Steam Setting a Silk Painting

Using stovepipe and propane burners to steam-set silk dyes

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Once the silk dye has been applied to the silk, the dyes need to be steam-set to bond permanently with the fabric. Before steaming water can wash most of the dye from the silk, but after steaming water will not hurt the silk painting. The painting becomes permanent. (Except for direct sunlight! In direct sunlight the silk painting will fade. Indirect sunlight is fine.)

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Here you can see the set-up I use to steam my silk. I am steaming “Zion’s Waterfall”, which consists of three silk panels: two are 37 feet by 28 inches, and one is 37 feet by 52 inches.  The widest panel is being steamed in the tallest stovepipe, and one of the narrower panels is in the shorter stovepipe.

You can see the silk painting in different stages in earlier posts by clicking on the following:

River Theme for a Northwest Church, which shows the first attempts at a waterfall design, too realistic for the client; Waterfall Update, showing watercolor sketch of a more abstract design; next is Preparing for a Large Project on choosing colors, making the frames, and practicing; and Zion’s Waterfall 3/4 Done where you can see the 37 feet of painted silk rolled out on a big floor to see how it looks so far.

To steam the silk it is first  rolled up in newsprint and brown wrapping paper, making sure there is room on the top of the roll to drill a hole through the top inch. I stick this paper/silk roll inside the stovepipe, then thread a wire through holes in the top of the stovepipe and the drilled hole through the paper roll. Now the stovepipe can be upended, with the paper roll hanging from the wire inside the stovepipe.

Next I stick the whole affair into a hotel-sized pot on a propane burner, fill the pot with water, seal the space between pot and pipe with aluminum foil crimped under the rim of the pot and taped with masking tape to the pipe, so there are no holes for steam to escape. I light the burner, and let the water boil and make steam for 3-5 hours, depending on how thick my roll is. Oh yes, the lid on top of the pipe is 1-2 inches of New York Times papers, procured from local co-op’s recycle bin, secured with masking tape to the top of stovepipe. Somehow it all works! I can tell if the steaming is successful in two ways: that the colors are more intense than before steaming, and when hand-washing (next step after steaming) that clouds of excess dye do not wash out of the silk, but just a little bit of dye that is not bonded to the silk.

If you want to do this process yourself there are more details to know for success. For now I can suggest Susan Louise Moyer’s book “Silk Painting” where you will find complete directions. I’ll write complete instructions later this summer for those interested.

Finished Easter Banners for St. Ignatius

Results of Layered Wax Resist Technique

©2013 Kristen GiljeSt. Ignatius Alleluia Det.
©2013 Kristen Gilje Detail, St. Ignatius Alleluia, silk dye on silk, 13 feet by 30 inches, calligraphy designed by Laura Norton.

 

©2013 Kristen Gilje, St. Ignatius Alleluia, silk dye on silk, 13 feet by 30 inches
©2013 Kristen Gilje, St. Ignatius Alleluia, silk dye on silk, 13 feet by 30 inches, lettering designed by Laura Norton.

Happy Easter everyone!

Here are the results of the layered wax resist technique from the previous post, with all the wax burnt off, the silk washed and hemmed. The result is lots of rich texture and motion behind crisp beautiful lettering by calligrapher Laura Norton.

©2013 Kristen Gilje, St. Ignatius Alleluia, silk dye on silk, 13 feet by 30 inches, calligraphy designed by Laura Norton.
©2013 Kristen Gilje, St. Ignatius Christ is Risen, silk dye on silk, 13 feet by 30 inches, calligraphy designed by Laura Norton.

I’m anxious to receive pictures of the banners hanging in the sanctuary of St. Ignatius, Portland, OR and will post them for you when they come. In the meantime, enjoy all the blossoming plants and the great sunshine!

 

 

Wax Layering Technique in Silk Painting

Rich textures can be made using one dye, wax, salt and 4 layers.

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This is a project I’m working on currently for a catholic church in Portland, OR. First I contacted a good friend who collaborates with me on lettering. She is a wonderful calligrapher. You can reach Laura Norton at [email protected]

When she finishes the lettering I can start my watercolor sketch of the proposed design.

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Watercolor sketch of proposed design, with calligrapher’s lettering copied to paper.

When the design is accepted, I make a copy of the sketch on newsprint the same size as the banner-to-be, in this case 13 feet by 30 inches. I make my lines with magic marker so the lines are dark. I place this pattern under the stretched silk, and can see the lines right through the silk. Next I apply a resist called “gutta” around the edges of the lettering, as seen through the silk. This establishes the lettering on the silk. When I apply the wax inside these gutta lines the gutta helps guide where the wax will go. Waxing the lettering means that the white silk is protected, as my first layer, and that the lettering will be white.

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Kristen applying wax to the lettering.

Below you can see that I have applied gold dye to the silk, and the wax has protected the lettering. However, I don’t want the lettering to be completely white. So I detach the silk from the frame just enough to get a handful of the silk. I am scrunching the wax to produce a crackle in the wax. The next layer of dye will enter these crackles and make a crackle design on the lettering. This is called “faux-batik”.

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Crackling the wax by scrunching it.

After scrunching the wax I apply some more wax with a sponge brush in sweeping streaks, but not too many as I want to add more streaks with each layer. Immediately I add a second layer of dye, and sprinkle salt on the wet dye. The salt melts and pushes the dye away, making a rain or snow like texture, similar to adding salt to watercolor. You can see the wet dye with the salt below. I also cover the cracked wax lettering with dye and a small bit seeps through.

second
Second layer of wax and dye, with salt.

Above you can see I also splattered wax randomly to add even more texture. And below you can see the result of the third and fourth layers of wax and dye, much more complicated. My goal is for a joyful motion to go with a sunny, warm rich color.

alleluia-ign-a
4th layer of wax, salt and dye.

Now the painting and wax application are finished and need to be “fixed”. I roll both banners in layers of brown paper and newsprint and steam them. In the steaming process most of the wax melts off and is soaked into the newsprint, and the moist heat chemically bonds the dye into the silk fibers permanently.When the banners are unrolled the layers of dye will be revealed, the first layers being lightest and the 4th layer a deep gold.

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Finally I will take these to the dry cleaner to remove any wax and dye residue, and the silk will regain its luxurious “hand” again, after being all stiff with foreign material.

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