Ok, some time ago I promised I would some sort of a step by step ‘how to’ on the making of a wall flag with natural dyes and silk paints, so here it is – I’m going through a ‘make a list of past projects started but not finished and then finish the damn things’ phase at the moment, so I’m rather delighted I finally got this finished!
Step One – rinse your silk thoroughly with a mixture of warm water and washing up liquid, then rinse with lots of clean water until the soap is all washed out. Put it in a pan of water – enough to allow the silk to move freely in the liquid. The liquid should have Alum and cream of tartar added to the following proportions – 10% of the weight of the silk in Alum, and then 7% of the silk’s weight in cream of tartar. Dissolve the two chemicals in a jar with some hot water, then mix thoroughly into the water in the pan. I would recommend having windows open and standing well back as you do this phase, and if you spend a lot of time mucking around with chemicals and hot water, get a face mask. The silk needs to be pushed under the level of the water and left to soak overnight.
Step Two – natural dyeing. Add whichever dyestuff you have chosen to a pan of water – again, it needs to be enough to allow the silk to move freely. You may find you get a better colour if you allow the dyestuffs to soak overnight first. Bring the pan of dyestuffs and water to a rolling boil, then turn the heat down and allow to simmer for an hour before filtering out the dyestuffs. Put the pan of dye bath back on the hob. Take the silk out of the mordant and rinse it thoroughly with warm water, then put it into the dye bath, making sure it is fully submerged. Allow it to sit for as long as it takes to get the colour you are after. The dyebaths in the case of the fabric used for this wall screen was walnut husks originally – which didn’t yield much colour at all – and then some rather old logwood chips, which provided the lovely purple which went over the golden colour yielded by the walnuts rather nicely. The only reason why I redyed it is because I actually coloured two pieces of silk in this batch, one in walnut (which was supposed to yield a rich, earth brown) and one in oak bark. Both came out a soft golden brown, which wasn’t exactly part of the plan, but hey ho – men make plans and the Gods laugh!
Step Three – Once the fabric is the colour you are after, take it out of the dye bath and rinse thoroughly until the water runs clear or as near as dammit, then squeeze out the silk and hang it up to dry. For the pattern, you will need enough paper to piece together a large enough sheet for the fabric to cover it.
Sketch in your design with a pencil first to make sure it is more or less the way you want it. Then go around it with black pen or marker – the thicker the lines the better, as you need to be able to see it through the silk.
Step Four – you will need a table big enough to tape the design paper on to. Smoothe the paper out as much as you can, then use masking tape to affix it thoroughly. Stretch the silk out over the top and tape that down as well. If you possess such an up to date thing as an iron (which I freely admit that I don’t) then you can iron the silk before you do your painting, which will yield a nice, flat surface.
Step Five – Use gutta outliner to trace in the lines of your design on the silk, using the pattern taped underneath as your guideline. Go slowly and carefully and make sure that you use a relatively even amount of outliner – this stops the paint from running outside the design messily so it is worth spending a little time being thorough with it. I use the gutta that comes in a pen with a small nib, but you can get the sort that can be painted straight on as well.
Step Six – Let the gutta outliner dry for a while. Overnight is good if you can resist the temptation for that long! I left mine for a couple of hours in a warm room and that did the trick nicely. If you want extra fixative power, you can iron the silk again before you begin adding the colour, but I found that it has worked just fine without needing the ironing. Begin to add the colour – I use a soft brush for this, medium grade. The exact name and size brush is a Proarte size 4 brush, which I find works well with silk paints – it doesn’t catch on the fabric at all and delivers a nice, fairly even spread of colour. I found that silk painting doesn’t work quite like using ordinary paints – if you press the brush gently against the fabric, you’ll notice the pigment spread out from the brush and soak slowly through the fabric. Take your time and go fairly steadily. If you want a blended colour, make sure that you add the two colours at more or less the same time as they will then merge by themselves. I used this method for the leaves to get a more two toned effect.
Step Seven – wait for the paint to dry and carefully remove the masking tape, then peel the silk slowly off the pattern underneath – some of the silk paint will have bled through the silk and stuck to the paper underneath. Roll the top and bottom hems and stitch, and fix using one or two settings above the usual silk setting on the iron. I shall be hightailing it over to my sister later for this stage! The finished wall flag can be hung using loops of ribbon stitched along the top seam, and further details can be added, such as beading along the bottom to make the hem hang properly.