Silk Dyeing Weekend

On Saturday my friend Margaret hosted another Quilting Day. Well, I think of them as Craft Days since I don’t quilt and a whole range of craftiness takes place at them – and sometimes a lot more conversation and laughs than crafting.

It occurred to me that this might be a good opportunity to work at one of my Projects for 2011 – using up and getting rid of all my silk painting things. So I put out an email seeing if anyone coming along would like to have a go at dyeing a silk scarf, with the lure of taking it home at the end of the day. I had plenty of takers and had lots of fun showing them my quick and dirty way of dyeing silk scarves.

(In my opinion, there are three aspects of silk painting that are too time consuming, expensive or hard to do at home. Firstly there’s the stretchers. I made my own because I couldn’t afford to buy one. Mine held two edges of the cloth in a way that didn’t let you paint them, which didn’t matter at the time because pre-hemmed scarves weren’t on the market yet, but once they were my stretcher was redundant. Secondly, the setting of the dye relied on someone nearby running a steaming service, or doing it at home. Doing it at home always resulted in water getting in, dyes running and crease marks. Thirdly, the hemming took FOREVER. You could carefully pull out threads on the edges of square scarves to make a ‘fringe’, but this took just as long because the silk is so fine, fragile and sticks to itself like spider web.

My method eliminated the first two annoyances. Forget stretchers – I scrunch up the fabric and dab it into dishes of dyes until I’m satisfied with the coverage. The colour combines in a lovely mottled way. Then I leave them to dry scrunched up, and with certain dyes this intensifies the colour on the outside folds because they dry faster. Then I steam them all scrunched up, wrapped loosely in paper towel and tied with string like little dumplings, and then protected from condensation drips within the pressure cooker within a ‘cup’ of aluminium foil, and the flaws created by water getting in and crease marks become part of the textural beauty of the dye.)

By the end of the day all of my pre-hemmed scarves and two ties were dyed, steamed and in the possession of happy crafters. That left one pre-fringed scarf and various scraps of silk. So on Sunday I got to work on my own, dyeing and experimenting all morning and then tending the pressure cooker all afternoon.

I took most of the finished fabric and some of the scarves I’d done the day before to a dinner with interstate and local friends, and found homes for three pieces. That left me with this lot to photograph today:

Experimenting produced some interesting results. The first two of these scraps were left to dry pleated in two different directions, and the third I tried dotting with gutta first to see if I’d get white spots: (I didn’t, because the gutta is water based and just dissolved.)

This one I hung by the middle as it dried, and then steamed it coiled up, which gave it a tie-dye look:

This one was the last I dyed. I tried adding silver and gold gutta to black dye. It didn’t dissolve, but fragmented enough that I got flecks of metallic paint all over the scarf, which I love:

Knowing that I’d run out of silk before I ran out of dye, I also tried dyeing silk yarn. I bought these two skeins at Morris & Sons in Sydney. They were not cheap, so I was rather dismayed to find that, outside the dimly-lit shop, what had been an intense purple was actually a bit paler than I’d thought and getting dangerously close to pink:

I dripped navy dye all over them and popped them in the pressure cooker, and to my relief the dye took:

Which made me very happy, because I have been struggling to think of what to do with this yarn for two years and the only thing stopping me from gifting it to the op shop was that it had cost me $70 for these two small skeins.

I’m also feeling pretty pleased with myself because what had filled this tub:

Now fits into this small shoe box:

Which, along with the pressure cooker, will go in with my yarn/fabric dyes. All the paint brushes, plastic lids and dishes for mixing dye, pipettes for gutta and drop sheets are now stowed with my art stuff.

Which means I can make my first tick against one of my Projects of 2011. Yippee!