Fiber Friday | 10.21.2022

Preparing Silk for Surface Design Techniques: Eco-Printing, Abstract Painting & Marbling

Eco-Printing on Silk

The Making of Carolina Indian Summer Colors on Silk, Fall Collection 2022.  Shimmering Flower Petals Eco-Printed on the Natural Hue of Habotai Silk.  Over-Dyed with Marigold Flowers or Madder Root.  Silk Habotai 8mm Scarf – 15″ x 60”.  Hand-rolled hems with 100% silk thread.

“When Learning Something New Make Three >> Cynthia Bringle Teaching”

Cynthia Bringle, Pottery Teaching @ Wildacres

To Scour or Wash Silk You Will Need:
>> Dr. Bonner’s Liquid Castile Soap
>> 9-Quart Wide Mouth Aluminum Pot Dedicated to the Dye Process.  For Me, Wide Mount Instead of Deep Pots Work Best for Scouring Silk Scarves)
>> Heat Source
>> Digital Kitchen Scales

Unlike plant fibers, silk doesn’t need to be scoured with soda ash to prepare it for surface design techniques.  Using silk isn’t part of my cultural tradition but is a contemporary post-modern process that I use.  I learned surface design techniques from Christine Zoller at East Carolina University’s School of Art and Design in the Textiles Department.  Through trial and error from my own experiments, I’ve developed best practices that work for me.

Washing Silk

I pre-wash my silk before painting, eco-printing, and dyeing to remove any leftover residue from the Seracin or silkworms that can cause the fabric to produce uneven color effects.  At first, I used to weigh and record my silk on a kitchen digital scale, and accurately calculate how much mordant I needed to use.  Now that I’m doing production work for a seasonal collection, I eyeball the way I learned to cook.

Depending on the quantity of silk that I have to pre-wash, I fill a wide-mouth aluminum pot with enough tap water so that the silk can float without being bunched up.  I bring the water to a full boil.  Next, I cut off the heat, and add approximately one tablespoon of Dr. Bonner’s Castile Soap for every gallon of water.  Then I add the silk to the hot water and let it sit until the water is cool.  Finally, I rinse the silk in warm water, and either dry it outside on my clothesline or inside on a drying rack.  However, if I’m going to paint or dye the silk, I keep it wet in a Ziploc bag, for the mordant process.

Silk Mordant for Surface Design Techniques

To Mordant Silk You Will Need:
>> Alum
>> Wooden Spoon to Stir
>> Large Crock Pot

Silk is a cellulose or animal fiber, and I mordant it with alum or Aluminum potassium sulfate.  I mordant in pottery because Momma, Mama, Yat, and Grand Mere did all their mordanting for natural dyes in round bottom earthenware pots in a fire pit.  Grand Mere is the one who taught us all about how to mordant cloth because she dyed trade wool, cotton, and linen and sold piece-work like her mother before her.  Mama was the one who came up with using a crock pot, so I’m following her visionary teaching.  I add water to a large crock pot, let it boil, add the alum, and let it simmer for at least two hours.  I use the alum sold at a farm supply or grocery store for pickling and canning.  You can also purchase alum from dye supply stores.

I use approximately 15% to 20% alum to WOF for eco-printing and full chroma marigold and madder values.  For light values, I use approximately 10% alum to WOF.  When mordanting the same items for production work, I eyeball measure using tablespoons.  However, it’s important when you begin the mordanting process to calculate your measurements by weighing and recording the WOF.  Once you calculate your percentages, break down the amount into a measurement that’s easy for you to eyeball.  I use tablespoons but you can choose another option. After the mordant process is complete, I dry the silk by hanging it on my clothesline or placing it on a portable drying rack. When dry, I store the silk in a sealed plastic bag or bin. Have fun preparing your silk for surface design techniques. To follow my process stay tuned for the next blog on eco-printing.


Published by Carola Jones, Artist

Indigenous Artist, Writer, Designer | Internet Techie | Pow Wow Dancer | Lover of Dyeing Cloth Especially With Indigo, Madder & Marigold | 4th Generation Hand Embroidery & Sewing Enthusiastic | Working Traveler | NC Toisnot & Mattamuskeet Tuscarora & FL Seminole | Algonquin Gullah Mixed Blood

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