mean to sacrifice comfort either, so out with my trusty LBD, which in reality is a matching set of black silk tunic and pants, also known as evening pyjamas in bygone times. What could be more comfortable than silk pyjamas? And over the top of this little nod to vintage will be something very 21st century, not to mention something able to keep me warm against the cool sea breezes.

I have to say, when the millennium first turned, I thought it would never find its own style. We had revival after revival, the 70ies, 80ies, 90ies, the vintage craze, you name it, everything but something new. Then slowly something like 21st century style started to emerge, with pleated bodices, ruches, tucks and drapings, and my personal favourite, asymmetric and shaped hemlines. Hurray for the latter especially. I am going to cry buckets when this trend finally becomes dated, not only because a shaped hem on a top is so much more flattering than a straight one for pears like me, but also because I have entirely lost the skill, if I ever had it, of making a plain straight hem.

Unlike a design for a flapper dress, the idea of the technicolour dream coat popped into my head without any conscious effort whatsoever, thanks to my recent silk painting craze. My love for the above mentioned extravagantly shaped hemlines did the rest. I even had a pattern I have very successfully made up before, several times, which is always a good start.

It is Vogue 8659, which is now sadly OOP.

The more observant among you will have noticed that this is a dress pattern, not a pattern for a coat, but that is neither here not there. With a little imagination this is a very versatile pattern, I have even thought that it would make a very nice jumpsuit, if you sewed up the curved hem and left the lower diagonal sides open for your legs. You would have to install a zipper, or similar, to climb in through the neck opening, but that is not a problem. One day I will make this jumpsuit, but not for now. The idea of trying to use a tiny boat toilet in something you have to take off first does not appeal.

For a coat version, all you have to do is to leave the CF seam open and cut on a facing. I also decided to snug up the neckline, as a wide and sloppy neck on a jacket or other topper does not look good in my opinion.

To put my plan into action, I painted up 3m of silk shantung, left over from DD’s wedding dress, in turquoise blue and black. It looked rather good as soon as it was done, even if I say so myself.

Here it is wet.

And slightly less intense, but still pretty good, once it has dried.


And here is the finished product. You can read all about the sewing process on Pattern Review.



Linked to the blogger party RUMS.

From Skirt to Dress

I really love this Marcy Tilton skirt.


You can read my previous blog posts out it here and see a couple of my versions below.

rust MT skirt2  MT skirt with navy tunic

But I always thought that this skirt shape would make an awesome bottom part to a dress. I had 3m of a cheap cotton bought at a Spotlight sale on hand, so I thought why not give it a try?

The bodice part of the dress would have to be simple, with all the drama and volume going on lower down. So I used my trusty Eva dress bodice again, my go-to pattern which fits me well in the shoulders, armscyes and bust, and combined it with the skirt part lower down. There was a fair bit of winging-it going on in the middle, as you can see from the photo.

cutting out
The Eva pattern piece, traced on paper because you need the full version, not just half with an assymmetric pattern, placed on one end, and the main pattern piece of the skirt on the other. A lot of fudging to make the two meet up as a dress. I misjudged the length I had to add in the middle and the dress turned out a little longer than I intended, I would have preferred tea length, but I think I can live with it as it is.

I followed the principle of ‘fitted at the top and freewheeling and loose lower down’, which is my usual approach to Lagenlook dresses. It did not turn out too bad at the first try, but I took in the sides a bit more from armscye to high hip to accentuate the bubble lower down. Otherwise the dress looks just straight up and down with a bit of rounding off at the hem. As it is, because of the printed fabric, the bubble construction gets rather lost, even after I topstitched all the bubble seams for emphasis. Maybe I should hand pick these style lines with a green embroidery cotton on top of the stitching, like a hand picked zipper. Not sure to be honest, I will need to marinate that idea for a while.

I added some volume to the skirt in parts to keep it in proportion with the upper part of the dress. As for the nitty-gritty of the sewing process, you can read all about it on Pattern Review.

MT skirt dress4MT skirt dress1MT skirt dress4

Looking at the photos I think I could also have put in a dropped waist seam and joined the skirt to that. I have a bit of a tummy these days, so I don’t wear tight-waisted styles any more, but a dropped waist is more roomy and would look ok at high hip level. A bit of a flange would be a nice detail at that point. I might try this again in a plain linen with those changes. In the photo below there is a bit of a horizontal white patch at waist level, which almost looks like a seam there, which gave me the idea.

MT skirt dress5

Silk and Paint! Yay!

bluegreen painting

If ever there was a match made in heaven, it must be white silk and the gloriously intense colours of silk paint. I have no idea why I waited so long to get back to silk painting, hand painted silks are just made for Lagenlook. The painting process is a bit messy, but nothing that can’t be managed. And it is absolutely well worth the effort.


For dyeing, I have been using both Dharma Tradings Procion MX dyes and Batik Oetoro’s Drimarene K. Procion works really well for cottons and linens, and has a great range of pre-mixed colours, not to mention that it is very economical, but for silk, ‘the colours tend to shift’, as it says on the Dharma website. This bland understatement means is that you don’t get the colour you expect, and mostly not in a good way either. Dharma has silk dyes that do a much better job with silk, but I prefer to use a local product, which is the Drimarene sold by Batik Oetoro. It is quite a bit more expensive, but I think easier to use and the colours are wonderfully predictable. I can try them out on paper if I need to get an idea about a new combo before I risk ruining some expensive silk, and the finished result on the fabric won’t be that different. A bit paler probably when it has been washed and dried, but essentially the same. That is particularly important when mixing up a new colour.

