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.