I recently hand-painted a bunch of silk for sale on bobbins in quantities of six, twelve, in limited quantities twenty-four, and to be included in a few of our kits such as the Tapestry/Bead Cuff Bracelet, Affinity Bracelet, Blue Hibiscus Bracelet and the Woven Silk Bracelet as well as in our Craftsy kits designed for use with our Craftsy classe.
Although I love painting silk, it’s always a bit nerve wracking. I initially lose all my confidence that I will be able to come up with colors that are as good as previous batches. I paint silk every few months or more, so there is enough time between sessions that I developed temporary amnesia each time I tackle it. I am always pleasantly surprised at the end of a painting session to discover that all the skeins live up to my high expectations.
The way the process works
First, I order many kilos of Mulberry silk yarn from China. Yup, they make the best silk yarn. The yarn comes on half kilo cones. I then use a skein winder to put up the silk in skeins. Once that is done, I soak the silk in a bath or hot water and citric acid. I use this kind of acid because since it’s made from fruit, it’s not toxic. Vinegar is also an options, but the citric acid has little odor.
Next, I set everything up for dyeing which includes setting up my “for dyeing only” microwave oven, disposable aluminum roasting pans (which I reuse again and again), containers of powdered dye, plastic containers for mixing the dye into a liquid, an electric tea pot for boiling water, paint brushes, spoons, a roll of paper towels and, of course, a pair of disposable plastic gloves. The dye itself is toxic before it’s bonded with the silk so one does not want to touch it directly. Gloves are a must! Wearing a face mask while mixing the dye powder is also a good idea because one does not want to inhale it.
One of my goals when painting silk is to make sure all the dye color goes into the silk and very little down the drain. This, when actually dyeing, is called “exhausting the dye pot.” But it’s different when painting silk. Since I use small plastic containers to mix the dye into a liquid, if I have some leftover after a painting session, I just put a top on the containers and save them for the next painting session. But sometimes there is some dye remaining in the aluminum roasting pans that I just can’t use because I’ve moved on to an entirely different color. So a little bit of dye down the drain is inevitable.
I have about twenty-five containers in which to mix the dye. I put the some powdered dye into the pots, either straight colors or mixing colors so that I come up with a wide variety of options. All along the way, I am replenishing these colors so the teapot must always be filled with hot water. I pour the water from the teapot into a plastic pouring container along with some citric acid (the acid makes the dye absorb into the silk). Then I pour this mixture into each of the dye pots.
I have two approaches to dyeing. The first one is to pour some hot water into the pan and then pour a little dye into that water. I then place one of the skeins in the pan. It will absorb the dye in the water, but since I am light on the dye it just turns the skein a very light color. Next I take my paint brush and dip into the colors I want to paint and I literally paint the silk yarn. Sometimes I will just take a dye pot and pour it over an area of the silk if I really want a lot of saturated color in one spot. The second method is to not soak the silk first in one color and just paint all of it. I have to be very careful here not to let any of the white show through.
Once I’ve painted the silk, I place it in a plastic bag and then cook in on high for two minutes in the microwave oven. I then put the silk in the sink and wash it in cold water. The oven does a great job of setting the color so usually almost no color drains off the silk (unlike actually dyeing the silk in dye pots where a lot of color does run off the silk). I analyze the final product to see if I am satisfied with the color and to see if all white areas are covered. If I am not satisfied with the product, I will repaint it until I am satisfied. I will do this up to two more times until I am happy. When I am done with a skein I whisk it out to the drying rack on the porch.
Two days later the silk should be completely dry and then the tedious work of putting it up on bobbins begins. I blow through a ton of Netflix movies when doing this. This is the machine I use that my brother made for me. The wooden equipment on the left is the skein winder (I purchased this one) on which I place the painted skein. The metal piece of equipment on the right is the bobbin winder. That blue screen is where I set the number of turns so that exactly twelve yards of silk goes on the bobbin. It’s a great machine but after putting u0p six or so kilos of silk (which takes two full days) my fingers are ready to fall off.
Here is a picture of some silk skeins hanging from a Mirrix Loom on a Mirrix Stand:
And here is the final product on bobbins:
We have made ten limited-edition color kits with 24 bobbins (each a different colors) of the skeins I painted. These ten kits are available for $100 each (that’s a savings of $30). Once they are gone, there will be no more, so order ASAP to be one of the lucky ten! Click here to purchase!