Batik Oetoro have a number of recipes for different Drimarene K dyeing processes on their website. I use the one for the hand painting process below:



1. Dissolve 10g DR-33 thickener in 1 litre of cold water add teaspoon of acetic acid, stir. If no thickener necessary omit step 1

2. Dissolve

A. 60g Urea and 5g Resist Salt in a little hot water.

B. 40g Soda Ash and 25g Bicarbonate of Soda in a little boiling water.

3. Combine A and B together and add cold water to make 1 litre, bottle and use as needed. (Chemical water)

4. Dissolve dye, add prepared A & B solution and DR-33 ( or Manutex) paste. Adjust to required consistency by adding either more A&B solution (or DR-33 paste if thickener is used).

Once the chemicals are added to the dye solution the prepared mixture must be used within hour.

5. Apply to fabric and leave to dry as long as possible, then rinse in cold water containing SYNTHRAPOL and few drops of vinegar.


I don’t use thickener, because I want my paint to flow freely and run as much as possible to achieve a watercolour effect. I also replace the resist salt with ordinary cooking salt (NOT iodised). I was told that this was ok when I tried to buy the resist salt, and so far using the substitute has worked for me just fine.

I prepare the chemicals in the water solution and fill them into a bottle. Make sure you label it well, so nobody will be tempted to drink this concoction. I don’t think it is poisonous, but it won’t do your husband or kids any good either. It really is best not to use a food container for chemicals to avoid mix ups.

With the bottle of chemical water at the ready I set up the fabric. I use four old chairs for the four corners of the fabric length, and attach masking tape to the top of the chair backs. Then I pin the fabric to this masking tape with a normal pin. It is a good idea to double up the masking tape in the area where you pin, or it might tear. If you have more than 2 m of fabric to paint, you may want to use additional chairs or use something else to support the fabric. As it is, the fabric sags between the attachment points, creating a sort of vortex at the lowest point once you apply the paint. I rather like that effect, but if you don’t, you may want to spray large sheets of cardboard with spray adhesive to hold your fabric while you paint. Or fix the fabric to the cardboard with thumbtacks or pins. I have not tried this, but will if or when the need arises.



I mix up my paints, meaning I put a couple of teaspoons of dye powder into a plastic cup and add hot water to dissolve the powder. Don’t use too much water, you still have to add the chemical solution in the bottle and you don’t want to dilute the dye too much. You don’t need at lot of dye. A third of a plastic cup for each colour is heaps.

One important point about the dye: it only works on natural fibres. It dyes my wooden chairs (just as well they are ancient), but the small plastic camping washing machine I use for dyeing, the Chux cloth I use to clean up the dye drips, the plastic cups I use to hold the dyes, and pretty much anything else of man made origin remains completely untouched. That is very handy to know in case of spills. Oh, and wear gloves. This stuff dyes skin beautifully and semi permanently, at least until the top layer of skin is sloughed off. I use a plastic scouring pad to try and keep my hands respectable, but gloves are much less painful. And I also wear black clothes, old ones, just in case.

Once the paint is ready I put some of the chemical water into a spray bottle and spray the silk until it is thoroughly soaked. I don’t think this would work with cotton or linen, you would need to immerse these fabrics. But silk is so thin that it soaks easily with the spray bottle.

When my fabric is soaked all over I take a big paint brush, dip it into the paint and start to paint freehand. I start with the lightest colour, because I can paint over the top of this if need be. If there is too much of a dark colour on the fabric there is nothing you can do to fix that. I like to get a nice balance between my colours, and I always add black. Not for any particular artistic reason, I just have a lot of black pants which I want to be able to wear with the finished top. 🙂  Of course if you want to wear pants or a skirt of a different colour, you would try to incorporate that colour instead. But black is easiest to match.

bluegreen painting2

I leave the painted fabric in place to dry, then take it down and leave it overnight. Not sure if the latter is strictly necessary, but it doesn’t hurt. Then I wash it with Synthrapol and vinegar as instructed.

And here is the end result, using the Tessuti Fave Top pattern. You can find a detailed discussion of this pattern here. The finished garment is lighter than the wet fabric, but I just love the colours all the same, so much so that I can’t help looking at them when I am wearing the top and admiring how beautiful all the different shades and combinations are. Pathetic, isn’t it, guess this has turned me into a colour junkie.   🙂

blue tunic2

blue tunic3blue tunic

And fired with zeal, I also painted this scarf. This time I used only turquoise, mid blue and black. If you have a close look you can see how the scarf has been attached to the chairs for painting. (And you can see the paint drips from the previous project still on the tiles).

I bought the silk blank including the fringe at Dharma Trading about 5 years ago, and it has sat in my drawer ever since. But once I got going it only took about 5 mins to do! It made a nice scarf for a friend, I hope she enjoys wearing it.


And here is the red silk made up, again using the Fave Top pattern (link at the start of this post).

red tunic2

red tunic

red tunic3

I narrowed the top across the bust, by scooping out around 5-6 cm on each side where the sleeve joins the bodice, and I also shorted the sleeves a little.  I think you can see the difference in the comparison photo below. When using a fabric with body, I think that it is not a bad idea to make the tunic a bit more flattering in making it look slimmer up top. With a really drapey fabric it wouldn’t matter nearly as much.

And 3m of silk shantung, destined to become an evening coat. First wet…

  …and then dry.

This has been linked to the blogger party RUMS.